Because antiques are so delicate, the cleaning process is understandably gentle. Many aficionados warn against cleaning unless absolutely necessary, as what someone might think is dirt or needs to be scrubbed away could be patina ñ a potentially protective layer of tarnish that actually can add value and character to antiques.
Sometimes people actually try to add fake patina to items to make them look older and more worn than they really are, so the cleaning must be done very carefully to get rid of the actual dirt and grime while maintaining the authentic age of the piece. Regular cleanings ñ especially if the object is touched frequently or is about to be moved ñ can help with this. Before cleaning an item, however, consider some of the information below.
- Consider taking it to a professional. This might not always be an option, but a professional might have a better sense of how or when to clean a specific antique. You could even consult with the owner of an antique shop, who likely knows a thing or two about proper cleaning methods.
This could be a good question to ask when buying something, too, especially if you notice that the seller has kept it in good condition. Ask what methods they use to maintain its look.
- Test before cleaning the whole thing. Hereís a tip from the Refinishing Wizard: Test your cleaning method on a small spot, which is going to be out of view, before trying to clean the entire piece. If your method doesnít prove to be efficient, at least the testing spot will be out of view for most people. And if it works, success!
- Use safety gear on new-to-you items. If youíre cleaning a piece thatís new to you, wear gloves and a mask before embarking on the cleaning process. As one Yahoo! contributor explained, it could have been exposed to bugs or mice in its old home ñ pests that could carry disease that you donít want to come in direct contact with. You probably wonít need as much precaution for a piece that youíve had for a while.
- Research the material. There are lots of online resources that explain how to clean specific items and materials ñ wood, porcelain, copper, cotton, the list goes on and on. These can be very helpful in your cleaning quest, as every material has cleaning quirks. For instance, wood absorbs water so should be cleaned with lemon oil or a cleaner that is specifically made for wood; quilts should be carefully vacuumed and never thrown in a washing machine; etc.
YouTube can be a great research tool, as the visual tutorial provides instruction on how to clean and what the finished product should look like.
- Remember: A little goes a long way. As How Stuff Works points out ñ and everyone would agree ñ little imperfections are what give antiques their charm. A simple dusting can work wonders for some pieces, while antique polish or wax can be great for others. A furious scrubbing might not be in the best interest of your antique, which is why working delicately and doing research beforehand is key. Better to play it safe than ruin an antique, right?
With antique items, thereís a fine line between maintaining its condition and overdoing it. With proper research and precaution, however, keeping everything clean and pristine will become part of the routine.