Top tips for protecting your antiques

By looking after your antiques and collections and caring for them in the right way you can avoid damage and potential losses. 

Looking after antique furniture

  • Keep your furniture away from heat sources

    Such as radiators, fireplaces and stoves, and make sure it's not too close to heating and air conditioning vents.

  • Aim for even, moderate humidity

    Too high and it will cause mould growth or rot. Too dry can result in furniture drying out and cracking. If the humidity changes too often, this can cause expansion and contraction, loosening joints and making drawers stick.

  • Keep an eye out for insects and pests

    Check regularly for woodworm, termites and moths; a dust-like substance under furniture could indicate a problem. Mice and other rodents might be attracted to upholstery when nesting.

  • Don't put your furniture in direct sunlight

    It can cause fading and degradation to wood and fabrics.

  • Blot spills immediately with kitchen paper

    Remove as much liquid as possible. If it leaves a stain, it is worth consulting an expert about further treatment.

  • Use the right cleaning and polishing materials

    Many modern cleaning products are too harsh or can cause a build-up on the surface that can affect the finish. Good quality wax paste should be used on wood once a year. Don't use brass and metal cleaners on handles – instead just burnish them with a clean cloth. If you're not sure what to use consult a specialist furniture restorer. 

  • Be careful when moving furniture

    Chairs should be picked up from under the seat and make sure you empty any chests or cupboards before moving them. Tables should be lifted from the lowest part of the main frame – not the table top.

Looking after glass and ceramics

  • Use both hands when lifting or moving objects

    Avoid picking them up with handles or spouts as these may be more fragile. It may be sensible to remove lids and move these separately. Don't forget to take off any jewellery that might scratch or catch.

  • Make sure your hands are clean and dry

    When handling glass, unglazed china and objects with gilded or lustre decoration. Fingerprints can leave marks and residue. Ideally wear Nitrile gloves.

  • Place objects on sound surfaces

    To stop an object moving or sliding because of vibration, use museum wax to secure the base.

  • Dust rather than wash

    Avoid strong modern cleaning products as these can damage valued ceramics and glass. Get advice from an expert if you need it.

Looking after silver, copper, bronze, brass and other metals

  • Don't clean too frequently

    Metals are softer and more easily damaged than you might imagine. Inappropriate or excessive cleaning can cause real damage.

  • Touch as little as possible

    Fingers can cause tarnish and many metals can be easily dented, scratched or damaged.

  • Approach cleaning with caution

    Test clean an unobtrusive area first. Use solvents carefully.

  • Remember the difference between cleaning and polishing

    Removing dust and dirt is cleaning, removing tarnish is polishing. Every time you polish – because you are using abrasives – part of the original surface is lost. Too much polishing can result in losing decorative details.

Protecting your antiques

One of the best ways to take care of your antiques is by making sure they are properly insured. By working with expert brokers who understand the art and antiques world it will help you to ensure your collection has appropriate cover.

You should also:

  • Get regular appraisals so you know you are insuring for the right amount
  • Keep good records. Keep the bill of sale, appraisal records, details of any repairs or restoration, information on provenance (if available) and photographs of the object from all angles

Further advice

The Victoria and Albert Museum has lots of helpful advice from its conservators on caring for and cleaning your valuable metal objects.

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This article has been compiled using information available to us up to 27.05.14.