Methods to Keep Wood Furniture from Rotting

June 13th, 2023 Blog

A close-up of the corner of a vintage sideboard to the right. To the left, there's a window with a chaise longue below.

Quality wood furniture offers homeowners a host of benefits. It’s robust, it’s beautiful, and it’s made to last. That said, wooden furniture has some enemies— one notable adversary being wood rot. Fortunately, wood rot is easy to evade or overcome if you take some precautionary measures to keep it at bay.

So how does wooden furniture rot? Indoor wood furniture can start to rot or decay over time because of ongoing exposure to moisture. This is especially true for heirloom furniture that has been stored in a humid environment. Rot can ruin the finish and the surface of furniture, leaving it looking unsightly. In extreme cases, if left unchecked, rot can advance through the furniture and cause structural damage. In some cases, it will render the piece unsalvageable.

Fortunately, there are some measures you can take at home that can help to keep your indoor antique and handmade wood furniture safe. Here are our top methods to keep your wood furniture from rotting.

Control the Humidity in Your Home

Furniture placed in rooms that experience consistent humidity has a heightened potential for developing rot. Rooms with high humidity might be in bathrooms, where mugginess may be high following a hot shower or a long bath; in kitchens following long bouts of cooking; in laundry rooms if the washer and drier have been running consistently; or in the basement, which may be naturally predisposed to damp air.

To mitigate this possibility, turn on extractor fans to expel damp air in the bathroom, laundry room, and kitchen, and make sure to clean them regularly. Use dehumidifiers in basements on particularly humid days. Not only will this help protect any wooden furniture you have stored there, but it will also go towards protecting any wood that’s used in the building’s structure from developing rot of its own. That said, we strongly advise not to store solid wood furniture in basements, attics, garages, sheds, or other outhouse buildings due to the heightened potential for dampness.

We recommend that a home’s humidity sits around 40 to 45 percent to keep your furniture safe. To help control moisture levels in your home, ensure that caulking around windows and doors is up-to-date and crack-free to prevent damp air from leaching in.

Bonus tip: If you have a leaf for your solid wood dining table, keep it within proximity to your wood dining room chairs and dining table. If the leaf is left in the basement — or another room prone to higher-than-average humidity levels — it may swell, rendering it wobbly or misaligned with your dining table when the time comes to use it at your next family gathering.

Dry Furniture Out Should It Get Wet

Unfortunately, water damaged furniture is prone to developing rot. If a piece of wooden furniture gets wet — say, from a ceiling leak, a burst pipe behind a large piece of furniture that has gone unnoticed, or a spilled glass of water that’s been left to sit — it’s important to dry the furniture out. Of equal importance is to do this gradually. Expediting the process too rapidly could see the furniture splitting or cracking.

To dry wooden furniture, carefully wipe the piece down with a soft cloth to remove surface water, remove any drawers or shelves and prop them up nearby, open a window if it’s a warm day, and turn on a fan (or two!) to move air around the piece.

Be patient. It may take quite some time for the furniture to dry out completely. However, your patience will be rewarded as a thoroughly dried piece of wooden furniture is unlikely to rot.

Another detrimental effect of furniture being exposed to water for a prolonged period is water rings and discolouration. Good news, though: some watermarks can be removed through cleaning with household products.

The back of a person with long brown hair, they’re wearing a pale green shirt. They are wiping down a wooden counter with a cloth.

Clean Your Furniture Appropriately

One of the benefits of owning quality handcrafted wooden furniture is how easy it is to clean! The key is to not overload or soak the piece with water. Fortunately, this is very simple to avoid doing.

To keep your furniture clear of dust, gently wipe the piece down using a soft, dry microfibre cloth, following the grain pattern to avoid streaking. Use a slightly damp soft cloth for more stubborn dirt — but never spray water directly onto your wooden furniture; instead, spray the cloth. When you’re finished, and the mark has gone, wipe the area with a dry microfibre cloth.

Take Time to Boost Airflow

One simple way to help to prevent wood furniture from being susceptible to rot is to take time now and again to boost airflow through the home. On warm days, when the humidity outside is low, open the doors and windows and let the fresh air breeze through, helping your furniture and indoor air quality!

Waterproof It

Waterproofing your wooden furniture is another way to prevent rot from setting in and causing damage. Waterproofing creates an extra layer of protection that acts as a barrier, thus preventing moisture from coming into contact with the natural wood below.

There are several ways to waterproof your furniture at home, including but not limited to:

  • Buffing the piece using a natural oil like linseed or tung oil. At Woodcraft, many pieces are treated using our new oil-based finish.
  • Sealing it using polyurethane, varnish, or a lacquer.
  • Staining it with a stain sealant.

We strongly recommend testing any waterproofing liquids on an inconspicuous area of the furniture, the underside of a table or the back of a drawer, for example, before you begin covering the whole piece, to make sure that you like the effect and the possible colour change.

In addition to protecting your wood furniture from rot, waterproofing can help to prevent splitting, cracking, and discolouration.

The Takeaway on Protecting Your Wood Furniture from Rot

Well-made, quality solid wood furniture can truly stand the test of time, successfully holding up to wear and tear for many, many years. By caring for your furniture and implementing the methods we have suggested here, you’re helping protect your furniture from rot — guaranteeing its longevity for decades ahead.

If you have any questions about the stains and finishes, we use in our handmade furniture or about our Woodcraft Refinishing Service — where our experienced finishers and craftspeople can offer your old wood furniture a new lease on life — connect with us today.