Humidity and Antique Furniture: What's the Ideal Level?

Updated August 30, 2021
Vintage interior sofa

Humidity and antique furniture do not go well together. The problem for many collectors is that they want to display their furniture for guests but need to be able to keep it safe as well. The ideal humidity level for antique furniture is between 35 to 36 percent saturation, and fortunately, there are several ways you can create the perfect environment to preserve wood furniture.

Why Are Humidity and Antique Furniture at Odds?

Though many people discuss the quality workmanship of older furniture, it is not true that these pieces are able to survive anything. In fact, antique furniture needs far more care than regular furniture to keep it in good condition. The workmanship often is excellent, but the age of the piece outweighs that quality.

Humidity Defined

Humidity is the result of moisture, or water molecules in the air, according to YourDictionary. At low levels of humidity, there are few water molecules in the air, and this often creates the feeling of "dry heat." Humid areas though, such as tropical climates, can saturate the air with tiny molecules of vapor. This high humidity often makes the air feel heavy and more difficult to breathe. Both of these environments are bad for antique furniture.

Low Humidity Dangers

Low humidity, or dry air, basically causes wood and adhesives in the antique furniture to dry out. The wood will begin to warp. All materials shrink some in the heat, which most people know, but they also shrink in low humidity. That means the joints of the furniture are most at risk because if they come apart, however slightly, they may break if someone sits on the furniture. Adhesives or lubricants used in furniture also can become brittle in low humidity. If they dry out, they leave the furniture susceptible to damage.

High Humidity Dangers

The problems with high humidity are the same problems associated with moisture in general. Some areas can have humidity levels up to 99 percent. At 100 percent, the air is completed saturated, and precipitation typically results. At 99 percent, though, the air is full of water vapor. This moisture, over periods of time, can cause mold to begin to grow on the furniture. This mold can cause significant damage, create difficult-to-remove water stains, or even destroy the furniture.

Ideal Humidity for Display or Storage

According to the National Parks Service Guide for the Curatorial Care of Wooden Objects, the ideal humidity range for most pieces of antique furniture is 35 to 65 percent saturation. This can vary, depending on the area of the country or world where the furniture is displayed with pieces near the coast or in naturally humid environments requiring more humidity than those in drier climates. Ultimately, it's important not to drastically change the humidity level.

The furniture should be kept at average room temperature, somewhere between 68 and 75 degrees. While temperature is not the same as humidity, the two are related in that each extreme environment opens the possibility for more damage to the furniture.

Electronic hygrometer

Dealing With Humidity: Tips to Preserve Your Furniture

If you want to keep antique furniture in your home, consider getting a device to measure humidity. You will need to monitor the rooms where you have the furniture to make sure they stay at the right humidity level. Even a few days at the wrong level can begin to cause problems.

There are other ways to deal with humidity and antique furniture as well:

  • Keep antique furniture away from sources of heat or air conditioning. This warning includes both intake and out flow vents.
  • Use a humidifier in the room with antique furniture if you have concerns about how dry the air is.
  • Keep antique furniture away from direct sunlight. You need to control the environment, and you cannot do that as easily if the pieces are exposed to the sun. While a sunroom may make a beautiful spot for your furniture, it is not the safest place for it to be.

Research Can Help Keep Your Furniture Beautiful

Checking into guides about how to care for your antique furniture is one of the easiest ways to make sure you are doing the right things with your pieces. You should consider each piece separately. Antique rocking chairs may not have the same needs as the antique table you just bought, for example, especially if they are from different eras. It's also important to take some time to learn how to clean antique furniture properly. Doing a little research early will help you keep your collection in excellent shape.

Humidity and Antique Furniture: What's the Ideal Level?