Understanding Furniture Polishes | Popular Woodworking Magazine
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There are only four categories, so it’s easy.
There are probably more myths polishes surrounding furniture than any other single aspect of the wood finish. What makes this subject confusing are the often silly claims of the manufacturers. They range from half-truths, like “furniture polish preserves the finish”, to nonsense, like “furniture polish replaces natural oils in wood”.
The success of the furniture polishing industry in convincing millions of consumers that there is oil in the wood that must be replaced with a petroleum distillate product through a finish that is there to keep liquids out of the wood must be ranked among the big American marketing scams.
Deceptive marketing has shifted the emphasis away from the real benefits of furniture polish as an aid to dusting, cleaning, and adding a pleasant scent to a room (more important to consumers than you might think). Furthermore, some Polish product manufacturers have completely misunderstood the beneficial role of wax. Instead of emphasizing its long-lasting luster and wear resistance, they turned wax into a problem, arguing that it prevents the wood from breathing by blocking its pores and that it builds up to create a stained surface.
It took me years to work my way through the myths. But when I did, I realized how easy furniture polishes are to understand. This is because there are only three types – four if you include wax.
Keep in mind that it is not the wood that is cured. It is the finish and all finishes for building the film, except shellac, are plastic and shellac behaves like a plastic. So the most important things a person can do is keep the plastic out of UV light (which causes cracks) and reduce abuse (scratches and dents).
There are four categories of furniture care products: clear polishes, emulsion polishes, silicone polishes and wax. Within each category, the only significant differences are scent and color (if added).
Clear polishes are usually composed entirely of slow-evaporating petroleum distillates, but may contain related solvents such as citrus or turpentine. Just as you’d expect from your knowledge of paint thinners, clear polishes clean grease and remove wax, but they don’t remove water-soluble dirt like soft drink spills or sticky fingerprints.
Most clear transparencies are packaged in plastic containers, which makes identification easy – the liquid can be seen as clear. Since clear glazes evaporate from the surface within a few hours, they are not effective in adding lasting shine or scratch resistance.
Emulsion polishes are a combination of petroleum distillates and water and are always milky white in color. The combination makes these polishes quite effective in cleaning both grease and water-soluble dirt. But because the ingredients evaporate quickly, even these polishes don’t add lasting shine or scratch resistance.
Most emulsion polishes are packaged in aerosols and are easily identified by their milky white spray.
Silicone polishes are clear or emulsion polishes to which a small amount of silicone has been added. Silicone is a synthetic oil similar to mineral oil, but remarkably smoothing. In addition to making a finished surface smooth and therefore scratch resistant, silicone stays on a surface until it is worn or cleaned. The silicone also creates the appearance of greater depth in the wood.
Because silicone polishes can be clear or milky white, they are not easy to identify except for the smudge they sometimes leave, even days later, if too much has been applied. Unfortunately, no manufacturer lists silicone as an ingredient in their container.
Wax is a solid at room temperature and therefore provides lasting shine and scratch resistance. The wax is available to consumers both as a paste and as an ingredient in a liquid. When in a liquid, the wax settles and appears white at the bottom of a container. Wax is rarely a significant ingredient in aerosols because it clogs the nozzle.
How to choose
Choosing between the four types of furniture care products is easy.
For a simple dusting with an inexpensive, pleasant-smelling liquid that adheres dust to a cloth and lubricates the surface so that dust doesn’t scratch it when polishing, choose a clear polish.
For cleaning in addition to dusting, choose an emulsion polish.
For long lasting shine and scratch resistance without the effort of using wax, choose a silicone polish. For better cleaning, choose one of the emulsified silicone enamels.
For a near permanent shine and scratch resistance, choose wax, but keep in mind that wax is much more difficult to use due to the extra effort required to polish the excess and that a cloth or chamois moistened with water, not shiny for furniture, it should be used for dusting so as not to remove the wax.
For old and cracked finishes, wax is the best choice because it adds quite permanent scratch resistance to the brittle surface and adds shine without showing cracks in the finish like liquid polishes do.
Obviously none of these products should be used. Dusting and cleaning can be done using a cloth moistened with water or chamois, as is done almost anywhere in the world.
The silicone problem
Silicone causes finishing problems due to its smoothness. It enters the wood through the cracks in the old finishes, causing the recently applied finishes to be removed and the creation of crater-like patterns called fish eyes. To work around this problem, clean the wood very well, seal with shellac or add some silicone, sold as a fish eye eliminator or Smoothie, to the finish so that it runs on the contamination.
While silicone contamination can be successfully addressed, doing so requires extra effort and often a lot of frustration. As a result, finishers and restorers hate furniture polishes that contain silicone and have discouraged people from using them for half a century or more.
Since “extra effort” and “frustration” don’t work well as explanations, however, body builders and restorers have resorted to allegations that silicone polishes cause all kinds of damage to finishes, ranging from softening to making finishes so brittle. to break. In fact, silicone is just as inert as mineral oil; it does not harm anything.
Consumers, on the other hand, love silicone polishes because these polishes improve the look of their furniture and furniture and keep them looking better for much longer than other polishes.
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