TO CLEAN OR NOT TO CLEAN?
Nobody can say for sure, because it depends on personal
preference. Personally I clean. What's the point of having
some dirty, disgusting lump of metal on display in an otherwise
beautiful house? I don't care how old it is!
What's important is HOW you clean, not whether you clean.
Over enthusiastic cleaning can obviously destroy an antique,
because chemicals, and hard rubbing with any abrasive material,
can remove any fine engravings, etchings or that irreplaceable
patina of time. We don't want our valuable antique to become
just another piece of shiny ironmongery, so it is fair to
make the point here that clean doesn't have to mean high
Brass is an alloy of copper
and zinc. The colour of brass is proportional to the other
metals present in the alloy, but it generally turns out
to be golden yellow and quite hard, capable of taking a
high polish. As with any metal, exposure to air causes the
surface to oxidise and tarnish, at which time the colour
can change to brown or greenish black.
It's useful to know whether your brass piece is plated or
solid, because obviously a plated piece can and very often
does wear through to reveal the base metal. Cleaning, then,
can often make matters worse. It's easy to test using a
small magnet. If the magnet sticks, the object is plated,
if not, it's solid brass.
For dirt, just use hot soapy water
and a cloth, with an old toothbrush for awkward areas. Light
tarnishing can be removed effectively with a long-term silver
polishing cloth. Heavy tarnishing will require rather more
effort with long term brass and copper polish, either as
a liquid or impregnated wadding (Goddards or Brasso respectively).
Long-term generally means that the liquid contains an ingredient
that clings to the brass, providing an atmospheric barrier
that reduces future tarnishing.
This simple home remedy seems to be the one preferred by
many people in the trade.
MIXTURE: One level tablespoon of salt, one tablespoon
of vinegar in half a pint of hot water. Alternatively, make
up a paste of flour, salt and vinegar. Clean carefully without
rubbing hard. Wash off with hot soapy water, rinse and dry,
then apply polish.
In all the above cases wipe clean and dry of cleaning solutions
to prevent pitting or the possibility of chemical damage
to the surface metal. Once clean, try to refrain from touching
the brass with your fingers as this will immediately begin
the tarnishing process again, position the piece with a
cloth. Done thoroughly, cleaned brass should last for several
years, with just the odd wipe over and a quick buffing to
maintain the shine.
GOLD: Gold objects and jewellery
can be solid, plated, silver gilt or ormolu. Whichever category
your piece falls into the care label reads the same, all
gold should be treated with the utmost care.
Gold is a soft metal and is therefore easily scratched or
otherwise abraded and thinly plated layers are all to easily
rubbed away to reveal the base metal. Low carat golds can
tarnish, but generally gold shouldn't be cleaned save for
a gentle washing in warm soapy water.
BRONZE: An alloy of copper
and tin, although small quantities of zinc and lead may
also be present. The tarnish or authentic deep brown patina
of old bronze should never be removed with any kind of chemical,
rubbing or cleaning agent, or a serious reduction in its
value will be the result. If you've
got one and ruin it, it won't be any good again until your
great grandchildren inherit it, so be warned!
Keep bronzes in a dry atmosphere. A damp environment can
cause areas of corrosion characterized by light green spots
that feel rough. Clean by dusting with a soft bristled brush.
I'm reliably informed that cleaning is supposed to be therapeutic,
I just find it a chore. Whatever you think, be well!!