How to Clean Your Home Furnishings

Sometimes we get so caught up in cleaning "the bones" of our home -- such as the floors, windows, and fixtures -- we forget about all the dust and dirt accumulating on what's actually in our home: the furnishings.

The following article provides useful suggestions and guidelines for cleaning everything from lamp shades and chandeliers to your grandmother's silver. You'll also find several homemade recipes for cleaning various types of surfaces.


We'll start small in the next section, with cleaning suggestions for your CDs and books.



Cleaning Books and Compact Discs

Books and CDs rarely require heavy cleaning, but they appreciate a dusting now and then. And dusting is only part of the battle. Here are some pointers for keeping your books and CDs in good condition:

  • If you arrange books at the front of shelves, air will be able to circulate around the books to prevent mustiness.
  • Protect books from direct sunlight, which will fade the bindings and cause them to deteriorate.
  • Leather-bound books should be treated periodically with a light oil so that the leather won't crack.
  • To remove grease stains from books, rub the affected areas with soft white bread crumbs.
  • Dry out the moisture in a damp book by sprinkling the pages with cornstarch. Let it sit overnight, then brush the cornstarch out.
  • Avoid exposing compact discs to direct sunlight or extreme heat.
  • To clean grease or oil spots from a CD, use a soft cloth dipped in ethyl alcohol, then wipe dry. Always wipe from the center of the disc outward.
  • Dust, dirt, or fingerprints can cause CDs to skip. Blow lightly on the disc to remove any dust, then wipe lightly with a soft cloth to clean.

In the next section, we'll shed light on how to clean another home furnishing: lamp shades.


Cleaning Lamp Shades

Lamp shades are made of many different materials; some are washable and some are not. Keep all the care information from the manufacturer so you know the proper cleaning procedure.

To wash a lamp shade, fill a bathtub or a large laundry sink with a warm-water solution containing liquid dishwashing detergent. Dip the shade in and out of the solution, making sure that the shade is completely covered, and then rinse it in lukewarm water, following the same dipping procedure. Rinse until the water is clear. Take the shade outside and swing it vigorously in a circle to get rid of excess moisture, and then dry it quickly in the sun or with an electric fan or hair dryer.


If the lamp shade is washable but has a glued-on trim that prevents immersing it in water, use the following method for cleaning: Mix 1/4 cup dishwashing liquid with 1 cup warm water, and whip the mixture with an eggbeater until it makes a stiff foam. Apply the foam to the shade with a sponge, being careful not to wet the trim. Rinse by going over the shade with a clean cloth wrung out in clear water. Allow the shade to dry.

Also consider these suggestions for cleaning lamp shades:

  • Vacuum lamp shades regularly with the brush attachment.
  • Dry-clean shades that are glued to their frames. Remove spots from nonwashable fabric shades with a spot remover.
  • Wash silk, nylon, and rayon shades only if they are sewn to the frame.
  • Plastic and fiberglass shades only need to be wiped occasionally with a cloth to remove soil.

Your lamp shades are looking brand new, but what about the metal lamps beneath them? Take a look at the next section to find tips on cleaning metals.


Cleaning Metals

It's time to pull out your best silver for the holidays, and -- surprise, surprise -- it's tarnished! In this section, we'll tell you how to best remove tarnish, as well as how to clean other metals, including brass and pewter.

  • Strip cracked and peeling lacquer from coated brass objects with a solution of 1 cup baking soda in 2 gallons boiling water. Let the article stand in the water until it cools, then peel off the lacquer.
  • To clean brass, make a paste from 1 tablespoon salt, 1 tablespoon flour, and 1 tablespoon vinegar. Apply the paste with a soft cloth and rub. You may also dip a cut lemon in salt and rub it on the brass. Wash the object in warm soapy water, and buff to bring up the shine.

These two cleaning recipes will help keep your copper in good shape:


  • Make a paste of 1 tablespoon salt, 1 tablespoon flour, and 1 tablespoon vinegar. Rub it over the copper surface, then wash the copper object in hot soapy water. Rinse and buff for a shiny finish.
  • Mix 2 tablespoons vinegar and 1 tablespoon salt to make a copper cleaner. Wash, rinse, and dry the item after this treatment. A cut lemon dipped in salt will also clean copper.

Here's an excellent way to clean gold: Mix 1 teaspoon of ash with enough water to form a paste. Rub the paste on the surface of the gold with a soft cloth, rinse, and buff with a chamois. Baking soda can be substituted for ash.

  • Pewter can be cleaned with the outer leaves from a head of cabbage. Rub a leaf over the surface, and then buff it with a soft cloth.
  • Since pewter stains easily, wash pewter food containers and flatware immediately after use. Acidic foods, salt, and salad dressing are likely to blacken pewter.

We have three foolproof recipes for removing tarnish from your silver:

  • Place tarnished silver in a glass dish, add a piece of aluminum foil, and cover with 1 quart of hot water mixed with 1 tablespoon baking soda. A reaction between the foil and the silver will remove any tarnish. Don't use this process on raised designs; you will lose the dark accents of the pattern.
  • Make a paste of 3 parts baking soda to 1 part water. Using a soft cloth, rub the paste gently on the silver. Tarnish will disappear rapidly. After rinsing, buff the silver with a soft cloth.
  • Make a paste by mixing powdered white chalk with just enough ammonia to moisten. Rub the paste gently on the silver with a soft cloth. Rinse and buff to bring up the shine.

Just like your most precious silver, a high-priced item like a piano needs the utmost care. Keep reading for piano-cleaning tips.


Cleaning Pianos

A piano should be treated with respect and care. Have it tuned by a licensed piano tuner approximately four times the first year for a new piano, semiannually for an older model, and whenever the piano is moved from one location to another. In addition to making sure your piano continues to sound good, you want it to look good. Here are some steps to take to ensure its lasting beauty:

  • Dust the piano case regularly with a soft cloth.
  • Use a nonsilicone furniture polish or wax on the case of a piano that has a varnish or lacquer finish.
  • A piano that has a high-gloss polyester epoxy finish can be cleaned with a cloth and buffed; it should never be waxed or rubbed with furniture polish.
  • Remove stubborn stains from ivory or plastic keys with a cloth dipped in baking soda, being careful not to let the soda fall between the keys. Wipe the keys with another cloth and buff.

In the next section, we'll examine how to clean the decorative objects in your home.


Cleaning Decorative Objects

© 2006 Publications International, Ltd. Dip a chandelier's crystals into a drinking glass filled with cleaning solution.

Decorative objects often require the most care when cleaning because of their value and their fragility. Here are some suggestions for cleaning chandeliers, fabric flowers, pictures, and more.


One problem common to all candlesticks is dripped wax. Remove a hardened wax drip by gently pushing it off the candlestick with the balls of your fingers or by using a fingernail that has been covered with a thin cloth to prevent scratching the surface. If the wax resists these methods, dip the candlestick in warm water to soften the wax for removal, or if the candlestick cannot be immersed, the wax can be softened with warm air from a hair dryer.


Silver candlesticks that have wax dripped on them can be cleaned unharmed if you put them in the freezer first. After the wax freezes, it will peel off easily.


A chandelier can be cleaned without taking it down. Vacuum chandeliers thoroughly on a regular basis and before cleaning. In a drinking glass, mix a solution of 1/4 cup denatured alcohol and 3/4 cup water. Cover the floor or table under the chandelier with newspaper or plastic, and set up a ladder so that you can reach the pendants. Submerge the crystals in the glass for a few seconds, swishing them back and forth, and then let them air-dry.

Fabric Flowers

Delicate fabric blossoms collect dust and eventually look dingy unless you clean them regularly. Read and follow the manufacturer's instructions for the care of fabric flowers; some are washable, but many are not. Here are some basic guidelines:

  • Remove dust with a vacuum cleaner set at low suction.
  • Wipe silk flowers with a sponge; don't wash them.
  • Dip washable flowers into a mild solution of dishwashing detergent only when other methods have failed. Hang the flowers by the stems to dry, or use a hair dryer.
  • Perk up slightly wilted flowers with steam from a tea kettle or an iron.
  • Some sturdy fabric flowers may be freshened when shaken in a paper bag with dry cut oats, cornmeal, or salt.

Paintings -- whether oil, acrylic, or watercolor -- require a minimum amount of care. If the painting becomes damaged, it should not be repaired or cleaned at home. Otherwise, you can clean paintings at home, using the following advice:

  • Vacuum the painting, frame, and glass regularly using the brush attachment. © 2006 Publications International, Ltd.Use your vacuum's brush attachment to clean paintings.
  • When you clean the glass over a painting, do not allow any moisture to get behind the glass.
  • Do not spray furniture polish directly on picture frames. Spray it on a cloth and then carefully apply the polish to the frame only.
  • To make a tarnished gilt frame gleam again, wipe it with a rag dampened with turpentine.

Alabaster looks like marble and is made into vases, statues, lamp bases, and other ornamental objects. It is fine grained but soft enough to be scratched with a fingernail. Alabaster is easily broken, soiled, and weathered and must be handled with care.

  • Dust alabaster frequently with a soft untreated cloth.
  • Caution: Work in a well-ventilated area to avoid breathing fumes from these products.
  • Clean alabaster with borax; it is mild enough not to scratch the surface. Dip a moistened cloth into a small amount of dry borax, and rub it on the object. Rinse with warm water, and buff-dry with a soft cloth. You can also use this method to clean marble.
Bone and Ivory

Many useful and decorative objects are made of bone, including sword and knife handles and miniature carvings. Like ivory, it is an animal product and must be treated with special care. Ivory, an animal dentine, is used for ornamental objects and piano keys. Most "ivory" objects manufactured today are synthetic, because most countries ban the importation of ivory to protect endangered elephants. To clean bone and real ivory:

  • Dust frequently with a soft cloth or the brush attachment of your vacuum cleaner.
  • Occasionally wash bone and ivory objects in mild soapsuds; rinse and buff.
  • Do not allow bone or ivory pieces that are cemented together to soak in water; the adhesive will loosen.
  • Never wash knives with bone or ivory handles in the dishwasher.
  • Keep ivory objects where light will reach them; continual darkness causes ivory to yellow.
  • When ivory begins to yellow, treat it with a lemon and salt mixture. Cut a lemon in half, dip it in salt, and rub it over the ivory surface. Let it dry, wipe the object with a cloth, and buff for a bright finish.

Jade is a beautiful stone that is used to make lamp bases, vases, carved ornaments, and jewelry. The color of jade ranges from white to dark green with occasional tints of brown, mauve, blue, yellow, red, gray, or black. Because jade is hard and not porous, very little care is required. Dust it regularly, and buff it with a soft cloth when it begins to look dull.


Marble is a beautiful polished form of limestone that is used for tabletops, floors, countertops, walls, steps, fireplace facings, and statuary. It comes in a variety of colors and has either a shiny or a matte finish. Marble used for floors, tabletops, countertops, and steps should be sealed with a special stone sealer to reduce its porosity.

  • Protect marble tabletops with coasters, and wipe up acidic food spills immediately to prevent permanent surface etching.
  • Wipe marble surfaces with a sponge to remove light soil. Do not use an abrasive or caustic cleaner on marble. Do not use oil polish or soft wax, because they will discolor the marble.
  • Commercial polishes, some of which are flammable, are available for cleaning marble. Read and follow the manufacturer's directions.

Porcelain and other types of clay are fashioned into many kinds of art objects, including vases, lamp bases, candlesticks, and statuary.

  • Dust porcelain regularly with the brush attachment of your vacuum cleaner or a clean, soft cloth.
  • If a porcelain object becomes dirty, wash it in mild soapsuds, using warm water.

Many homes are filled with wood furniture. In the next section, we'll tell you the best ways to take care of these objects.


Cleaning Wood Furniture

Whether your wood furniture is oiled, painted, or polished affects how it is cleaned. It's obvious when wood is painted, but be sure that you know the surface before you clean it. For example, some wood furniture is lightly lacquered and will not absorb oil, while other woods, particularly teak and rosewood, have no finish and benefit from a yearly application of furniture oil.

Oiled Wood

Oiled wood surfaces have a warm, soft glow and require only an occasional application of furniture oil to keep them looking nice.


  • Be careful never to wax an oil finish. Wax blocks the pores of the wood, causing it to dry out and become brittle.
  • To remove white spots on oil-finish furniture, such as those left by wet drinking glasses, rub them with toothpaste on a cloth. Or rub the white spots with a mild abrasive and oil. Appropriate abrasives are ash, salt, baking soda, or pumice; oils include olive oil, petroleum jelly, or cooking oil.
Painted Wood

For painted wood furniture, the best care is probably the least since some polishes and waxes can damage the color and decoration.

  • Vacuum the furniture regularly with a brush attachment; wipe occasionally with a sponge to remove smudges and finger marks.
  • If you feel you must wax, use a hard paste wax only once a year.
Polished Wood

This kind of furniture is finished with varnish, lacquer, or wax. Any commercial polish will clean wood surfaces quickly. Choose a product that is appropriate for the finish of your furniture. Paste wax gives a harder, longer-lasting finish than spray or liquid polish and is recommended for antiques.

  • If you wear cotton gloves while you wax furniture, you will not leave fingerprints. © 2006 Publications International, Ltd.Avoid leaving fingerprints by wearing cotton gloves.
  • Sprinkle cornstarch over the surface of recently polished furniture, and rub it to a high gloss. Cornstarch absorbs excess oil or wax and leaves a glistening surface that is free of fingerprints.
  • Wipe polished wood furniture with a cloth dipped in tea, then buff.
  • Apply mayonnaise to the white rings or spots on your wood furniture, let it sit for an hour, then wipe off with a soft cloth and polish.
Specialty Woods

The specialty woods used for furniture are wicker, rattan, bamboo, cane, and rush. They usually have a natural finish, but some pieces may have a varnish or shellac coating.

  • Vacuum regularly with the brush attachment.
  • With the exception of rush chair seats that are damaged by moisture, occasionally rinse specialty woods with water to restore moisture to the fibers.
  • Wetting cane seats tightens them; spray the unvarnished side with water, and allow it to dry naturally.

Last but certainly not least are upholstered furnishings. You'll find tips for cleaning these in the next section.


Cleaning Upholstery

The vast majority of furniture is upholstered in fabric, leather, or vinyl. Chances are, then, that you have some of this type of furniture in your home. Here's what to do with it:


Most furniture upholstered in fabric can be shampooed safely at home; the exception to this is fabric marked "Dry-clean only." Spot-clean this kind of fabric with a solvent, or try the following recipe: Mix 1/4 cup of dishwashing liquid with 1 cup of warm water, and whip the solution with an eggbeater. Apply the foam to the upholstery, a small section at a time, with a clean, soft-bristled brush. Shake off any excess water. Rinse the upholstery by gently rubbing the fabric with a moist, clean cloth; rinse the cloth as necessary.



Leather must be cleaned with pure soap products (no detergents) and benefits from applying conditioner occasionally to restore moisture and bring up the sheen. A sudsy solution of dishwashing liquid and warm water is one of the best ways to clean leather upholstery. Apply the suds only, scrubbing gently with a soft-bristled brush; wipe clean with a damp sponge.


Vinyl upholstery can be cleaned in the same way as leather or with a commercial cleaner developed especially for cleaning vinyl. The best way to clean vinyl upholstery is with baking soda on a cloth, followed by a light washing with dishwashing liquid. Never use oil; it will harden the upholstery.

If you follow the directions we outlined in this article, each furnishing in your home should look as new as the day you bought it. Stay on top of cleaning your furnishings, and you'll have a home ready to showcase every day.