Thrifting: How to Clean & Care For Your Secondhand Finds

Part 3 of the 'Thrifting' series is here... finally! My bad. I know that a lot of you have been waiting for this step. So let's just dive in to it! Now that you've thrifted like a pro, you probably have found some great pieces. You may have even found some that needs to be cleaned before being brought into your home or just want to give it a good deep clean anyway. Hey. We want the beautiful pieces from the 70's, just not the dust and grime that comes with it. I'm going to break this blog into groups - Soft Goods, Case Goods and Upholstery.

But first, I want to announce that my Kickstarter Campaign for The Durham Box is LIVE!! This is an "all or nothing" funding project that ends October 31st at Midnight. We are offering some really fun rewards for those able to back our project, so check them out! One is a Vintage Home Decor Mystery Box, filled with pieces that are one of a kind. If you like what we thrift and sell on our @shopnouveaucentral shop then you'll love this! Please share with your friends on social media and let's get this project fully backed!! Thank you - now let's get back to why we are here.

*NOTE: I am not a professional cleaner. I am just sharing some tips that I have learned along the way from the many years of experience of thrifting, working in a showroom and education in Interior Design. I recommend testing your piece first in a corner or underneath to see how your piece reacts. Every stain and every piece is different. Be smart and call the pros if you need help. I don't want you ruining your treasure.*

Soft Goods Clean & Care

Soft Goods are anything designed with fabric or textiles that aren't furniture. This will cover rugs, window treatments, tapestries, pillows and bedding.


Rugs are a foundation to many rooms, so they are sure to take a lot of everyday wear. If your rug has an oder or is noticeably dirty then I'm sure you're itching to clean it. Before you rent a high grade rug cleaner or take it to a professional cleaner, which I suggest you do if you don't trust yourself or have an antique or delicate rug, see if these DIY steps help you out.

What you'll need:

Vacuum, Bucket, Rug Shampoo (Outback Gold Wool Wash for Wool Rugs), Soft Bristle Janitor's Brush, Water. A Garden Hose and Wet-Dry Vacuum are great to have too, but if you don't have them, you should be fine.

What to do:

1) First you're going to want to lay your rug flat on a level surface that will handle moisture. i.e. driveway on a sunny day or garage floor.

2) Remove all Dirt. You already know how to do this part if you vacuum. Vacuum over your rug a few times and flip and repeat on the underneath. Do this until you feel your rug has no debris or dirt.

3) Get your cleaning solution ready. Follow the directions on the product that you're using. Do not use hot water. Extreme heat will shrink rugs or cause colors to run or fade.

4) Before I clean any fabric or textile I like to test a small corner where I know can be hidden just in case the chemical causes shrinkage, color runs or the material just can't handle it. If nothing happens then you're good to go!

5) Time to wash that rug! Take your brush & mixture and scrub your rug. Get the entire rug and allow the solution to sit for a few minutes. Rinse off your rug with fresh water from your hose or buckets.

6) Dry your rug. This step is going to make you work. Before your rug can air dry you need to try to remove as much water as you can. I use towels to blot and a wet-dry vacuum. After your rug is ringed out a bit, now you can use that sunny day to do the rest. At this point I move my rugs to a dryer area in the sun to lay flat. I place about two to three fans around the rug to help speed the process. Once the top side is dry, I flip and let the underside get dry. This will take a while. Don't worry about your rug getting faded from the sun, that takes many many exposures before it will start to fade.

*If you notice that your rug smells while its wet that is supposed to happen. It's like a dog. When it get's wet it will have a smell, but should go away as it drys. Once you have your rug back into your house, I always like to odor block my rugs with scented powders that you can find at any store.

To keep your rug feeling fresh and clean it will help to pick up some habits like removing your shoes while in the house, vacuuming regularly - sometimes adding backing soda or other rug safe powders to eliminate odors and bacteria. Make yourself a "go-to" kit just in case you need to address any spills that occur so they don't stain your rugs.


Pillows, bedding and window treatments can be a great score at the thrift shop but lets face it, they aren't always the cleanest. Don't fear, most of these items will come with instructions on how to clean. Usually a good wash in the washer machine does the trick. For larger items like slipcovers and drapes a run to the dry-cleaners can be a good idea.

I always buy pillows that can be removed by zipper so that cleaning is easy. New pillow inserts can be found at any fabric store or Ikea.

Case Goods Clean & Care

Case Goods are furniture that are made of wood, acrylic, metal or all the above, such as dressers, tables, chairs, chests, cabinets, etc.


Vintage and thrifted tables, sideboards, cabinets, chests and chairs (wooden) usually come with amazing bones and craftsmanship, but sometimes with other characteristics that are unwanted. When I score a great wood piece I first dust it off before putting it in my car, making sure that I remove all the spider webs and eggs.

Overall Cleaning: If your piece just needs a quick shine up I like to use the Original Bee's Wax Old World Formula Furniture Polish. This polish can be used on any household item that contains wood, metal, or glass. It's a great product to have around. I've used it on my stainless steel refrigerator and bathroom mirrors as well and works amazingly.

Scratches: If the piece has light scratches that just need to be touched up, my favorite product to use is the Stain Markers by Minwax. These can be found at any hardware store or online. If the piece has deeper gouges, then I usually sand it down to a smooth touch and refinish it myself and restain in a Minwax penetrating stain. Sometimes wood filler is needed. Then seal it with a satin polycrylic finish.

Smells: We've all opened up a grandmother's dresser and smelled moth balls or cigarette smoke and often you'll find some of these pieces in your local thrift store or on Facebook Marketplace. I don't know what overtakes you more, the beauty of the piece or the smell. You can mask the item with chips of soap, dryer sheets or aroma bags that you can pick up from At Home or Target. For a more permanent solution use an open container of Baking Soda. Leave it in the drawers or shelves for a few days to a week, depending on how strong the odor is. For the realllly strong pieces I like to spray the drawers with a Vinegar and Water mixture. Vinegar is amazing for eliminating odors, that's why it's used for a lot of DIY cleaners. Just take a spray bottle or bowl and pour in equal parts vinegar and water and spray away. You may have to repeat and let air dry outside. If for some reason that smell just wants to stay, you can always go the extra mile and paint the inside of the drawers. Get a good durable paint to mask the smell, like a primer.

Loose Legs: Sometimes you'll find the perfect set of chairs but a leg or arm may be loose. If you are able to remove the leg do so. Apply wood glue in the hole and where the leg meets the hole. After the leg and hole have been filled with glue, insert the leg back into the hole. Sometimes a mallet is needed to get it all the way in there. Use a large clamp to secure the leg and chair for a few hours of dry time (overnight is best). If you do not feel comfortable with taking your chair apart, then have a local woodworker do it. They usually don't charge too much for re-gluing.

Water Rings: Nothing devalues your furniture more than water rings. If you find a table that you can't live without that has a water ring, you may be able to remove it with some household products. Mayonnaise.. yes the disgusting jar of Mayo will be a big help here. Just spread some mayo on the ring - try avoiding the rest of the furniture because it may remove the finish. Leave the mayo on for an hour or so. Reapply if it absorbs. Remove excess and water with towel. You may have to repeat this or leave it on over night, but just continue to check on it throughout.

To keep your furniture pieces in good condition an overall clean every once in a while is a good idea. Remember that these pieces get used and wear. Refresh the surface with furniture polish or a light stain treatment to enrich the finish. If you add polishing to your cleaning routine it will only add a few minutes to your chores and keep your furniture happy. If your wood pieces are dry and need some TLC a good product to use is Howard's Feed-N-Wax. It's a conditioner and polish that just adds moisture to wood and allows it to breath.


Metals can be found in a lot of great designs, especially in accessories. Brass, chrome and silver being the most popular.

Brass: We love finding brass in the thrift stores, but sometimes they are so dirty and tarnished that you can't enjoy the beauty of the piece anymore. Again an easy every day household item will do the trick. Ketchup! Mom always said don't play with your food, but it does the trick. The acid from tomatoes will help break down and remove any tarnish and dirt. Wipe on the ketchup with a wash cloth, rinse it off with warm water and dry with a towel.

Chrome: Chrome can be found in a lot of vintage and modern designs. Because chrome is a metal that doesn't do well with harsh chemicals, it's best to treat it with care. Chose a non-abrasive soap and use a light bristled brush to scrub it clean from any dirt. Dry with a towel. You can also shine and polish chrome with another household product. Aluminum Foil! Aluminum Foil is a softer metal, so it works well when cleaning chrome and should not scratch.

Silver: One time I thrifted a vintage Godinger Silver Plated 4 Tier Serving Stand for $3.50 at Scrap Thrift for my cousin's baby's birthday party. However it was so tarnished and dirty that I wasn't sure if it would ever get its shine back, but for $3.50 I wasn't going to leave it. With some elbow grease, an hour of my time and MAAS Metal Polish it came back to life! (Video Below) This Metal Polish works tremendously well and work on almost all metal: silver, stainless steel, chrome, fiberglass, brass and even copper.

To keep your metals clean try to reduce the amount of times that they are touched. The oils from your body produces dirt and tarnishes them faster.

Upholstery Care & Clean

Upholstery is anything that is made with fabric and a frame: sofas, chairs, headboards, chaise lounges, etc. Who doesn't like a good deal on a sofa or a chair and usually the used ones have the best deals. After you've followed my tips for selecting your thrifted upholstered item I know you want to clean it, if needed. There are so many ways to clean your fabrics and if you are not comfortable with it because you feel you may ruin it, then don't. There are professional upholstery cleaners that are able to. *Again, before doing anything with chemicals and spot treatments look to see what kind of material your piece is made of and if it has a manufacture tag with treatment instructions.*

Light Overall Clean

If your sofa or chair seems to be in good shape (no stains) and just needs to have an overall clean before coming into your home then grab your Bristle Brush, Vacuum with attachment hose and Baking Soda. First brush your material to loosen any dirt, then vacuum the entire sofa. After your pieces are dirt free, sprinkle on baking soda to absurb any smells and let sit for about 15 minutes. Take your fine brush attachment for your vaccum and do a last deep clean.

Do this and test your material with your mixed solution before spot cleaning any stains.


I love linen because it is so soft and natural. I've noticed that it will not pick easily, but will wrinkle in no time. To spot clean try distilled warm water and white wash cloth first. Linen is forgiving with stains because it's so breathable. If you still have a stain then use mild soap, water and a white cloth. Lightly treat it. You can usually dry clean or wash and air dry this material but you will need to steam after d