1. Undo water damage.
On a wood table, water spills, wet glasses or vases, and hot dishes can leave behind unsightly white marks and rings when the moisture seeps into the finish. Fortunately, unless you’ve had a spill linger on the surface for a long time, this damage can be repaired quickly. Start by placing a clean, thick towel on top of the stain. With your iron on a dry low-to-medium setting, press over the towel (making sure the soleplate doesn’t touch the wood) for several seconds. The gentle heat will warm the finish enough to release the moisture into the towel. Lift the towel to check the results. Repeat as needed until the stain disappears. Polish and buff as usual.
2. Fix nicks and scratches.
When keys are tossed or a fork is dropped on finished wood, the marks left behind are especially obvious if the stain gets scraped off. The solution to help conceal these scratches is nuts. No, really: Fresh walnuts or Brazil nuts have natural oils that help darken the wood to hide scratches. Crack the nut open, then rub the meat over the scratch in the direction of the grain of the wood. Buff with a clean, soft cloth. Repeat until the area blends in with the rest of the finish as much as possible.
3. Halt hairspray damage.
Even when finely misted, the alcohol in perfume and hairspray can dissolve wood finishes. Suppress your cleanup instincts and let the droplets dry. Then dampen a cloth with water and dip it into a bit of ammonia. Lightly go over the stains to remove sticky residue. Wipe dry. To smooth the finish, visit a home store and pick up some boiled linseed oil and powdered rottenstone, a mild abrasive (they’ll know what it is, we promise). Mix the two into a thin paste and apply with your fingertip, gently working into the stains in the direction of the grain; wipe clean with a cloth. Apply a few coats of furniture polish; buff well. Note: Spots where the finish is totally destroyed may require restoration.