How to clean antique glass including Tiffany Studios Favrile and French Cameo Glass

My goal is to publish new posts twice a week — Mondays and Thursdays. However, if you don’t see a new post on Thursday, it’s because I was too busy, so please look for a new one the following Monday.

There isn’t much going on in the summer, so I’ve decided to reprint one of my most popular blogs — How to clean antique glass including Tiffany Studios Favrile and French Cameo Glass. Here it is in its entirety.

Having sold many thousands of antique glass vases over the years, I’ve learned a lot about how to clean them from trial and error and a few mistakes. It also doesn’t hurt to have a Master’s Degree in Chemistry.

Most people are quite timid about using chemicals on glass. They’re afraid they’ll ruin their vase by removing the decoration or somehow damaging it. There are very few times this would actually be true. Cold-painted decoration on a vase could be ruined by the use of some chemicals but Tiffany Favrile vases and French cameo vases by Daum, Galle, and others have no cold-painting, so all of the steps I describe below are appropriate. If you suspect that your vase has cold-painting on it, test a small area with one of the cleaners below, using a Q-tip. If any color comes off, stop and use only the mildest cleaners.

Eco-House citrous thinner

Eco-House citrous thinner

The first step is to remove any sticky substances, which will dissolve in organic solvents such as mineral spirits or acetone (nail polish remover). There are also some good  commercial products available, such as Goo Gone, available at stores like Office Depot, or online. Another product I like is citrous thinner, made from orange peels. It smells a lot better than the other solvents and is quite effective. Click here if you’d like to order it.

Start by looking for anything sticky with your eyes and your fingers. Wet a rag or paper towel with just a little solvent. Rub the affected area until the dirt or stickiness is gone. Mineral spirits is a gentler solvent than acetone, so try it first. Mineral spirits is especially good for removing the gum from old labels. Use acetone second, if you need a stronger solvent. These various solvents will also remove crayon, sap, or any similar substance.

Easy-Off Fume Free

Easy-Off Fume Free

Next we’re ready for aqueous cleaning. I suggest you do this in a sink. Most of the cleaners will make your vase slippery, so be very careful not to lose control and break it. The gentlest cleaners are dishwashing liquid or Windex. I like to use them with an old toothbrush. Scrub the vase with the first cleaner and see if the dirt comes off. If it’s stubborn, you can proceed to the next level of cleaning power with commercial products like Scrubbing Bubbles or Dow Bathroom Cleaner. Repeat the process. Spray the vase, let it sit for a few minutes and clean again with a toothbrush or similar brush. If that’s not strong enough, you can go to the highest level of cleaning power — Easy-Off. There are two types of Easy-Off available. The blue can, labeled “Fume Free” is the one I recommend. (It’s not really fume free, but it’s not too bad.) It’s powerful and should remove any leftover dirt. Finally rinse your vase thoroughly in plain water and dry completely with an old towel. If it’s safe, let it dry upside down. It’s a good idea to use gloves to protect your hands, an apron to protect your clothing and glasses to protect your eyes. Easy-Off in the yellow can is lye (sodium hydroxide). It’s very powerful. It will eat through the dirt nicely, but also through your clothes and skin as well as severely damage your eyes. Immediately flush with plain water if you have an accident. You’ll know you’ve gotten it on your skin if it feels slimy.

To clean the inside of your vase, you’ll need various brushes to reach hard-to-get-to areas. Just use one of the sprays above, let sit, and brush away. Justman Brush Company sells hundreds of different brushes.

A vase whose glass has been etched on the interior

A vase whose glass has been etched on the interior

Vases that have been used with water over the years can present bigger problems. The first problem may be scratches on the inside of the vase. The second and more serious problem goes under the general category of “sick” glass and may include etching of the glass interior or depositing of lime or other minerals, which usually shows as a white deposit. Cleaners will not effectively fix these problems. The only real way to treat problems of this sort is to go to an expert who can “tumble” the vase to resurface the interior. It’s basically the same as sandpapering the entire interior — great for a transparent vase, but not as good for a vase that has a finish on the interior, like an iridescent vase. Use this link for Paul Nulton, who does this kind of work.

Sometimes with a minimum amount of work, the results can be quite gratifying. Many vases were kept in homes where the owners smoked or the air was smoky from fireplaces or stoves. This shows as a dingy brown coating. Cleaning this off often reveals unexpected bright and beautiful colors.

baltimore-8-2014Don’t forget to make your arrangements for the Baltimore Summer Antiques Fair. It starts next Thursday, August 21st at noon and continues until Sunday, August 24th at 6 PM. I promise you’ll enjoy the show and the Baltimore Inner Harbor. Please come to my booth and say hello. Monday I’ll post the results, which I trust will be good.

Click here to view our new website and look around. We always strive to offer the finest objects for sale on our website and at every show. There are many items for sale, sold items with prices and free lessons about glass and lamps.

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