Cleaning Glassware/Glazed Pottery

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    • #132320
      Amber Skantz

      Hello everyone,

      I’ve been working with the archivist at our institution (a small two year upper division college) on cleaning up some items that were recently donated to our archives by the estate of a former professor. Our issue is some glassware, that needs a “good soap and water cleaning”, according to the archivist. I’ve been instructed to clean it with Dawn or Ivory soap (just like what you get in the supermarket). I’ve watched a handful of archival training webinars, and had some hands on, on the job training, but I’m hesitant to clean these items with run of the mill dishwashing soap. The items are all in very good shape, and pretty contemporary (at most maybe 30 years old) and include glasses, coffee mugs, and some pewter-ish stein-type mugs with clear bottoms. Should I clean these, with regular dish soap and water as the archivist suggests, or is there another method? We do have some archival quality glass cleaner that we use for displays, should we use this instead? Thanks so much in advance for your help!

    • #132323

      I would be cautious about washing any glazed ceramic as it may have small cracks in the glaze. getting it wet could drive dirty liquid into the cracks and cause staining which is difficult (and sometimes impossible) to remove.  Even relatively modern glass can respond badly to being soaked, depending on its manufacture and previous history.

      Do you know what the dirt/deposits are? Why do they need to be removed? Is there any way they could be an interesting part of the objects’ history that needs to be retained? At the least they may retain DNA from previous users, remember.  Not everything needs to be shiny and clean.  If you are sure this is dirt from inappropriate storage and really does need to be removed, then read on.

      I would start out by examining each item in a good light to see if there are any cracks, areas of weakness or surface damage that might cause problems.   Then I would prepare a safe area to work on the items where they can be handled, cleaned, allowed to dry etc, safely, with minimum risk of them being damaged. For example, pad a table top with a towel or several layers of paper towel so that if an item slips it will not fall on a hard surface. Make sure items cannot easily roll off or be tipped over, especially if other people come near the area.

      Experiment on a small inconspicuous area first. Keep observing the object while you are cleaning it. Expect the unexpected and be ready to stop!

      I would use distilled water and a soft microfiber cloth to gently wipe off the surface dirt without wetting the surface too much. Don’t wipe the dry dirt across the surface as it may be scratchy. Work on a small area at a time and allow yourself enough time to finish one item completely. Try not to leave an item partially cleaned as it may develop a tide line.  Clean the cloth often so you are not wiping dirt over the surface. Allow the item to dry on clean paper towel and change the paper towel occasionally.

      If distilled water alone does not remove enough of the dirt, then I would move up to a non-ionic detergent. Soap and normal commercial detergents can leave deposits which are not good for the object. University Products in the US sell TritonX-100   while in the UK we would use Preservation Equipment or Conservation Resources as a supplier.

      Use the smallest amount of non-ionic detergent possible, mixed with distilled water, and gently wipe the surface clean. You can even just dip the microfiber cloth in the foam of the detergent solution to minimize the amount of liquid on the surface.  When the dirt has been removed, switch to distilled water and wipe off any remaining traces of detergent solution. Allow to dry on paper towel as above.

      Be cautious, test first, and be vigilant for an object trying to misbehave.  Take photos before and after and record exactly what was done, what was used and when – this is all part of the objects’ life story.

      Hope this helps

    • #132322

      Dear Amber,
           To clean and handle a delicate item such as glass one needs to be trained first.  Handling is the most challenging, due to risk of dropping. But, if you plan it, have patience, time and if you follow the advice below, you should be just fine.
      1.       Clean and wash your hands first, remove all acid or grease.  No gloves are needed – you need the sense of touch/feeling;
      2.       Remove jewelry such as; watches, rings, necklaces etc.  Be comfortable. 
      3.       Clean the area, make the area dry and clean, with no risk of slipping or falling.    
      4.       Have a plastic recipient big enough to place the object, avoid unnecessary touching.  Keep the object in the recipient the entire time, while handling and during the cleaning. Do not put the object in the sink;
      5.       Do an evaluation on it first, one objet at a time (condition report), photograph and write everything you see, do and use.  If necessary use magnifying glasses.  If there is previous restoration don’t touch it. STOP – Simply dry clean with a soft brush and leave it alone for a professional conservator;
      6.        If you find any crack, but the object is secure – you can dry clean the area or everything, by using brushes, cotton balls and or swabs.  I particular use an air compressor/vapor. After you clean and you are not satisfied you can cover the cracking area, using Mylar and easy to remove tape and wash the hole object using the following products;
      7.       Prepare the solution by mixing in clean spray bottle distilled water with non-ionic detergent. Wet the objet, use swabs to gently scrub if is necessary.  After, you should rinse with pure distilled water, and let it dry naturally. And Good luck! If you need any other information just let me know. Regards, Luiza de Marilac . 

    • #132321
      Amber Skantz

      Thanks so much for all of the advice! I’ll pass this info along to the archivist before proceeding. What  a great community to be a part of!

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