Tips for Cleaning and Restoring Antique and Vintage Finds

There is a joy that comes from finding the perfect antique piece to bring character and a sense of history to your home. The downside to shopping secondhand is that sometimes the treasures are covered in a layer of grime, dust and dirt from being stored in a barn or attic. It requires a bit more work, but these diamonds-in-the-rough are often priced better because they are in need of a good cleaning. Here’s how to polish, wash and revive many common antique finds.

Photo By: Marian Parsons

Photo By: Marian Parsons

Photo By: Marian Parsons

Photo By: Marian Parsons

Photo By: Marian Parsons

Photo By: Marian Parsons

Photo By: Marian Parsons

Photo By: Marian Parsons

Photo By: Marian Parsons

Photo By: Marian Parsons

Wood Furniture

Most people are hesitant to wash wood, but that really is one of the best ways to clean up dirt, grime and grease, and to get odors out. Wash the wood with warm, soapy water and a scrub brush to get into all the nooks and crannies. Then, wipe the surface with an old towel to wick up excess moisture. If possible, sit the piece outside on a sunny/breezy day to let it dry completely prior to refinishing, painting or use.

Dried-Out Wood

If the wood isn’t dirty, but simply dried-out or has some water damage, wipe it down with a mix of three parts oil (an oil that won’t go rancid like wood-finishing hemp oil or walnut oil) and one-part white vinegar. Brush or rub the oil mixture into the wood, then wipe away any excess with a clean cloth.

Glass Bottles

Glass bottles, especially those with narrow necks, are almost impossible to clean, simply because of restricted access to the inside of the bottle. Create a "scrub brush" with uncooked rice (not instant). Pour rice into the bottle and add vinegar, then cover the spout with your palm and shake vigorously to clean and shine the glass. Repeat as many times as needed, but usually one or two times will get the bottle squeaky clean. Rinse with water and turn upside down to allow the bottle to air dry.


To remove stains from antique marble, make a paste out of flour and hydrogen peroxide. Spread the poultice over the stain and cover in plastic wrap to prevent the paste from drying out. Allow it to sit for at least 24 hours. Remove plastic and clean with a mild dish soap and water. Pat dry.

White Linens

Believe it or not, the best way to clean antique white linens is to go old school and boil them. Put the linens in a large pot with water and boil them for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. This will make your linen dinner napkins, family christening gowns, etc. bright and white again.


For linens that are too large to boil on the stovetop, add boiling water to a bathtub or utility sink and soak the fabric until the water cools. Add vinegar to soften the textile. Add an oxygen-activated cleaner to assist in removing dirt and stains. Continue this process until the stains are removed. Wash in the washing machine with gentle detergent and hang or machine-dry.

Dyed Textiles, Embroidery + Quilt Fabrics

Linens with dyes (like quilts, printed feed sacks, etc.) may bleed when washed. If this is a possibility, wipe the colored fabric, printing or thread with a wet, white cloth. If the color comes off on the cloth, it is not colorfast and shouldn’t be soaked or washed in a machine. Take it to a dry cleaner to have it professionally cleaned.


Silver-plated items are abundant at yard sales and thrift stores simply because people don’t want to be bothered with polishing them. But, polishing silver is easier than you probably think. Use a gently foaming silver polish to remove tarnish with a soft sponge. For smaller, detailed pieces, like the tines of a fork, dip them into a silver dip cleaner. To prevent tarnish, wrap silver in plastic wrap if it won’t be used for long periods of time.

Or, Use Science to Remove Silver Tarnish: Clean Tarnished Silver With This Easy (and Cheap!) Trick


Since baskets are a utilitarian item, antique and vintage baskets are often dirty from regular use. If the basket is just dusty, run a vacuum with a brush attachment over it to clean up loose dirt. If the basket is smelly or stained, rinse it off with a hose on a nice day. If necessary, scrub gently with a soft brush to dislodge stubborn dirt. Once clean, turn the basket upside down and allow it to dry completely prior to use.


If the metal is rusty, scrub the rusted areas with a metal scouring pad or wire brush to remove the rust. Test this method in a small area to make sure it doesn’t scratch the metal. Bring the shine and luster back by wiping the surface with hemp or walnut oil. Wipe on with a soft cloth and wipe away excess oil with a clean cloth.

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