A Tenant’s Guide to Furniture Maintenance

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Apartment dweller steam cleans their couch

From leather sofas to wooden chairs, all furniture needs a little TLC from time to time to stay in good shape. Still, the exact methods you use to protect your pieces from the wears and tears of daily life will vary depending on how old they are and what materials they’re made from. Read on to learn all the best ways to care for the different pieces of furniture you have in your apartment.

Leather Upholstery

The luxurious look and feel of genuine leather never seems to go out of style. Unfortunately, keeping a leather chair or couch clean after you’ve bought it is a bit of a headache. You’ll often need to run out and buy products that are specially designed to treat it. If you received some sort of care manual from the furniture manufacturer, count yourself lucky. After all, there are a few different kinds of leather out there, and the easiest way to keep yours clean is to know exactly what you’re dealing with.

Lucky for us all, most leather upholstery around today tends to fall into two categories: protected and unprotected. Protected leather has a finish and is also referred to as semi-aniline or pigmented leather. The pigmented coating on this type of leather makes it better-protected and resistant to a lot of scratches and stains. This leather may also feel more durable to the touch. Unprotected (or aniline) leather, on the other hand, is softer in texture. And though it may be dyed, it’s important to remember that unprotected leather has not been given the same protective finish and is more prone to damage.

All leather requires periodic cleaning and conditioning. A monthly vacuuming with a brush attachment, along with some light cleansing using a damp cloth or sponge, will work wonders towards gently removing surface-level debris. Just remember to use a clean, soft cloth that’s been soaked in lukewarm water (distilled is preferable) and a couple drops of mild, non-detergent soap. You don’t want to use soap that’s too abrasive or ammonia-based here, as it’s actually quite bad for leather.

About once or twice a year, you’ll also find it necessary to condition the leather to restore its luster and protect it from cracking and discoloration — especially if the room it’s in gets a lot of sunlight. Perhaps the retailer you purchased the piece from also sells cleaning products that are compatible with that specific kind of leather. Supposing that’s not the case, you’ll find that there’s no shortage of leather care products on the market, and they’re all at least somewhat suited to protecting and restoring leather surfaces.

Note that leather furniture can be extra problematic if you have kids or pets. Preventing a declawed cat or dog from scratching up any furniture is difficult enough, and you’ll have to let your kids (and other adults) know not to eat or drink anything while sitting on your leather pieces. If a spill happens anyway, immediately clean it with a mild soap and water solution.

Fabric Upholstery

Even keeping more traditional textiles clean can be challenging. This is because lot of upholstery is firmly attached to its furniture and cannot simply be removed and thrown in the wash whenever it’s dirty. But as was the case for your leather pieces, you’ll find that a good vacuuming every month or so might be a wise idea in order for removing any crumbs, dirt, and dust that have made their way into the furniture’s nooks and crannies.

You might find it helpful in these cases to remove any existing cushions first, beginning by vacuuming underneath the spots they’d normally be and then vacuuming the cushions themselves. Every so often, however — and especially if the fabric is a lighter color — you may find that some deeper cleaning is necessary to keep things from looking worn or discolored. But before you do anything heavy-duty, you’ll need to check the manufacturer’s label on each piece to see what they recommend. Some fabrics can actually be ruined if they make contact with water or steam.

If the upholstery is water-safe, you’ll probably want to opt for steam cleaning. A steam cleaner does a great job of lifting up any little stains or soiling that may have set in the fabric over the years. And if you don’t have a steam cleaner, you can easily rent one. A lot of household irons even have steam functionality — but always start off by using a low-heat setting if you go with this approach. Then just use a back-and-forth motion to slowly go over the whole piece, brushing away any dirt that comes loose in the process.

Perhaps you have delicate upholstery that can’t be steam cleaned. Not to worry! You can always “dry-clean” it using the dry-cleaning cloths found in the laundry aisle of most stores. Just remember to test out the cloth on a corner of the fabric that isn’t normally visible to see how it will react before doing anything else.

Another method to try is hydrogen peroxide (three-percent solution). Just take a clean cloth that’s been saturated with the stuff and blot the spill with it. Sometimes, white vinegar also works like this. Either way, let it soak into the stain for several minutes before patting it all dry.


Wooden furnishings need regular attention to retain their shine. Make sure to routinely dust wood pieces with a feather duster or cloth (microfiber works great) to keep all the dust at bay. Never allow water or other liquids to come into contact with wood, either. Always use coasters to set drinks down, and if meals are frequently consumed on a wooden surface (i.e. a dining room table), consider investing in a glass tabletop cover to protect the wood beneath. On the flip side, if something sticky lands on the wood, you’ll only need to use the smallest amount of soap and water to clean it up.

Polishing should be done a few times a year on these pieces, with a quality furniture polish intended specifically for wood. To polish, just work the product into the wood with a clean cloth or old sock, using circular motions as you go. For superior protection and durability, you’ll usually find it best to go with furniture wax. Waxes can also be used to cover up minor scratches and dents, which is why you’ll always see them being sold in different shades. If there’s a gouge or scratch that’s still visible on one of your pieces even when treated with wax, try a pigmented wood filler to really conceal it, doing your best to match the shade of the wood-in-question’s stain.

Depending on the age and condition of the wooden furniture (and particularly if you have an antique or heirloom piece), a fresh coat of varnish or polyurethane may need to be applied. You can take on this task yourself or enlist the help of a refinishing professional. And speaking of professionals…

Professional Repairs

It could be that you have a wobbly table on your hands. Your furniture may need to be re-upholstered entirely, or have parts replaced. A sagging couch is usually caused by springs breaking or becoming warped over time. Whatever the case may be, there are some jobs out there that are best left to a handyman who specializes in furniture repairs.

Above all else, furniture adds personality to your apartment, which is exactly why people usually want theirs taken care of. Following our tips for regular care and maintenance will safeguard your pieces for a long time to come, and it’s a great way to ensure your interiors always look new and exciting.

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