Painted finish furniture requires regular dusting with a damp cloth. When very soiled, wash with a solution of mild, non-abrasive detergent and warm water. Wring a cloth nearly dry and work on a small section at a time, then rinse with clear water. Dry the surface before continuing.
Waxes and polishes are usually not needed. If waxes are used, use a white creamy type on light painted items to avoid discoloration. Never use oil or any polish containing oil. Avoid oil treated cloths. Hand rubbing any polish can damage painted decoration or trim.
Painted surfaces can be carefully touched up with matching paint, but the results often look patched. Where possible, try to remove spots and scuff marks by washing or cleaning with household cleaners. Sanding will change the luster of the sanded spot, especially if the finish has been antiqued. If extensive damage has been done, the piece will need repainting. Very old pieces with their original finish should usually not be repainted or refinished as you may remove the indications of its authenticity and antique value.
Test for Existing Finish on Furniture
Rub a Few Drops of Boiled Linseed Oil Into the Wood - If it absorbs, the wood has an oil finish. If it beads up, the wood has a hard finish.
Rub Acetone Over a Spot in a Gentle, Circular Motion - Polyurethane finishes shed acetone like water. Lacquer dissolves in 30 seconds with rubbing. Varnishes and shellacs turn to a sticky, gel-like substance after a minute or two (continue).
Try a Few Drops of Denatured Alcohol - Shellac dissolves quickly in denatured alcohol. Varnish reacts slowly.
This article has been contributed in part by Michigan State University Extension.