When looking for conservation tips, we might have treasured family heirlooms and works of art in mind. However, household objects and materials should also be considered - with proper care and maintenance, we can extend the lifetimes of objects and make more sustainable choices.
The Icon Care of Collections Group gives simple advice for caring for a variety of household objects and materials, including glassware, wood, textiles, books, stone, metals and leather.
Top tips for caring for your treasures
- Avoid using cotton gloves; clean dry hands are the most effective tools for reading a book
- Use bookmarks rather than creasing the corners of pages or inserting metal paper clips, as these can lead to cracking the paper and corrosion stains
- Store books upright on shelves, well supported so they don’t slump and become distorted, eventually breaking the spines
- Store oversized books flat
- Dont open dusty books; first clean the edges of the pages to prevent the dusk from migrating onto the pages and staining them
- Don’t use sticky tape to repair books - they are very damaging as the adhesive penetrates and stains both leather and paper
- Textiles and dyes are easily damaged by light so try to display them out of bright artificial light or sunlight
- Avoid hanging textiles on an outside wall as it may become damp and mouldy display
- Avoid placing an antique or silk carpet where it will be walked on frequently or in a very light filled area
- If a carpet has a lot of loose threads or is in poor condition, use a net over the end of the vacuum nozzle cleaning: do not use steam cleaners or commercial cleaners on antique carpets
- Make sure your clothing item is cleaned before it is stored - moths and carpet beetles are drawn to any bodily fluids or food stains
- Keep cupboards clean and dry - this reduces the risk of insect attack and mould, which can leave holes and permanent stains
- Check your jewellery boxes! Cardboard and wooden boxes are acidic, so they accelerate tarnishing of rarely worn jewellery
- If you wrap silver cutlery or jewellery in cloth, use cotton, not wool, as wool contains natural oils which can affect silver
- The easiest and safest method of cleaning silver is to use silver foam on a soft sponge
- Immediately clean any red wine or oil spills as many types of stone are porous
- Use plates under plant pots
- Use mats to protect floors in heavy traffic areas
- Avoid high heels
- Place furniture at least 25mm away from an outside wall (mould can grow on damp wood)
- Place furniture away from radiators to avoid risk of drying out and cracking
- Lift furniture to move - never drag!
- Most damage occurs to glass when handling or washing, so wash up while in a good mood!
- Remove jewellery before cleaning and handling as the stones can scratch
- Cover openings with muslin or tissue
- Store with other similar sized items
- Avoid water and high humidity
- Pad clothing and costumes with crumpled acid free tissue
- Avoid positioning leather in direct sunlight
You can watch the full webinar covering all materials and objects below, or browse the clips in our Caring for your collection YouTube Playlist.
Regular inspection and careful cleaning is the best way to prevent damage like stains, mould, corrosion and insects. These resources were originally created by the Icon Care of Collections Group in support of SPAB's National Maintenance Week, which is a reminder for anyone who looks after a building - regardless of its age, type or purpose - of the simple, achievable steps they can take to prepare for the worst that winter can bring.
The owner can undertake measures to prevent damage to objects and heirlooms; however there are instances when a conservator can provide invaluable help. You can find a conservator on Icon's free to use Conservation Register.