A Proper Holiday Cleaning Will Help Your Chandelier Shine

When properly cleaned, a chandelier should stay presentable for a couple of years.
When properly cleaned, a chandelier should stay presentable for a couple of years. (Bigstockphoto.com)
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By Megan Voelkel
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, December 18, 2008

The holiday trimmings are in place, the last piece of silverware has been polished, and -- gasp! -- you look up to see that your chandelier has collected some decidedly un-festive ornaments: dirt, dust and the occasional cobweb.

Unless you've opted for a Halloween-themed Christmas this year, a good chandelier cleaning will be the gift that keeps on giving.

"If the work is done extremely thoroughly, it will stay clean for a couple of years," says David Toran, a chandelier restorer-consultant in the District and the owner of Chandelier Services Co. (http://www.chandelierservices.com), which specializes in maintenance, repair and installation. His nearly 30-year résumé includes the fixtures in some of the area's finest homes, hotels and museums.

To be thorough, however, requires hands-on attention; spray-on chandelier cleaners aren't an effective remedy. Those products, Toran says, work only on a chandelier's vertical surfaces, where the liquid can properly drip off or dry. Elsewhere, deposits of the cleaner and dirt will settle in the cups and crevices of a chandelier's frame and can damage any crystal prisms, their hardware and other unpolished components.

"People who have used chandelier sprays for long periods of time wind up calling me for full restorations," Toran says. "Sometimes they spray so heavy that it goes into the sockets."

The fix: He recommends a two-rag method using wipes that are 100 percent cotton, such as a T-shirt (no towels; they tend to snag). One wipe should be submerged in a solution of water and 20 percent ammonia and then wrung out thoroughly. The other wipe should stay dry.

Starting at the top of the chandelier and working down, wipe with the moistened cloth and follow immediately with the dry one. Then work from the center outward, cleaning one arm, any associated prisms or other embellishments until you've gone all the way around the fixture. Don't forget the light bulbs, but remember to keep them turned off while cleaning.

Got a chandelier too difficult to clean with the prisms in place, or with loose components? Toran says the piece will have to be "undressed," or stripped of its ornamentation. For ambitious do-it-yourselfers up to the task, the prisms should be placed in a container filled with hot water and 20 percent ammonia for about three minutes, then rinsed with hot water and laid on a cloth to dry. That should be done "one assembly at a time," he says, "so you don't get lost or forget where the pieces need to go. You can look at the rest of the fixture." The remaining frame can be given the two-rag treatment.

Other tips:

· Never spin a chandelier while cleaning. Move around it with the ladder or you risk "unthreading it off of the ceiling," Toran says.

· Put padding or dropcloths beneath the chandelier to protect furniture and floor finishes and to catch any loosened prisms or beads.

· Make sure you feel comfortable on a ladder. "Movement should be on the ladder versus the chandelier," Toran says. He adds that a fiberglass ladder is best, to protect against shocks.

· Know when to use a specialist. Chandeliers with large glass dishes at the bottom might be difficult to clean with a rag unless the bottom piece is disassembled. With a surprising amount of nuts and bolts, the dishes often end up in pieces if not professionally handled, Toran says. Chandeliers that are very high, very big or very valuable also are probably best left to the pros.

And finally, if you decide to spruce up your newly cleaned chandelier, make sure any decorations you place on it are fireproof. Never use live greens.

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