How to Take Care of Antiques - dummies

By Gill Chilton

If it’s old, it may be delicate but sooner or later even antiques need to be cleaned in some fashion. Cleaning may actually decrease the value of the item. Some collectors prefer to see an antique in its original glory rather than cleaned.

If you are certain that the article can be cleaned, as a first step, determine how to clean anything else made of the same materials. Then, before you go ahead, check out the condition of your item.

Look for wear on varnishes and finishes. If the underlying material is exposed, you have to modify your cleaning method. For example, if varnish has worn off a wood table, you’re essentially dealing with untreated wood, which is quite vulnerable. You need to re-varnish as quickly as possible to protect it. Alternatively, you may decide to get a professional re-finish.

Always dry-dust first. A soft brush sweeps away dry deposits whilst light rubbing with a dry cloth picks up surface grease. This may be all that’s needed.

Be aware that dirt can hide scratches and dents in wood pieces. In the interest of overall appearance, you may decide to tolerate the deeper dirt and simply sweep up surface dust.

Bear in mind that wetting most things – especially fabric and wood – makes them more vulnerable. If that Edwardian quilt or nineteenth-century Table is just hanging on, wet cleaning may finish it off. Hold fabrics up to the light to check for thin areas that may fray when wet.

Avoid polishes that contain silicone. The shine they produce can look unnaturally modern on antique wood.

Special items need special care. The following list tells you how to clean a few collectibles.

  • Silk flowers are real dust magnets, yet they’re destroyed by water. So blow the problem away using the cool setting of a hairdryer. This method works for dried and plastic flowers too (although you can wet-wash plastic).

  • Fountain pens that clog need to be taken apart and the pieces soaked in a dilute white vinegar solution. Flush through with water, dry the pen casing, then refill with ink.