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How to clean, maintain wicker for years to come

If you have old wicker or are considering buying used, some cleaning and other care might be in order. If the piece is in good condition structurally, restoring its original beauty is rather easy. Here are some suggestions:

To clean wicker, a vacuum cleaner with a brush attachment might be all it takes. But if the piece has deep, dark and dirty crevices, an air compressor and blowgun will work better.

Once the surface dirt has been whisked away, wash the furniture with a solution of warm, mild, soapy water using a very soft brush. The water must be used sparingly and the furniture must be put out to dry completely. This is very important because moisture in wicker, as in any other wood, will cause it to warp.

If the furniture looks great at this point, your job is done. If, on the other hand, it needs painting, read on.

Before painting, clean as described above. Next, sand off the rough spots and any flaking paint. Use very fine sandpaper, taking particular care around delicate or slightly worn areas.

To remove any shellac, apply household ammonia with a very soft brush. Do this in a well-ventilated area. To remove paint, any commercial paint remover will work. Again, do this in a well-ventilated area. Only two warnings: Do not strip paint or varnish from reed furniture or from fiber rush furniture. The reed will be weakened and the rush fibers will roughen.

To paint and varnish, use a sprayer. The job will be much easier than using a brush, and the piece will show a more even, consistent color throughout. The air compressor you went out and bought to clean the furniture also can be used with a spray gun to paint it. See, it wasn’t a waste of money after all.

When painting or varnishing, apply thin coats. They dry faster, are more durable and will look much better than a heavy application.

If a two-tone effect is on the agenda, a bit of artistic talent is needed. First, spray the wicker one color. When completely dry, apply another color and immediately wipe it with rags until the desired effect is achieved. The secret is to have the first coat completely dry before applying the second coat. Then, when the second coat is added, wipe quickly or you may end up with a coating that looks blotchy and amateurish.

To keep wicker looking good, follow these four easy steps:

* Keep out of the weather.

* Cover furniture when not

in use.

* Vacuum often with a

soft brush.

* Clean periodically with a

damp cloth and mild soap.

Rosemary Sadez Friedmann is author of “Mystery of Color.,

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