Safely Cleaning Antiques

by Bonnie Roberts
(last updated August 20, 2018)

Can there be such a thing as TOO clean? When it comes to antiques, you bet! The biggest mistake in cleaning antiques is over-cleaning them. Antiques are valued because of their age and authenticity, and if you remove all signs and symptoms of age, they consequently lose much of their value. What's worse, once this mistake is made, it can't be put back the way it was before.

Patinas add value and even beauty to antiques, especially in bronze and silver. These are chemical compounds formed on the surface of metals over time and through handling. The patina gives objects a darkened, aged look. Do not polish it out of the metal. Warm water and brushing softly will not remove the patina, but should remove dust and dirt when you clean your antique metal objects.

If an object is very delicate, don't attempt to clean it with anything more than a soft brush to remove dust. A dirty antique is preferable to a damaged or destroyed one.

Porcelain, ceramic, hard stone, and glass are hardier and easier to clean. Put a tiny bit of dish soap in warm water (just a 1% solution) and gently hand clean the items. Metals such as steel, iron, and aluminum can be carefully cleaned in the same way if plain water isn't enough. Use "Never-Dull" to remove encrustations and rust from iron.

Wood is a little trickier to clean. You should never use water, as it causes the fibers to swell. Also, sometimes antique wood has a patina of its own, a layer of grime that you might be tempted to clean off but should not. If you're not sure whether you should clean a valuable antique, consult an expert. Otherwise, try one of these wood cleaning and/or polishing products:

  • Murphy's Oil Soap: This is gentle because it's nearly pH neutral. It cleans off the dirt while it oils and shines the wood for a beautiful result.
  • Old English lemon oil: Apply with lots of rags to clean and polish up your wood.
  • Kramer's Best Antique Improver: Expensive product, but great for covering scratches and nicks as it remoisturizes antique wood.
  • Paste wax: Every now and then, apply a thin coat to your wood furniture with a soft cloth. Buff the wax with another dry cloth. You may need to use a solvent to remove the old wax first. The wax improves the wood's appearance by filling in cracks and scratches in the finish.

Bottom line: find out before you tamper with any of your antiques. You never know what might damage them and cause them to lose value.

Author Bio

Bonnie Roberts

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