To Clean or Not To Clean

There are times you may have an antique that may be dirty, rusty, scratched or maybe even missing parts, and you would like to display it looking better than it does – but you wonder…. ‘will cleaning it, or ‘refurbishing’  have any affect on its value?‘   The answer to this question depends pretty much on the item.

First thing to remember is this, if you have no knowledge of the correct way to clean or restore the object – DON’T.  You may do more damage and lower the value by trying to clean or restore something than had you left it ‘as-is’.

Second thing,  if the item is a true antique (over 100 years old or older) and is in overall good condition, you are better off to leave it alone. This is especially true for furniture – don’t want to destroy that rich patina. This is also true for collectible coins. Collector coins should never be handled as hands leave oil and fingerprints – always wear white gloves and if you simply must touch them, hold them by the edges – never touch the face or back.

Now let’s look at how to clean items that aren’t rare and precious, but have value, and you want to improve their condition.


 Let me say it again, if you have a very rare or old piece of furniture, leave it ‘as-is’. Part of  its value lies in the patina.  (Same goes for the hardware.)   Otherwise, if you plan on cleaning it,  you can use ‘0000’ steel wool (or the finest you can find) and Formby’s cleaning liquid to remove surface dirt … follow container directions.

Another thing to remember is always apply the cleaner in the same direction as the grain.  Rubbing the steel wool across the grain or in circles will leave scratches. Once you have the piece clean, you can apply any good furniture polish periodically to maintain the finish.


If your jewelry is fine jewelry – gold or silver – you can clean it with any of the good jewelry cleaners on the market. Just make sure that if there are gem stones in the item, they will not be damaged by the cleaner.   Some gem stones are porous and can be damaged by cleaners.

Costume jewelry can be cleaned with a soft brush to remove dust and dirt. For more information on cleaning fine jewelry visit this link   and for additional information on daily care for your jewelry visit this link

There may be some vintage or antique jewelry items that you may want to leave ‘as-is’ since some  collectors  find the patina part of the value. This is true for Native American pieces and older items that may have developed a patina over time due to their metal content.


The material the toy is made from will dictate how you clean it.


Wooden toys – old or new – should never be exposed to water. Get the specifics of how to care for your wooden toys at this link

Rubber toys like Auburn require special attention due to the past methods of manufacturing the rubber. This may apply to the whole toy or just the wheels. Get more information about caring for your rubber toys at this link

Plastic, vinyl and metal toys also have their own special needs and information relating to their care can be found at this link in the ‘Toy’ section.

Interestingly, if you have a Tonka that is in need of cleaning or replacement of missing  parts, it is one of the few collectibles out there that when restored with original parts, or repainted to original color, will  hold or increase in its market value.


New or old knives can be maintained by keeping them clean and lightly oiled. However, if you have an old knife, don’t try sharpening it if you want to maintain it in original condition. Most collectors and dealers want items as original as possible to maintain value.

Like the Tonka toys,  I have found that restoring a pocket knife – handles, blade, etc. – has little effect on the value as long as the replacement part is original to the item.

And, while there are cleaning and restorative products available on the market for oil paintings,  old prints and photos, it’s my opinion, that these are best left to the professional conservator – especially if the item has significant value or if you are unsure of its value.


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