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How to clean antiques

How to clean antiques


How to clean antiques will depend on what type of antiques you have. Here, we look at popular collectables and examine the ways to keep them looking their best.

How to clean antique brass

Antique brass is an area of collectables that splits opinion as to how, or even whether, it should be cleaned. As an alloy of copper and zinc, the natural colour of brass will depend on the ratio of each metal, with antique pieces aging to a deep golden-brown colour. The high shine of collectable horse brasses can only be maintained through regular polishing, but purists prefer their brass to have a natural patina, which adds authenticity and value. Simply clean away fingerprints and surface dirt with a mild soap solution in warm water, never immersing your item in the solution. Apply the solution with a soft cloth or baby’s toothbrush and always dry immediately. If you do prefer a high polish finish to your brass, use a specialist commercial brass polish. Avoid internet recipes that include abrasive ingredients like lemon vinegar, or bicarbonate of soda, as these will damage the surface of the brass and could affect value. Browse our antique brass online.

How to clean antique wood furniture

Antique wood furniture is often in regular use which can make it prone to damage. As damage can adversely affect value, it is better (and cheaper) to clean it than it is to restore it. Like copper and brass, wooden items also develop a patina over time, which will deepen the original colour of the piece and develop in areas of high wear (handles of drawers, and the edges of tables). It is important to maintain the patina on antique or period furniture and how the piece has been finished will determine how it should be cleaned. Furniture that has been polished over the years with oil or beeswax (usually pine furniture or oak) will need nothing more than buffing with a chamois cloth. Steer clear of furniture polish with solvents as these will erode lacquer over extended periods and leave residual white marks.

How to clean antique silver

As with brass, opinion varies over whether silver should be highly polished and it comes down to preference. Silver will tarnish (become dirty) over time as the metal that the pure silver is mixed with reacts to external environmental factors like humidity. Tarnish has a dull, black appearance and should be removed in a solution of mild detergent in hot water. Always dry and buff immediately. Use a commercial silver cleaner for heavily tarnished pieces, avoiding acidic or abrasive methods including tomato ketchup and wire wool. Patina can occur on clean polish but, if mistaken for tarnish it can be greatly reduced by over enthusiastic polishing. To learn more about caring for your antique silver and how to store it, read How to clean antique silver.

How to clean an antique mirror

Approach the cleaning of any antique mirror as a work of two parts, the frame and the glazing. Antique mirror frames are often ornately detailed with lots of crevices where dirt and dust can accumulate. Dust thoroughly with a cloth, using a cotton bud or child’s toothbrush for the hard to reach places, and for stubborn dirt use a little water. Once the frame is clean it can be cared for as above, depending on what it is made from.

Antique mirror glazing should never be treated with harsh or abrasive products which can damage the glass and possibly also the frame. Instead mix up two parts of water with one part white vinegar and apply to the mirror glass with a soft cloth. Simply buff well with a dry cloth afterwards.

How to clean antique jewellery

  • There really is very little to top a good old solution of mild soap in warm water to clean antiques, and antique jewellery is no exception.
  • Most precious stones and gemstones can be cleaned in this way except for amber, carnelian, coral, malachite, pearl, and turquoise, as they are all porous.
  • Clean items with stones individually as harder stones that come into contact with softer stones can scratch them.
  • NEVER use baking powder or toothpaste (both are too abrasive) and avoid boiling water which can cause the metal to expand and loosen the settings.
  • While ultrasonic cleaners are available for domestic use, we would always recommend seeking professional advice. Not all gemstones can tolerate this process and where there are unseen inclusions in any stones, they could be aggravated by the process leading to the stone fracturing.
  • When not being worn, antique jewellery should be stored safely with pieces individually stored so that they cannot damage others.

Shopping at Hemswell Antique Centres

Whatever your preferred area of antique collectable, you can expect to find it online where there are over 8000 items to browse, or during an in-person visit. Each of our four buildings is a treasure trove of items from our 200+ dealers so set aside a whole day with us, and treat yourself to lunch or tea and cake in one of our restaurants to break the day up nicely.

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