In Your Attic


UTENSILS, BAKEWARE, LAWN FURNITURE Aluminum is slow to tarnish and it does not polish brightly. Use isopropyl alcohol to clean indoor aluminum. Outdoor aluminum is protected by gray tarnish that builds up, so it is best to leave the finish be. Aluminum can corrode when placed in contact with copper or iron.

FIXTURES, HARDWARE, LAMPS, DECORATIVE ITEMS Brass is often coated with clear lacquer to prevent tarnish. Otherwise, regular polishing is needed to prevent a difficult-to-remove layer of tarnish; a coating of paste wax will slow it. Don’t clean brass with acids (lemon juice, vinegar) or ammonia (glass cleaners).

LAMP BASES, BOOKENDS, SCULPTURES Both indoors and out, bronze generally requires only a dusting or light washing, as the shading provided by the patina is considered desirable—particularly on art pieces such as sculptures. Often the creator’s vision of the piece will anticipate how it will tarnish.

COOKWARE, GARDEN FURNISHINGS, FIREPLACE ACCESSORIES Cast iron absorbs water; pieces that are wet should be allowed to dry thoroughly. Small rust spots can be removed with a utility knife; on larger areas, strip rust with steel wool. To prevent rust, coat with wax, oil, or paint. Never scour the surface off seasoned cookware.

PLATING ON EXTERIOR FIXTURES, CAR PARTS, APPLIANCES Chrome is used to plate other metals and even plastic. It does not tarnish or corrode, but the underlying metal can, causing pockmarks—don’t break them or the corrosion will worsen. Buff water spots with a soft cotton cloth. Use chrome cleaner if the surface becomes discolored.

COOKWARE, DECORATIVE ITEMS FOR HOME AND GARDEN Outdoor copper is often left to develop its green patina. Cookware is usually polished, although some cooks contend that a patinaed exterior conducts heat faster. Try this natural polish: a wash of lemon juice or white vinegar and a sprinkling of coarse salt

JEWELRY, PLATING AND GILT ON DECORATIVE ITEMS Pure gold does not tarnish, but it can be discolored by impurities in tap water, so thoroughly dry any pieces that get wet. Gilt and plating are delicate; dust with a soft brush.

FIXTURES FOR KITCHEN AND BATH Nickel takes a long time to show any signs of tarnish. Wash it, and buff lightly with a soft cotton cloth. Nickel plating can occasionally chip off, leaving the underlying metal to corrode. Replating is the only solution.

DECORATIVE ITEMS AND SERVING PIECES Pewter usually just needs dusting and a good washing. It is not usually meant to take a bright shine. Older pewter was made from a very soft mixture of tin and lead, so only the least abrasive of polishes should be used to remove unwanted and unwashable tarnish

FLATWARE, HOLLOWWARE, JEWELRY Look for the previous polishing pattern (usually circular on hollowware and lengthwise on flatware). Never use dips, which are harsh acids. Polish silver only when it needs it. Store pieces in tarnish-resistant silversmith’s cloth pouches or in a chest lined with such cloth.

FLATWARE, SINKS, COOKWARE The name is a slight exaggeration. Water marks are common, so stainless-steel flatware should be dried immediately by hand. Spots in sinks and on counters can be removed with a stainless-steel cleaner; polish in straight motions, with the grain, when necessary

TOLEWARE, COOKIE CUTTERS, DECORATIVE ITEMS Pieces made from or plated with tin are almost invariably thin and delicate, so take great care. If tin has gone gray, don’t remove the tarnish, which protects the metal. Be very thorough when drying template any moisture trapped in nooks can quickly rust the iron underneath.

You polish and polish and polish, so why do your metal objects always seem to tarnish?
As much as you polish metal objects, tarnish just seems inevitable. That‘s because the surface of metal is very susceptible to oxidation—a reaction between an object and its environment that causes the dull tarnish on metal. The acids from your hands when touching certain metal objects is just one of the causes. Sulfur compounds in foods such as eggs and brussels sprouts are also culprits. Sunlight, fireplace smoke, and salt air affect metal, too. But metals will tarnish even when safely tucked away in cupboards and drawers. Bare wood, many paints, and shelf and drawer liners all release oxidizing chemicals.

You can diligently polish your metal pieces, but tarnish isn‘t always a bad thing. Of course, you wouldn‘t want to set a table with badly tarnished silver, but certain objects acquire a great deal of charm when their surfaces are allowed to temper. The glow of that tarnish is called patina, and it can add beauty and value to a collectible. Antiques dealers and conservators strongly suggest leaving certain objects alone; for example, a patina adds shading to engraved designs. And an antique dresser with a time–mellowed finish would certainly look strange if its drawer pulls were brightly polished. (Keep in mind that you should never polish pewter.) So the next time a piece of metal looks dull, you decide—is it tarnish or a beautiful patina

Polishing Metals
TIPical Mary Ellen host Mary Ellen Pinkham offers ideas for polishing a variety of metals using household items.

· Make a homemade paste to clean unlacquered brass. Mix equal parts of salt and flour, then add enough vinegar to make a paste. Spread a thick layer of the paste on the brass (see photo) and let it dry, then rinse to remove.

· Another option for cleaning brass is to cut a lemon in half, dip the cut part in salt and rub it on the brass. Rinse with cold water and buff with a soft cloth. Use a dry cloth, or dip it in some mineral oil if desired.

· Coat brass with a silicone-based car wax to keep it shiny.

· Use ketchup to clean and polish copper pots. Spread a layer of ketchup on the pot, let it sit for approximately 10 minutes, then wipe off. For really stubborn stains, use a piece of super-fine steel wool after applying the ketchup.

· Toothpaste makes an excellent cleaner for silver. Be careful, though, and do not use a toothpaste that contains peroxide.

· To bring a shine back to a pair of bronzed baby shoes, use copper cleaner and buff the shoes with super-fine steel wool.

· Pewter can be cleaned with a leaf of cabbage and cigarette or cigar ashes. Dip the cabbage leaf in ashes and buff the pewter. If ashes aren't available, silver polish also works well on pewter.

· Any non-abrasive cleaner makes a good metal polish.


Do you know the best way to care for a marble surface?
Marble is a beautiful surface for tables and countertops. But unfortunately, compared with other stone, marble is quite soft and porous, so it can easily be stained, scratched, and chipped, and special care is required to maintain its beauty. To help prevent staining, marble surfaces are often coated with protective sealers. Depending on use, these coatings should be reapplied every year or two. Regular cleanings should be as gentle as possible. Dust the surface once or twice a week with a soft cloth. Wash the marble periodically with a cloth dampened with warm water, and, if necessary, a just bit of mild dishwashing liquid. Remove the soap with another damp cloth. Never use dusting sprays or abrasive cleaners on your marble. And if your marble does stain, you can try to remove it with a poultice made especially for drawing out stains. And applying marble polish on a regular basis will maintain the stone’s luster. Many hardware stores carry such products and they’re usually quite effective.

Of course, common sense is one of the best care tips for marble. Prevent ring marks by using coasters or trivets under glasses and dishes. Use mats or runners beneath hard objects that might scratch the surface. And always blot spills up immediately and rinse with a clean, damp cloth.

Can I use tarnish-resistant flannel cloth made for storing silverware to polish it as well?

You can use tarnish-resistant flannel cloth to polish your silverware in a pinch. Simply rub the silverware vigorously with a piece of dry cloth—wetting the chemically treated cloth will ruin it—and your silver will definitely look brighter. You’ll get even better results, however, if you use regular silver polish.

To polish vintage flatware with Bakelite plastic handles, use a sponge or soft cloth to rub on some Novis plastic polish, available at hardware and homeware stores. You can polish the stainless-steel blades of flatware with Bakelite, bone, ivory, or mother-of-pearl handles by sprinkling a bit of regular household cleanser on the blades and rubbing vigorously with a cloth. (Avoid getting cleanser on the handles, however, as its abrasiveness will dull and scratch them.) Never wash these items in a dishwasher, as you may loosen the connection between handle and blade.

Do you shy away from white because it’s difficult to keep clean?

Objects that are white look clean and crisp until the inevitable occurs and they become dingy. Making things around the home white again can be a challenge. You might be inclined to reach for the most powerful cleaning product available, like chlorine bleach. Although chlorine bleach is a reliable household staple, it’s harsh and can be damaging when used incorrectly. Instead, try one of the following gentle, natural bleaching options that your grandmother might have used successfully.

Tea and coffee stains can be removed from ceramic cups with denture-cleaning tablets. Just fill the cup with warm water, and drop in a tablet. When the tablet stops fizzing, empty the cup, and if it’s still stained, repeat the process. To whiten cloth napkins, linens, and even socks, fill a large pot with water, and drop in several slices of lemon. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat. Add the linens, and let them soak for about an hour. Then launder as usual. Many bathroom cleansers are gritty, and when cleaning grout, these cleansers can scratch the tiles. Baking soda is a safe and inexpensive alternative. First, wet the grout, and apply the baking soda to the stained area with an old toothbrush. Work on a small section at a time, and then rinse clean.

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