To Clean or Not To Clean


I have been asked many times whether it is ok to clean an antique or collectible item or if it is better to not clean. Also many times someone has cleaned something that they should not have and depleted the value significantly.

The short answer to the question is don’t clean it and seek the advice of an expert on that type of item. I will try to outline some of the most common categories of antiques and collectibles to give you some idea of what can be cleaned and not, and how to properly do it.

I will give one story to start with. I had a client who was cleaning out her mothers estate. The mother had a large collection of Shirley Temple Blue glass. The daughter decided that the items were very dirty and she soaked them in soap and water and then ran through the dishwasher. When they came out of the dishwasher they were just blue glass, not Shirley Temple any longer. This depleted the value of the items to about an eighth of what they would have been worth.

So lets get into this, I have given bullet points of some of the key categories so that it will be easy for you to use as a reference.

    • It should never be attempted to clean or restore an oil painting or good artwork except by a professional,period! At the auction house the only thing that we will do is light dusting. We do this by dabbing with fresh white bread. You only want to use fresh white bread, not whole grains because they have rougher grains and seeds in them.
    • Colored Glass and Clear Glass
      • Colored glass may be cleaned by hand with a light dish detergent and warm water. You should never use anything abrasive
      • If your glass has stubborn build up or crud on it that will not come off with soap and water, you can lightly scrape with copper. The coper is soft enough that it will not scratch the glass.
      • DO NOT use: scouring pads, steel wool, scotch bright pads, or anything that is abrasive. Also do not use BB’s inside of jars and bottles to clean they will cause scratching also.
    • Painted Glass
      • Painted glass such as Goofus Glass and others should not be cleaned in soap and water. You should only clean the smooth not painted areas to avoid the loss of paint.
      • Do Not put in the dish washer or soak in water, this will result in the loss of more paint.
    • The best way to clean these types of items is with a vacuum clean with a nylon stocking over the end of the nozzle and keep the nozzle slightly about the material.
    • after the items have been vacuum, you can hang outside on nice sunny day to air out.
    • DO NOT Dry clean, machine wash, or try to hand wash. Chemicals in water and soaps can harm the delicate materials of old antique quilts and linens!
    • furniture should first be dry dusted or brushed to get rid of all loose dirt. You can use Q-tips or a tooth brush for carved areas.
    • I have found that wood soap or hardwood floor soap mixed in warm water is the best for cleaning dirty pieces of furniture.
    • hard to pull drawers can be soaped with a plain unscented bar of sop to make glide a little better
    • if you are working with softwood and have dents or light scratches in the wood, you can use steam to rehydrate the wood particles. you simply do this by taking a damp cloth and putting over an area and then use a hot iron to put on the cloth and create steam.
    • if you want to give it a little shine beeswax furniture polish is one of my favorites.
    • Vacuum the pages with soft bristle brush and a nylon stocking over the brush so that you can’t suck the pages into the vacuum.
    • remove oil and grease stains by putting a paper towel between the oily pages and they put in a ziplock bag and place the book flat and put a weight or heavy book onto of to keep closed. let it there for 3-4 days and then remove paper towels and throw away. the oils and grease should have been absorbed into the paper towels. if it is not completely done it you can repeat this step.
  • TOYS
    • Most mid century toys can be cleaned with mild soap and warm water. Beware of any toys that have painting or decals on them.
    • if the toys are tin or have decals on them you will not want to submerge in water by wipe with a damp cloth lightly.
    • Rusted tools can be soaked in white vinegar over night. After they have soaked for several hours they can be scrubbed with steel wool. the coarseness of the steel wool will depend on the amount of corrosion. We typically use #0 or #1. After this step is completed rinse thoroughly in clean water and dry.
    • Severely pitted areas can be sanded with sanding pads on a sander.
    • first thing to do is to take the seasoning off. To do this spray with lye based oven cleaner and seal in a bag for 24 hours. Make sure to wear protective clothing and not get any on you. The lye based products will severely burn you.
    • To get the rust off soak in white vinegar and then scrub with a scouring pad.
    • clean thoroughly and then you are ready to re season the item and use again.
    • Coins should never be cleaned except by a professional numismatist.
  • Guns
    • Wooden parts of a gun can be cleaned the same as furniture.
    • The action of a gun and all metal parts should be cleaned with standard gun cleaning solvent and oiled with a light gun oil and excess wiped off with a soft absorbent cloth.

Hopefully you have found this Posting useful and keep buying at auctions and enjoy!

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