The Care and Cleaning Of Antique Glassware

Antique and vintage glass can add beauty and enjoyment to your home, and should be used and admired, not packed away! With proper care your beloved glassware can last for years.

Understandably, breakage is the most common damage. Use both hands to pick up the piece, and lift it by the heaviest part, not the spout or handle. Don't display pieces above seating areas where people may rise and bump them. Wash pieces one at a time so they don't knock together in the dishwater and break.

Broken glass may be glued back together, but the glue will discolor over time and become unsightly. Many collectors recommend Hxtal, which does not yellow too quickly, and forms a strong bond. Apply adhesive to the broken edges, and carefully align them, Use tape to hold the piece together while the glue bonds. Allow it to set about 72 hours before removing the tape.

Stains and discolorations may be caused by improper use, display, cleaning or repair. Less often, poor manufacturing or harsh environmental conditions can damage glass. "Weeping" glass is caused by an improper formulation. Droplets of moisture form on the surface of the glass, and can leach out unstable components, creating an alkaline solution. If the moisture remains on the glass, it will form a fine network of cracks called "crizzling."

When storing your glassware, stack items with a soft cloth or polyester padding between them to avoid scratching any gilding or hand painting that decorates the surface of the glass. Avoid spring-type metal hangers to display plates. The tension can cause stress on the plate which may lead to cracks, and the metal may scratch the surface. Use a hard plastic or painted wood stand instead that displays the plate at a tilted angle.

You can wash most antique glass with a mild dish detergent and warm water. Don't put it in the dishwasher! The high temperatures can crack the glass. Use a soft cloth, not a scrubber. If you have hard water, use distilled or purified water to avoid leaving mineral spots, or add some white vinegar to the rinse water. Use a soft bottle brush to clean difficult areas. Allow the piece to air dry.

To remove mineral deposits, try soaking the piece overnight in denture cleaning solution. For stubborn hard water stains, try a product that is made for removing scale from bathroom fixtures. Leave the cleaner on for only a few seconds. Harsh cleaning may remove delicate hand painting or gilded decorations, so test the cleaner on in inconspicuous spot first. Mild non-abrasive cleaners, such as those for ceramic stove tops, may also clean without scratching the glass. Bleach should never antique glass. Tiny cracks in the glass may retain the bleach and cause further damage over the long term.

Cloudiness is not always due to lime build-up. The stain could be from dirty water left in the piece for a long time. Heavy scale or cloudiness can be almost impossible to remove and may require the services of a professional conservator.

Protect your antique glass from extremes of heat or cold. Very hot or very cold dishwater may cause it to crack. Keep it away from heat sources, such as a furnace vent, fire place, or warm lamp. Even an internally lit display case may be too warm. Direct sunlight may discolor old glass, depending upon its composition, by turning it a yellow or grayish-lavender color over time. Discolored glass is considered damaged for the purposes of collecting, and loses its value.

Glass that has been buried in soil for a long time develops a matte, scaly, irridescent finish on the surface. Archaeological antiques are often left in the state they are found for their aesthetic appeal to archaeological collectors.

Allow a professional to clean your old glass if it is an archaeological antique, particularly rare or valuable, has a thick coating of scale, or is an irreplaceable family heirloom!

author: J. E. Davidson

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