Caring For Glassware & Art Glass—Tips From the Pros
By Lisa Juff
Preserving art glass and vintage/antique glassware is an essential part of ownership. Simple cleaning methods and safe display, use or storage techniques are the only requirements for glass care.
Everyone already knows the No. 1 rule of glass preservation: Don’t Break It. Sounds simple, and it is, as long as you make a habit of holding glass with a firm grip and a full awareness of your surroundings.
Here are a few good rules and methods that the pro’s use when caring for antique, vintage and important art glass and glassware:
Place a soft cloth in the base of your sink, add a gentle soap (Murphy’s Oil Soap, or natural equivalent), and fill the sink with hot tap water. Gently place the glass into the water, and rest it on the cloth. Soak the glass for at least 15 minutes, or longer if particularly dirty. Use a soft sponge or cloth and gently rub the entire surface.
Pay attention to the details. Dust tends to build-up in the crevices and rim edges. Use a super-soft toothbrush or a wooden toothpick point to detail the crevices. If using a bottle cleaner brush, be sure it is of professional quality with soft bristles. Rinse thoroughly under hot tap water. Be certain that all soap residue is removed. Use a clean, absorbent cloth to polish dry the glass. Microfiber towels work the best. Be sure to dry the glass completely, leave no water residue. Carefully hold it to a bright light to check for areas that need more cleaning. Buff to a brilliant shine.
Tip for drying bottles, decanters, slim necked vases: Pour a quarter cup of rubbing alcohol inside the clean bottle, swish it around to cover the interior walls, and then drain the alcohol out. Fashion a long skinny towel by cutting an absorbent cloth into long strips and tying them together end to end with small knots. Use a wooden chopstick or long thin wooden dowel to work the skinny towel into the bottle. Always be mindful of the pressure on the bottleneck. The wooden chopstick works well, as it does not scratch glass and will break itself, rather than the glass, if too much pressure is applied. Twist the cloth around the stick and rotate repeatedly to remove moisture. Repeat if necessary. Bottle and vase interiors, when not in use, must be dried thoroughly to prevent calcium lacing. Important: DO NOT force the towel into the bottle or vase. If it doesn’t fit, don’t force it because you may break the bottle’s neck. If the opening is too skinny, you’ll have to drip dry it upside-down.
• Do not soak bottles or vases with very thin openings in water. If you can’t reach an area with a drying towel, don’t soak it.
• Never submerse art glass with encased hollow interiors in water (found in paperweights, figurines, stoppers, etc). The air bubble may appear sealed, but there is a high chance that moisture will seep through into the hollow areas, condense and remain trapped inside for good.
• If glass is decorated on the exterior with flashed-on color and/or applied or painted decorations (including gold and silver), DO NOT scrub glass or use ANY chemicals or soap. Use warm water and a soft cloth only.
• Do not use boiling water.
• Do not put art glass or old glass in an automatic dishwasher.
• Do not use harsh chemicals.
• Do not use hard, sharp tools.
• Never allow liquids to remain on or in glass. Do not allow water to evaporate. Always hand dry with a soft, clean, dry cloth.
Sick Glass: This is an incurable disease. It is caused by moisture evaporating off the glass, sometimes combined with heat. Sick glass will have a thick, white cloudiness, a rough white lacing, or both embedded in the glass. A rainbow colored iridescent sheen is often present on Sick Glass.
Dishwasher’s extreme heat and harsh chemicals can cause sick glass. Old glass is more permeable and may sicken with age if not kept dry. It is impossible to remove. It can sometimes be lessened by lightly buffing it with wet jeweler’s grade ultra-fine steel wool. Tip: You can make the embedded calcium temporarily appear to disappear by wiping the area with a light oil (we use Old English Almond Oil). This is helpful if you want to keep and display it rather than throw it out.
Heavy calcium deposits contribute to sick glass. Some light calcium deposits can be removed by using a wet pad of jeweler’s grade fine steel wool. If the wool doesn’t remove it, then the calcium is embedded in the glass and cannot be removed. Attempt to remove calcium deposits at first sign, don’t let it remain on the glass if possible.
Very Dirty Glass: For the tough jobs use Efferdent. Add enough water to cover the encrustation and drop half a tablet in. Soak for 1-2 hours. This is a good method for bottle interiors. We’ve used this method for old dried stains of all kinds like wine, lamp oil, wax, heavy dirt, food, etc. Vinegar with kernels of uncooked rice also works well as a bottom scrubber.
Glass Cleaning Tools
• Micro-fiber Towels
• Gentle Soap
• Soft Sponge
• Wooden Chop Sticks or
• Long thin wooden dowels
• Soft bristled brushes
• Vinegar / uncooked rice
• Rubbing Alcohol
• Museum Gel
• Jeweler Grade Fine Steel Wool
When displaying art glass, keep in mind the simple fact that glass breaks easily. Do not display art glass in walkways or where people may loiter. Display it where it can be seen, but not easily touched. Always use a topical adhesive such as Museum Gel to secure your art glass in position. Museum Gel is the best for securing glass because it is clear and very easy to remove. Other adhesives are Museum Wax and Museum Putty. When removing a secured item, use the sharp end of a wooden chopstick to gently nudge the base until air gets through, which will release the object.
Use lighting to accentuate your glass displays. Light gives clean glass the final touch and lets its beauty shine. Glass looks its best on a window sill with natural sun backlight.
Before handling glass, wash and dry your hands. Oils and lotions will leave your hands slippery and also cause noticeable finger prints. Gloves can be worn to prevent prints from being left behind, however, be cautious as gloved hands are more apt to cause accidental damage due to loss of feeling.
1. The most important thing to remember when using your art glass is NEVER, EVER, allow liquid to remain inside. After use, remove all liquid residue immediately. When using water in vases, you must change the water daily, and clean the inner walls of the vessel. Water is the worst enemy of your glass. When water is allowed to sit too long, or evaporate in the vessel, it will leave residue stains behind. The residue stains can result in calcium deposits and can be impossible to remove if the stain is left untreated.
2. When using your special glass for table service, be sure it is warmed with warm water before adding warm foods. Cool with cool water before adding cold foods. Be careful to position the glass so it does not touch other objects on the table. The hostess should serve the food from the dish to guests individually, as it is easier than educating them about handling your glass.
3. Remove all metal from candles before using with candleholders. Today’s candles have a piece of metal securing the wick on the base. The metal will get hot enough to break the glass if not removed.
4. Do not fill large vases or bottles more than one-third full of water.
If you plan to ship your glass, it must be packed with extreme care to avoid damage during transit. Below is the method I use to pack glass:
1. Wrap the entire piece in standard wrapping tissue paper. Leave no bare glass showing. Secure the tissue with tape.
2. Use bubble wrap to cover the tissue enfolded glass. Depending on the bubble size, you may need to wrap it around a few times to achieve a bubble wrap thickness of at least two (2) inches on all sides and top and bottom of the glass.
3. Find a box in which the glass will fit, with at least four (4) inches between the glass object and the box walls. The box walls must be sturdy. If you are recycling a box, be sure that the box wall strength has not deteriorated from previous shipments. A box should never be “re-used” more than three times.
4. Pad the bottom of the box with at least 4″ of cushioning material. DO NOT USE PACKING PEANUTS! An object can move within the peanuts during shipment. Packing materials should surround and hold the object in place.
5. Place the bubble-wrapped object on top of the bottom layer.
6. Hold the glass in the center and proceed to pad all sides and top with cushioning material.
7. Close the box and gently shake the box. Listen carefully for any movement sound. If you hear movement, then you must add more padding. The glass object must not be allowed to move inside the box. At the same time, it must not be packed too tightly. Make sure the box does not bulge from over packing. Over packing can result in crushed glass.
8. Seal the box.
Double box your glass if you have the slightest concern. If you are worried that it may not make it to the destination intact, you should double box it.
1. Find another box that is at least 2 inches wider on all sides than the first box.
2. Pad the bottom of the box with 2 inches of any sort of cushioning material.
3. Place the packed box on the bottom layer of the second box and proceed to pad all sides and top with cushioning material.
4. Gently shake the sealed box and listen carefully for any movement sound. If you can hear movement, then you must reopen and add more padding.
Simple methods, common-sense rules and household tools is all you need to care for your important glass and preserve it for future generations.
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