Paintings: Light dusting is the sole cleaning method non-professionals may attempt on paintings. Use only a gilders mop (a particular type of soft-bristled brush), not feather dusters with spiny ends that can scratch or catch on paintings. Never use liquids on paintings unless you’re a trained conservator.
Works on Paper: Paper should only be cleaned or treated by professionals. Works should always remain framed under glass or plastic, using only archival, acid-free materials. Keep liquids, which quickly cause irreversible stains, far away.
Gilded Surfaces: Gilding is an extremely sensitive surface – so thin, there’s little transition between existing and disappearing. It should only be cleaned by a trained specialist. Attempts at cleaning can effortlessly detach large sections. Stable pieces may be dusted with a gliders mop. Determine stability by lightly tapping your fingertips on the surface. If you hear a clicking sound or if the piece moves, leave it alone. When cleaning a mirror or glass in a gilded frame, hold a piece of cardboard against the edge of the frame to avoid touching the gilding.
Ceramics and Glass: While most ceramic and glassware can be safely washed with water, there are a number of exceptions. Water can affect unfired, porous, and unstable types of glass, as well as items with paint or applied surface color. Pay particular attention to pieces comprised of multiple materials joined together; these materials and adhesives may react differently to water. For items assumed safe-to-clean, first lightly dust and test water against an inconspicuous area. Clean with a moist cloth and dry. If necessary, soiled and sturdy pieces can be submerged in a towel-lined sink of water and a tiny amount of ammonia. Wash one piece at a time to avoid chipping or scratching and don’t leave pieces to soak. Dry immediately.
Silver: After a gentle dusting, silver can be cleaned with a solution of water and small amount of non-ionic mild detergent. Dry immediately. Dirt and grime can also be removed with application of ethyl alcohol dabbed upon cotton swabs or clean cotton cloth. Despite common belief (and the message of advertisers), surface tarnishing does not indicate serious deterioration. Worse, commercial metal polishes and dips can remove more than you intended (like plating). For polishing, Autosol, a high-grade, low-abrasive brand, is generally safe when used sparingly and first tested upon a small patch of metal. A coat of Renaissance Wax also adds hard, new-looking shine and prevents tarnish and fingerprints.
Ivory and Bone: Ivory and bone should only be dusted - they may be permanently stained by liquids.
Textile: Due to the extreme sensitivity of historic textiles and their dyes, always consult a professional for cleaning.
Stone: Dust with a soft-bristled brush. A cleaning solution may be applied in sparing amounts to avoid driving hard-to-remove grime into stone’s porous material (especially with marble).
Alabaster, Soapstone, and (of course) Plaster: Plaster should never be cleaned with water…it will dissolve the piece. Alabaster and soapstone can be wiped clean with a cloth moistened in distilled water and non-ionic or particularly gentle detergent. Dry the surface immediately. A coat of Renaissance Wax applied with a soft-bristled brush will bring extra polish.