I have bought and sold (and kept) a lot of antiques over the years. Thousands and thousands of pieces! So, I have learned through trial and error about cleaning and polishing up just about anything I find. As I was cleaning my most recent antique finds I purchased during our trip to visit family in PA, I thought I would share some of my favorite supplies and products for cleaning antiques. Many of these cleaning methods can work for things you already own that need a little sprucing up as we’re talking about deep cleaning through the month of April.
This is my most recent collection of antique finds…
Before we get into cleaning, I have to say that I was very restrained and left a lot of well-priced ironstone behind! I had to keep reminding myself that I’m not shopping for a market or online sale. I’m just shopping for myself, so I needed to have a clear idea of how I would use each find. Also, I just organized and purged several rooms in my house and I still have more to sort and get rid of.
So, here are my staples when it comes to cleaning newly found antiques or ones I already own.
Goddard’s Silver Foam
I don’t buy a ton of silver, but I do buy some pieces now and then and Goddard’s Silver Foam is my favorite for getting off the tarnish and making them shine. It’s not stinky or hard on my hands and it does a great job with just a little scrubbing with a soft sponge applicator that comes in the container. I bought a beautiful Sterling silver dip pen for a great price (about $30) and it needed a little polishing…
I even got the pretty nib all cleaned up!
SOS Steel Wool Pads
SOS Steel Wool Cleaning Pads are like little miracles and they work on cleaning up just about anything. I use them specifically when I want to remove rust, but they are also great for removing residue from stickers or for cleaning old wood, especially if it’s greasy from being in a kitchen or garage.
I recently bought a beautiful drafting set with brass, bone, and ebony pieces, but it had clearly been exposed to some moisture and all of the tools needed to be cleaned.
I scrubbed each tool with an SOS pad, which removed the rust, polished up the brass, and cleaned off any ink.
The pieces polished up so beautifully! To prevent further rusting, it’s important to make sure the pieces are completely and thoroughly dried before storing them again.
I even used the SOS pads on the ebony parallel ruler and the brass hardware on it as well as around the rim of the box, which was covered in ink.
Goo-Gone & Nail Polish Remover
Another fantastic product for removing sticker residue, tape, or anything else that’s sticky is Goo-Gone. I’ll spray it onto ceramic and glassware to let it breakdown the residue and will then wash it off with soap and water. I’ll also use nail polish remover to remove prices put onto glass and ceramics with permanent marker. That doesn’t usually happen at antique stores, but it’s pretty common at thrift stores.
Miss Mustard Seed’s Hemp Oil
Hemp Oil is one of those wonderful, all-purpose products and I always have a bottle of in my cleaning cabinet. When I bring home antiques, I’ll get it out to hydrate old wood, polish up metal, and revive dry leather. It’ll even bring out beautiful color in woven baskets! I use it on so many things. In this haul, I polished up a castiron & brass microscope (a great buy at $10) and a vintage T-square.
It does such a wonderful job at bringing out the patina of old wood, making it look rich and hydrated again. Just wipe it on and wipe away any excess with a clean cloth. It is food safe, so you can use it on wooden spoons and cuttingboards, too.
I use Dawn soap when I need to give general things a good scrubbing. Anything I didn’t clean with the SOS pads, I cleaned with Dawn. (If something is too greasy for Dawn, I’ll use 409 all-purpose cleaner.) I think people are hesitant to really wash old things or those made of wood or metal, but it really is nice to get them clean before you use them in your home. Even if they look relatively clean, pieces are often musty from sitting in attics, barns, and then the antique store for who-knows-how-long.
This mortal and pestle was filthy…
…but it cleaned up beautifully with a good scrub in warm, soapy water. (As an aside, I recently learned you can also use Dawn to wash your dog!)
This one is in endless supply and it’s free! Sunshine works wonders on pieces that are musty or ones that you’ve scrubbed in soap and water and need to dry out. Since baskets are notorious for holding dust and dirt in all of their crevices, I’ll clean them with Dawn soap and a soft scrubbrush in the utility sink. If the basket is too large for that, I’ll hose it off on the driveway and use the same method. I make sure to do this on a sunny, breezy day, so the basket will have a chance to dry. This process really helps with musty/dusty smells and is a good practice to use on baskets that have been sitting around your house for while.
Gentle Laundry Soap
After buying a few textiles that were too delicate to wash in my early days of shopping for antiques, I decided I wouldn’t buy anything in the future that couldn’t be thrown in the wash. I want to be able to use these textiles, linens, and quilts in my home, and I won’t use them if they are stained, stiff, or stinky. Sometimes I’ll soak them first in Oxiclean if they are really dirty, but most of the time I can just throw them directly in the machine and wash them on the gentle cycle with a mild soap. I use either Oxiclean, Woolite, or Mrs. Meyers Lavender Detergent. What I use depends more on what I have on hand than a preference for one over the other.
In my latest shopping trip, I bought this beautiful twin-sized white-on-white quilt that is initialed and dated 1915. It was only $50, so I couldn’t pass it up! I put it in the washer on delicate and in the dryer on low heat to get it clean and smelling fresh.
As I said in the beginning, many of these supplies and techniques can be used for things you’ve had in your home for years and it’s amazing how cleaning the little things can make your home sparkle and smell amazing. If you’re somone who buys and sells pieces, cleaning them will typically allow you charge a little more for the piece. I can’t tell you how many great pieces I bought for a song simply because they were dirty. After a quick washing, I could make a tidy profit for comparatively little work.
Does anyone want to share their favorite supplies for cleaning old things? I know there are so many wonderful options out there…