Care and Cleaning of Cut Glass
By Vickie Matthews
After you have purchased your cut glass and have had it home for awhile, you notice that it has lost its sparkle; could it be that it needs cleaning? I would like to share with you a few cleaning ideas that I use on my cut glass and a few tips others have shared with me over the years for the preservation, cleaning, and security of your cut glass.
What gets your cut glass dirty? Greasy hands, dust, and air pollution are the most common culprits. I find the best way to clean my glass is to use a plastic or fiberglass wash tub; 16" x 24" x 6" is a good size. Nick Boonstra told me about a plastic photo developer’s tray that is 14" x 17"x 2"High and has a lip for splashing and easy lifting, and also has an overflow drain, which sounds great! Never clean glass in the kitchen sink due the hardness of the sink itself and the danger of hitting the metal faucet. I use a nylon scrub brush with a plastic handle on the top, with bristles at least one inch long so it will get in all the cuts. Do only one piece at a time. If you have cleaning help, do not let them clean your cut glass, as no one will take as much care of it as you will. After all, it is not just beautiful to look at, but it is also an Investment. Do not put cut glass in the dishwasher, particularly stem-ware. Besides the heat, there is a lot of movement due to sprayers, and chips might occur. All jewelry must be removed before you start cleaning due to the chance of scratching your glass or damaging your jewelry. It is recommended to wear lightweight plastic or rubber gloves when cleaning cut glass to avoid having the glass slip from your hands and to protect your hands from the oft times sharpness of the cuts. J. Hoare’s "Pebblo" pattern, with It’s nail-head cutting is especially treacherous to handle without gloves.
After you get all your equipment together, fill the tub about half full with baby warm water with a little glass cleaner detergent added. Baby warm water is really the proper term; the two enemies of glass are heat and vibration; and in a great many cases the cut glass piece you are washing Is "your baby." if the glass is really greasy, add a little dish-washing detergent. Louise Boggess recommends a detergent known as Simple Green. There are, of course, many fine dishwashing detergents on the market. Make sure you scrub all the cuts in the pattern and the serrated top edge. Rinse with clear water in a separate plastic tub and dry with an old worn towel that doesn’t leave lint. Also, wearing a pair of cotton gloves while drying your glass will prevent those dulling finger prints. If you may be so inclined, you may see how good a cleaning job you did by putting the item under a black light. Any grime left in the crevices of the cuts will show up in orange color.
Cut Glass Bowls, Trays. Dishes and Platters are probably the easiest items to clean; you have a negotiable surface to work with. However, the usual precautions should be taken. These Items are also the easiest to dry.
Cleaning Decanters presents a special problem. First use the cleaning method as described above. Rinse the inside of the decanter until it is free of all suds, then place it in a plastic dish rack upside down to drain. The decanter must be completely dry before replacing the stopper or it will fog up" (due to the temperature/humidity differential between the inside of the glass and the outside air). I find that if you cut up an old cotton sheet in narrow strips about 36" long and use a 1/4" diameter wooden dowel to insert these into the decanter, you can then swirl the strips around inside and remove most of the moisture. After fully draining, rinsing out the inside with acetone (which you can get at any hardware store) which will greatly accelerate the drying process. After pouring about a 1/4 cup into the decanter, hold your finger over the opening and shake vigorously, then discard the acetone. You must take care with the acetone, as it is flammable and could damage your furniture. (When using any chemicals to clean glass please exercise safety to the fullest extent; protect your hands with lightweight rubber gloves, wear eye protection, and have plenty of ventilation).
When you go to use the item again, rinse it out in warm water to make sure no chemical film has remained, and always clean the inside of decanters after use - as alcohol or water left In it can damage the surface of the glass. (Water residue is mostly lime deposits left after evaporation has taken place). Some persons have recommended the use of a hair drier to speed up drying the interior of Decanters or Carafes, etc. I have not used this method, but if you do - please remember the effect of heat on cut glass and start off on low cycle. Whatever works for you you do. There are some good glass cleaning products on the market. Look around, ask around, shop around.
Vases are also hard to clean and dry inside. Never use a bottle brush or anything with metal parts as this can scratch the interior. That may have been what put those scratches in the very tip of the trumpet vases that you see now and again. A good policy that a dealer shared with me recently is to use distilled water in your vase when in use and change the water daily. This saves those deposits of stains and minerals from the flowers themselves from spoiling the beauty of your Vase. Probably the most difficult cut glass item to clean is a Flower Center, especially wide ones. They are bulky and unwieldy in handling. Naturally, the bigger the cut glass item, the more difficult it is to clean, but the right materials, a little "elbow grease and a lot of patience will turn out a sparkling piece of cut glass you can always be proud of.
Following are a few tips for the safety of your fine cut glass:
1. Never place cut glass in direct sunlight, as the possibly concentrated temperature of direct sunlight over an extended period of time may cause the item to crack. Also, If you receive a package of cut glass as a shipment or if it has been sitting in a warm or cold place, do not unpack it immediately. Let it sit inside and come up to room temperature slowly over a period of eight hours or so.
2. Check your cabinet shelves for sagging. You may need to place the heaviest pieces nearer to the sides where the shelf supports are. To check this, kneel down and look along the front edge of the shelf from the side of the cabinet; only minor bowing should be allowed. A minimum of thickness of 1/4" for shelving is acceptable and shelf supports should more than adequate.
3. If the glass is to sit on a hard surface, you may want to place small dots of felt or plastic on the bottom of the piece. Apply these where the glass surface makes contact with the table or shelf surface so the piece is stable with no rocking; a minimum of 3 or 4 should be used. These may need to be replaced after each cleaning, but are well worth using, as they will protect the glass as well as your fine furniture. Another thought is to place the items on doilies all those leftover doilies that grandma made can be put to a nice use. They can also be easily obtained in dry goods, craft shops, department stores and, of course, antique shops.
4. If you live in an area where there is a possibility of earthquakes, you can secure your glass with a wax-like product. There are two kinds; a green one used by florists, and a white one sold at antique shows and some shops. I prefer the white one, as it seems to be easier to remove and does not seem to harm the surface of your furniture.
5. Be careful with the size of the light bulbs you use in your cut glass lamps. We use a maximum of 25 watts for each bulb. We also test the color of the bulb and choose the one that puts out the whitest light; as some of them put out a yellow or amber color. I prefer the bulbs made for oven use, as they are small in size and this keeps the bulb further away from the shade. Also after cleaning your prisms, check the wires holding the prisms and make sure they have not pulled loose. During this process, a towel should be wrapped over the base to prevent damage from falling prisms.
I hope you find this information helpful.