There are lots of benefits to choosing hardwood furniture for your home and garden. Sure, it costs more than softwood and MDF alternatives.
But for a premium price, you get a premium product. Common hardwoods used for furniture like oak, maple, walnut, cherry, and teak are chosen because they look great. They have wonderfully distinctive coloration and complex grain structures that carry a timeless, natural appeal.
Added to that, they are strong and durable. Dense grain structures are what give ‘hardwoods their name. They are more resistant to damage, decay, and the attention of pests than ‘softwoods like pine. Their strength also means they create sturdier structures, capable in many cases of withstanding the wear and tear of regular use for decades, if not centuries.
But what about maintenance? If you invest in a hardwood table, chairs, sideboard, bed frame, or any other type of furniture, are you also going to have to invest lots of time looking after it and keeping it at its beautiful best?
That’s another big benefit of hardwood furniture – the maintenance requirements are minimal, both inside and outside the home. As long as you keep your furniture clean and avoid obvious causes of damage and undue strain, the only maintenance you should ever need to carry out is a general cleaning and occasional (and in many cases, optional) oiling or waxing.
Here are the key things to know:
How to clean hardwood furniture
Hardwood furniture doesn’t really need any special care and attention outside your normal cleaning routine. A regular wipe down to remove dust and bits of whatever other debris gets onto them will stop dirt from becoming ingrained in the surface and harder to shift at a later date.
A damp cloth with a small amount of mild soap or detergent will do the job fine. Otherwise, look for a specially formulated wood cleaner. Many products are suitable for all timber types. They are most useful when you have more soiled furniture and need a little extra help removing the grime.
Avoid getting wooden furniture too wet when cleaning. With some types of timber, hardwoods included, the water will be absorbed and could over time lead to cracking. This is not, however, a concern with certain woods like teak which are naturally water-resistant (and therefore ideal for garden furniture).
Depending on the type of timber you choose, hardwood garden furniture may come with a varnish or lacquer applied. This may need reapplying every few years, or if it becomes visually chipped or scratched. Ask for advice from your manufacturer or dealer when you buy.
Although certain hardwoods like teak are ideal for use outdoors because they are naturally water-resistant, they are still prone to mildew growing on them over the winter months when they don’t get a chance to dry out properly. Applying a specially formulated teak cleaner with anti-microbial properties will stop mildew from developing.
Applying waxes and oils
Some hardwoods contain more natural oils than others. The oil content of the timber plays a role in how resistant to water damage and rot it is, and also increases durability generally.
With oak furniture, for example, it is recommended that you apply a furniture wax once every six months. This helps to nourish the wood and provides a protective seal, stopping the timber from drying out and cracking. As well as helping to prolong the life of your furniture, it also makes oak easier to clean. Dirt and dust simply sit on the wax surface rather than working their way into the grain, making it easy to wipe away.
At the opposite end of the scale, teak’s naturally high oil content means you don’t need to wax or oil it at all if you don’t want to. It will survive indoors or outside for years on end, in all weather conditions, because its natural oils repel water and mean rot cannot settle in.
The only reason to oil teak is to preserve its original honey brown color. This is as sought after as teak’s wonderful durability and natural weather resistance. But over time, exposure to sunlight sees this fade to a silvery grey. Teak oil is formulated with UV blockers to stop this discoloration. On the other hand, lots of people love the color of aged teak, too. And the fading from sandy brown to grey does nothing to change its strength and longevity.
Similarly, oils will deepen and enrich the color of most hardwoods. The effect is not as dramatic as using a varnish or a stain. But to some eyes, the color of oiled wood is more impressive than its natural appearance. Common types of oil recommended for hardwood furniture include linseed, tung, and so-called Danish oil blends. This article is a great overview of the best oil to use for different types of hardwood.