Cleaning and Repairing Ivory

Part of the Uniclectica Antiques and Collectibles Online Series "Caring For Your Antiques and Collectibles"

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Cleaning
Always begin cleaning with the gentlest method, and gradually use more invasive techniques, as required. Due to ivory's sensitivity to moisture, only dry cleaning methods should be used. If these are insufficient, consult a conservator with experience cleaning ivory.

You must always be careful that you are not trying to remove original surface coats, pigments or patinas! Also, because ivory so readily absorbs oils and stains, wear a pair of white cotton gloves with a good fit while working with ivory (these gloves are inexpensive, and are available from drug stores and photography shops).

Dry Cleaning Methods:
1. Soft Brush. Using a clean, soft paintbrush, brush the dirt off the object. Work slowly towards an edge.

2. Powdered Eraser. Grate white vinyl eraser, using a zester. It *must* be white vinyl eraser, as the pink erasers (or others) contain contaminants, such as colourants, sulphur, etc. Gently rub the grated eraser on the ivory, using either the soft brush or your fingertip (wear white cotton gloves, so that the ivory does not absorb the oils, etc. from your hands). Be certain to gently brush away all of the eraser flakes when you are done.

3. White Vinyl Eraser. Gently use a white vinyl eraser (ungrated) over the surface of the ivory. Be careful not to apply too much pressure, and to work on a small area at a time.

4. Groomstik. Groomstik is a natural rubber product, which is sticky. It pulls the dirt off of the surface of the ivory. It is available through museum supply houses -- check with your local museum. Using a small piece of Groomstik, gently roll it across the surface of the ivory. Be careful not to pull off any small or loose pieces of ivory, or of pigment, etc.

If these cleaning methods do not work, again, contact a conservator experienced in working with ivory.

Repairs
Because ivory is sensitive to moisture, and to sulphur (both found in various types of adhesives), it is best to leave any ivory repairs to a trained conservator.

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