Useful Tips For Cleaning Antique Trade Beads

by on August 8, 2013

Should you clean old African trade beads? I’m personally not averse to the idea of giving trade beads a gentle rub over if using them for jewelry, provided they are not fragile.  However, there are many people who are against the idea because they believe it detracts from the value and beauty of antique trade beads, which have often lain forgotten or buried for more than a hundred years.

If you are intent on sprucing up your beads for stringing, jewelry making or resale, there are a few tips worth noting before taking toothbrush to bead.

1. Don’t Use a Toothbrush

Many bead sellers  advise using a softened toothbrush to gently loosen ingrained dirt from beads, however, even with the softest brush you run the risk of  scratching the surface, and loosening weakened glass were the beads have been chipped. Rub stubborn areas with a moistened Q-tip or cotton bud, as the cotton will usually penetrate smaller cracks.

2. Use Ammonia

Ammonia is a handy household cleaner, yet it can also work wonders for your beads too. Add a teaspoon or two to a container of water, and leave the beads to soak for as long as possible. You’ll find that most of the ingrained dirt and grime comes away without the need for rubbing.

3. Soak Beads in a Plastic Container

Old trade beads often have fractures and inclusions which can sometimes weaken if they bang against one another, or against a glass bowl. Plastic is softer and more flexible, therefore minimizes the possibility of damage.  

4. Remove Beads from the Raffia

Contrary to popular belief, raffia is not a man-made product – it’s woven from dried grasses, As it ages, it has a tendency to split and weaken due to the weight of the beads. Immersing raffia in water can accelerate this process, and also cause it to rot.

5. Allow Beads to Dry Naturally

As tempting as it may be to rub your old beads dry to achieve a high shine, you run the risk of towel fibers getting caught in fractures. Pull the fiber away may cause the fracture to weaken, and further cracks to appear.

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