Cleaning antiques is a vast subject. There are libraries full of books and entire schools of specialists devoted to materials, types, and periods. Because of these complexities, professional analysis should precede first-hand attempts at cleaning…particularly if the owner is doubtful of the antique’s value or condition. This guide identifies the few cleaning methods that may be safely employed by conscientious owners. More important, it points out objects that should only be treated by trained practitioners.
In caring for antiques, remember two principles:
Don’t be afraid of light dust or dirt: Even the gentlest cleaning involves some friction and, consequently, cumulative abrasion. Better to have a little dust than inadvertently rub off a piece’s irreplaceable material.
Determine the piece’s stability before cleaning: Look for lifting surface material, like finish, paint, gesso, or veneer. Perform pre-analysis each time you clean, in case problems have arisen since prior attempts.