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How to freshen up your
second-hand buys

If you like your homewares pre-loved, you’ll know how expensive secondhand stuff can be when a stylish shop-owner has already done the sifting and buffing. 

So flea markets and charity shops are worth the effort – but how to do a Cinderella on scabby, shabby or stinky secondhand finds? I asked the pros…*

And here's some they prepared earlier... pre-spruced seconds, from top left, clockwise: 1960s Whitefriars glass vases, in dark blue and olive, £35 the pair, Pip's Tripgreen 50s tub chair, newly reupholstered, £375, The Peanut Vendor1950s modular Cado storage unit in teak, £225, The Peanut Vendor; turquoise rose vintage fabric cushion, £20 each, Eclectic Chair; coffee table footstool reupholstered in vintage Welsh tapestry fabric, £250, Eclectic Chair

Hit the balls Pip Harris's secondhand homewares shop,, specialises in glass and pottery. Her tip for cleaning hard-to-reach spots in, say, the bottom of a thin-necked glass vase or decanter is Magic Balls (try Lakeland): “You just pop a few into the vase with a drop of water and swirl them round – they're brilliant.”

Inners peace "In terms of fabric," says Becky Nolan of vintage furniture shop,, "if there is a whiff factor, we look out for anything detachable that can be put in the wash. But with cushions it’s usually the inners carrying the smell; new inners are really cheap from online haberdashers. Failing that, vacuum upholstered furniture, then lightly spritz with 1 part lemon juice, 9 parts soda. Repeat a few times if necessary.”

Fairy nice “We find that the best way to freshen musty furniture a freshen is good old Fairy Liquid," continues Becky. "Diluted and with a damp cloth it removes grime and will freshen a bit. And after that, if it’s wood, nothing beats the smell of beeswax.”

Musty try harder, clockwise from top left: crochet cushion with multi coloured pompoms, £40, Eclectic Chair; vintage Welsh tapestry pegbag, £15, Eclectic Chair; blanket, £25, The Peanut Vendor; vintage kimono cushion with multi-coloured pompoms, £30, Eclectic Chair

Nice one sun "For wood that’s faded in the sun, use a scratch cover from a DIY store," Becky adds, "it’s an oil with a stain in it but is great for faded furniture too, really warms it up - especially the likes of teak. Leave it to set for a while and then wax over it."

Burning issue Becky also suggests unsticking sticky drawers by rubbing a candle on them. "And very fine wire wool and wax is great for bringing weathered metal furniture and cast iron back to life.” 

Staining manual  Heather Linnitt, who makes and sells cushions made from antique fabric at, says: “For spot stains I use a little diluted biological washing liquid. It works on my vintage kimonos, which I don't like to launder; it gets rid of stubborn stains and gives it a nice scent. For heavier, all-over soiling, put a tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda in a pint of water in a spray bottle. Apply to the fabric and leave it to dry. Follow with a vacuum.”

Going for smoke "Remove the smell of smoke in upholstered furniture using undiluted white vinegar in a spray bottle, which destroys it on a molecular level rather than just covering it up like air fresheners do,” Heather continues. “Yes, vinegar stinks, too, but unlike cigarette smell, it dissipates within hours. And once it does, the cigarette smell will be gone, too. This also works on smells in wooden furniture like drawers or cupboards.”

If you like the goodies on sale from the Peanut Vendor, here, you'll love Becky Nolan's lovely flat, done up beautifully but rented and with everything spruced on a super tight budget.

* a shorter version of this post appeared as one of my weekly columns in the Independent on Sunday

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