Water damage to polished surfaces is one of the most common problems encountered by the antique furniture restorer. Its effects may range from a relatively minor clouding (blooming) of the polish to complete moisture penetration through to the timber leaving unsightly discoloured patches sometimes having a darker perimeter. In extreme cases where water has been left standing there may be a complete loss of polish leaving bare discoloured timber which may have been further damaged by fungal attack.
Estimating the degree of work in rectifying these problems is consequently very difficult. The extent of the damage, the type of staining, timber and surface finish (polish), together with the general colouration are all factors that come into play.
In the case of traditional polishes such as shellac, blooming may be removable by gently softening the polish using a solvent and then re-building the surface finish in the affected area. On the otherhand a synthetic finish may not react to such treatment and the entire surface may need to be removed before being re-polished. Clearly there will be a dramatic difference in the cost of the two cases.
Where staining and discolouration has taken place the marks will need to be bleached and the surface re-coloured before the polish can be restored.
In all cases the objective is to remove as much or all of the staining as possible. Recognising that we are dealing with natural materials that do not always behave in the way in which we would like it is not always possible to completely remove a blemish. In this case the restorer has to use colour to disguise or blend-in the remainder such that it doesn’t stand out when seen from a normal viewing distance.
It is easy to say that prevention is better than cure but in general it is worth a bit of extra forethought:
- Wipe up all spillages and splashes immediately
- Avoid leaving furniture near open windows as rain may blow in and cause significant damage
- Remember that earthenware plant pot saucers are porous!
- Wine and particularly spirits will soften polish rapidly.
The restoration of water damaged finishes should only be performed by a qualified and experienced restorer. In the past I have seen significant damage and additional problems caused by attempts by the layman or handyman which only lead to additional work and cost so please avoid any products on the DIY store shelf that describe themselves as ‘ring removers’ or similar.