Get your dusters out, March 20th is Spring Cleaning Day! We’re all used to regular household chores, but it’s surprisingly easy to neglect collectables and leave them gathering dust.
With delicate antiques, there are many pitfalls to avoid. Heavy-handed cleaning can decrease the value of the item, and some items are more appealing in their original state, even if tarnished, than artificially clean and ‘new-looking’.
It’s worth testing any methods of cleaning on an unseen area first.
This is a general guide; every antique is different, and it may be worth consulting a specialist before getting stuck in.
Gentle is always best, starting with feather dusters or even a hairdryer on a low setting for books, light fittings, dried flowers, and delicate mouldings.
Most items benefit from lightly sweeping off dry deposits using as soft a brush as possible; wetting pieces like fabric and wood risks serious damage.
For items you can get wet, simple soapy water is often best, from pottery to glass; even silver and jewellery Never use abrasive or harsh cleaners, and avoid ammonia based cleaners on mirrors and clock faces, to prevent damage on wooden or gilt surrounds.
Polish antique furniture only once or twice a year with a good beeswax based polish left overnight and then buffed.
Do not use silicon-based sprays, which build up a sticky surface and depletes natural oils in the wood.
Hold your beloved china items by the main part of the body, not the handle, which is often the weakest point. Wash them in warm- not boiling hot- soapy water. Put rubber covers over taps if you can, to prevent accidental knocking.
Lay items flat on a soft cloth covering the draining board, and only do a few pieces at a time.
Coins’ value can be particularly affected by bad cleaning. Clean only if they have ingrained dirt, with a soft, non-nylon brush; never rub.
Respect your lovely clean items by storing safely: avoid the fading, drying, cracking effects of direct sunlight. Protect ornaments from children and pets more than dust, store coins in paper envelopes rather than plastic, and silver in dry, acid-free tissue paper.
Finally, my top tip… if you know something is special, write a “Label” for the item and pop it inside or stick it to the bottom, saying: “Don’t not throw away or give to charity. This piece once belonged to Churchill /This piece dates from 1800.” This way nothing will get lost by the next generation and your instructions for them to keep hold of it are clear.