Museum of Royal Worcester - Care of ceramics

CLEANING CHINA

The care of ceramics can seem daunting at first, but the following information will guide you on how to care for complex objects and how to safely store them.

Before cleaning your porcelain or china it is important to thoroughly check for any signs of damage: cracks and chips, flaking or lifting of the surface decoration, and signs of previous repairs. If there is any structural damage to the item we recommend consulting an expert before cleaning. You can also read our advice on mending broken porcelain.

Cracks or chips expose the porous body and may absorb water and dirt during cleaning so care should be taken as per the process outlined below. Any flaking or lifted areas of decoration are likely to be very fragile and further losses are likely so it is advised to avoid cleaning these areas without professional advice. Care should also be taken with previous repairs as these areas are more sensitive. Many old restoration materials are water-soluble so cleaning with water could weaken the repair.

For larger ceramic items, dusting is a safer way to care for the object. If moving the object is necessary, ensure both hands are used and support from below – never pick them up by weaker areas such as handles, knobs or rims.

CLEANING METHODS

  • For dusting, use a lint-free cotton duster and a soft artist’s paintbrush for intricate areas.
  • Care should be taken when submerging porcelain in water. Although glazes provide barriers to liquids, cracks in the glaze are common, making the areas porous and prone to damage. Never use a dishwasher for valued ceramics, and avoid using household bleaches or strong cleaning agents.
  • Instead, dampen a cotton wool swab in warm water with a little detergent (no more than a few drops per litre of water). Gently roll the swabs over the porcelain, and refrain from scrubbing.Ensure that the swab remains clean so as not to move dirt into any cracks. Avoid swabbing over any previous repairs or lifting decoration.
  • If you are cleaning tableware that is in relatively good condition without crazing in the glaze you can hand wash in a sink or similar container. Use just a few drops of detergent in warm water and only place one item in at a time. Consider placing a tea towel or piece of foam in the bottom to create a softer surface. A plastic bowl is much better than a glazed or metal sink without other padding.
  • Before drying, take care of ceramics by wiping over the area with water to remove any detergent residue.
  • To dry, blot with a paper towel or lint-free cloth.

DISPLAY AND STORAGE

  • Display your porcelain in areas where there is less traffic to avoid the risk of being knocked. Glass display cabinets will not only keep them secure but also protected from dust.
  • To avoid vibration damage, place a piece of chamois leather under the object. Ensure pieces are not touching and are placed on flat, even surfaces.
  • Ceramics can tolerate many environmental conditions including light and temperature, however sudden changes in temperature could cause cracks. Some old repairs may also be susceptible to discolouration if stored in strong light.
  • When not on display, wrap porcelain in acid-free tissue paper and bubblewrap, and never apply tape directly to the object. Masking tape is useful to secure bubble wrap as it greatly reduces the risk of adhering to the object during packing or rewrapping as it can be easily removed.
  • Store ceramics in strong plastic containers with substantial wadding between and around pieces. Stacked plates/nested items will benefit from a piece of bubble wrap between layers.Consider the amount of weight placed on items underneath as this can cause cracking especially if the container is being moved. Refrain from storing in damp environments.

Following these simple ‘care of ceramics’ steps during cleaning and storage will ensure you, your family and friends can enjoy your Worcester porcelain for years to come.

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