Expert Advice: Maintaining Your Wooden Furniture in a Humid Climate

Here at SquareRooms, we’re big lovers of wooden furniture, particularly when it’s handcrafted using local wood. We don’t just love buying and decorating with it, we also love maintaining it and keeping it in great shape. After all, products that last longer are much more environmentally friendly and also a lot more affordable in the long run! But not everyone knows how to maintain wooden furniture, and particularly in Singapore’s humid weather and relentless heat, tables and other wooden items can quickly suffer damage when not maintained well.

Jackie Tan, the design director at sustainable furniture shop Triple Eyelid Studio, knows a little something about how to keep wooden furniture in great shape. Read on to find out what can damage your wooden furniture over time and how you can care for it to prevent this damage.

SquareRooms: How does Singapore’s hot and humid climate affect wooden furniture?

Jackie Tan: When exposed to an excessive amount of humidity, wooden furniture can expand, begin to deteriorate and even grow mould.

Which kind of wood holds up the best in our local weather? Which do you recommend staying away from?

With the right finishing, most wood species sold locally are suitable for our weather when used indoors. Hardwood species like teak, oak, maple and suar are all suitable for furniture making. Regional species like khaya, balau, chengal and angsana are good choices as well.

Softwood species tend to wear and tear in this weather and are especially not recommended for outdoor usage. Two softwood species to avoid for this use in particular are pine and cedar.

squarerooms triple eyelid studio local handmade wooden furniture bed frame

What’s the most common damage you see on wooden furniture? Why do you think that is?

The most common damage to wooden furniture is insect infestation by termites and wood burrowing beetles, as well as mould from moisture. These occur when wood finishing wears off over time or when the manufacturer never finished the wood properly in the first place.

What’s your top tip to keep wooden furniture in great shape, particularly in humid conditions?

To keep furniture in good shape, always make sure to apply wood protecting oil or wood wax once every couple of years. Also, do not place furniture too close to windows or doors so as to avoid direct exposure to sunlight and weather.

What do you recommend people use to clean their furniture?

For day-to-day maintenance, a dry or mildly damp cloth will do the trick. Soap and surface cleaners are also suitable, but definitely avoid any solvent-based cleaning products. Try to look out for cleaning products that are labelled “wood safe.”

squarerooms triple eyelid studio local handmade wooden furniture bookshelf shelving unit

What’s the most common mistake you see people make when maintaining wooden furniture?

Common mistakes include wiping down the furniture surface with a wet cloth, not using coasters or pot trivets for hot dishes and placing indoor furniture in direct sunlight. Furniture coatings wear off much more quickly over time when constantly exposed to direct sunlight and moisture.

Do you have any advice for people whose pets like to scratch or bite table legs?

It would be a good idea to purchase a separate scratch post to redirect the scratching as much as possible from the wooden furniture. Pet owners could also provide some training or treats to let their pets use the scratching posts more if they still insist on biting or scratching the table legs.

What’s the best way to remove water rings from wooden tabletops?

The best practice is to prevent the water rings from forming in the first place. Try to use coasters for cups as often as possible, especially for cold drinks as those will release moisture from condensation onto the table. If water rings do form, mix one teaspoon of kitchen salt with a few drops of water to form a paste (alternatively, car wax is also suitable). Gently rub the paste into the water ring with a soft cloth or sponge until the spot is gone. Add a layer of furniture polish if necessary.

squarerooms triple eyelid studio local handmade wooden furniture dining table

How do you check the quality of the wood while shopping for furniture? Are there any obvious red flags you look out for?

  • The first step to checking the quality of wooden furniture is to identify the type of wood being used. Some furniture looks like it’s made from solid wood but is actually made of plywood and timber veneer. A good way to tell the difference is to look for the grain direction. Solid wood slabs have wood grain that is continuous and consistent throughout the whole block.
  • Check that the drawers, cabinets and all hardware parts are installed properly. Make sure all moving parts fit tightly and don’t jiggle when in use.
  • High-end wooden furniture should be made with proper wood joinery techniques.
  • A good furniture piece should be well balanced in terms of weight distribution. Try to avoid top-heavy furniture designs which may be a hazard for young children or pets if knocked into.
  • Ensure that the furniture base is well finished so that the legs don’t scratch or tear your flooring.

Many people like to shop vintage these days. How do you recommend maintaining very old furniture?

The beauty of vintage furniture comes from its rustic exterior. If you are buying an authentic piece of old furniture, see if a small drop of water changes the tone of the wood. If the wood darkens, the lacquer or wood finishing has almost worn off. In that case, ask if the furniture seller can reapply a clear protective coating. If not, simply get wood oil from a DIY store and apply a layer to protect the furniture from moisture and bugs going forward. Some popular wood oils include teak oil, tung oil and Danish oil.