How to Care for & Repair Vintage Rattan Furniture

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Thin rattan seats and backs form around a thick chair base.
Image Credit: Images

The proper cleaning and care is essential for the maintenance of vintage rattan furniture. Rattan--similar to wicker--is typically woven into seats and backs of furniture. The relatively small bands of wood may become fragile over time from age or the elements, forcing an owner to repair the piece of furniture. If this occurs, proper measures should be taken to ensure the repair is long lasting. For those inexperienced with wicker weaving, consider contacting a professional to weave replacement rattan pieces.


Cleaning Tools

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To properly clean rattan furniture, it is necessary to use the right tools. A regular cleaning or dusting cloth will not penetrate the small areas between the strands of rattan. Neglect of these areas may result in a buildup of dirt or moisture, potentially leading to damage of the piece. For regular cleaning, cut the bristles of a paintbrush to approximately half their original size. This will make them slightly stiff, but still capable of penetrating between the woven rattan. Brush slowly up and down, then back-and-forth to cover the entire piece. For deep cleaning, use a medium bristle toothbrush and concentrate on the getting the small bristles between the rattan strands.

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Water can both help and hurt vintage rattan. Rattan furniture left out in the rain or snow becomes subject to rot. However, the proper use of water keeps the piece clean. For cleaning, tilt or lean the piece against a wall. Put a small amount of water on a brush, then brush the rattan. Dry the piece immediately afterward with a paper towel or lint-free cloth. Do not let water stand or pool on any part of rattan furniture. If you keep the piece outdoors, cover it with plastic or a tarp during damp or wet weather. Dry it off as soon as possible after it is exposed to moisture.



After years of use, the finish may diminish from rattan furniture. The paint may chip or fade, especially on the seat area. When this occurs, the solution is refinishing. Do not use sandpaper to remove the old finish. Use a chemical stripper especially made for delicate woods. Wipe off the stripper with a rag, then rinse it with water to ensure all the chemical is removed. Wipe it dry with paper towels or dry lint-free cloths. Once it is stripped and dry, it is ready for a new finish. Use spray paint for the project as a brush or roller may not get into the small areas between the rattan strips.


Replacing Spokes

If pieces of the woven vintage rattan break, they need to be replaced. Replacement pieces are available through craft and woodworking outlets. Be sure to get the same size pieces as the original. Use a pair of pliers to pull the broken strands from the frame of the furniture. It may be necessary to slightly bore out the hole. Soak the new strips in water for approximately 20 to 30 minutes to ensure they are flexible, then use wood glue to secure the end of the strip in the hole. Replicating the weaving pattern with the new pieces may require several attempts for the novice weaver. Refinish the piece once the weaving is complete.



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