Humidity and Antique Furniture
Humidity and antique furniture do not go well together. The problem for many collectors is that they want to display their furniture for guests but need to be able to keep it safe as well. Antique furniture collectors should be careful to keep furniture in the ideal environment to preserve it.
Why Are Humidity and Antique Furniture at Odds?
Though many people discuss the quality workmanship of older furniture, it is not true that these pieces are able to survive anything. In fact, antique furniture needs far more care than regular furniture to keep it in good condition. The workmanship often is excellent, but the age of the piece outweighs that quality.
Humidity is the result of moisture or water molecules in the air. At low levels of humidity, there are few water molecules in the air, and this often creates the feeling of “dry heat.” Humid areas though, such as tropical climates, can saturate the air with tiny molecules of vapour. This high humidity often makes the air feel heavy and more difficult to breathe. Both of these environments are bad for antique furniture.
Low humidity, or dry air, basically causes wood and adhesives in the antique furniture to dry out. The wood will begin to warp. All materials shrink some in the heat, which most people know, but they also shrink in low humidity. That means the joints of the furniture are most at risk because if they come apart, however slightly, they may break if someone sits or props on the furniture. Adhesives or lubricants used in furniture also can become brittle in low humidity. If they dry out, they leave the furniture susceptible to damage.
The problems with high humidity are the same problems associated with moisture in general. Some areas can have humidity levels up to 99%. At 100%, the air is completed saturated, and precipitation typically results. At 99%, though, the air is full of water vapour. This moisture, over periods of time, can cause mould to begin to grow on the furniture. This mould can cause significant damage, or even destroy the furniture.
The ideal humidity range for most pieces of antique furniture is 35% to 65% saturation. The furniture should be kept at average room temperature, somewhere between 68 and 75 degrees. While temperature is not the same as humidity, the two are related in that each extreme environment opens the possibility for more damage to the furniture.
Dealing With Humidity
Should you want to keep antique furniture in your home, consider getting a device to measure humidity. You will need to monitor the rooms where you have the furniture to make sure they stay at the right humidity level. Even a few days at the wrong level can begin to cause problems.
There are other ways to deal with humidity and antique furniture as well.
- Keep antique furniture away from sources of heat or air conditioners. This warning includes both intake and outflow vents.
- Use a humidifier in the room with antique furniture if you have concerns about how dry the air is.
- Keep antique furniture away from direct sunlight. You need to control the environment, and you cannot do that as easily if the pieces are exposed to the sun. While a sunroom may make a beautiful spot for your furniture, it is not the safest place for it to be.
Caring for your table
Cracking can be prevented by regular waxing, and the use of a humidifier, and if in very hot areas the whole piece can be waxed twice or even three times a month for moisture. Also, avoid using cleaning sprays and cobra waxes as they contain elements like paraffin that dry up the wood and cause cracks along the grain of the wood and joints. furniture waxes that contain mineral turpentine should be used instead and heating gadgets must not be turned on near the pieces. Any restorer can fill the crack and clamp the table in the meantime and then you would need to use the very good wax we are sending you to keep the table moisturised (2-3 times a month). Also, keep the table out of full sunlight.
Information on wood & humidity
Wood acts as a hygrometer for the area that it is in. Any article made of wood is liable to more or less warping due to changes in humidity. Wood is a hygroscopic material which means it tends to give off its moisture to a dry atmosphere or it takes on moisture from a damp atmosphere until an equilibrium between the two is established. Climates can be tough on any type of wood. This isn’t because of the temperature, but it’s actually due to humidity. Wood acclimates to its environment and will expand and contract depending on the conditions it is exposed to and the humidity level. As the level of humidity in your home drops, the wood your furniture is made out of loses moisture. Like your hands, if wood gets too dry it will shrink and crack. Wood is very sensitive to changes in humidity and in your home, the level of humidity is constantly changing, meaning your wood furniture is always expanding and contracting. In cases of super dry conditions, the wood can shrink and crack.
To prevent your wood furniture from cracking, warping, or drying out, keep the following tips in mind
- Wood does best in moderate temperatures of around 70 – 72 degrees Fahrenheit and about 50 – 55% humidity, so this is what we recommend keeping your home set to in order to keep your wood furniture in top condition.
- Watch your humidity in your home and make sure your humidifier is working properly to prevent any and all issues, especially during the winter months.
- Avoid frequent and sudden changes in humidity, as they can be damaging to furniture.
- Don’t store wood furniture in the basement, attic, garage, or warehouse, if at all possible, as this will cause it to age more quickly.
- Avoid excess heat or dryness, as this can cause wood to split and crack.
- Be sure to keep your furniture away from heat sources such as fireplaces or radiators.
- In damp rooms or during wet, rainy seasons, use a dehumidifier to remove excess moisture from the air.
- Keep furniture out of direct sunlight.
- Keep table leaves as close to your table as possible to ensure they are exposed to the same humidity conditions.