Q. We have several nice oil paintings framed in ornate gold-leaf frames. I would like to clean these frames other than just dusting. Do you have any recommendations on how to clean gold leaf without damaging the finish?
A. The gilt on your frames can be pure gold leaf, a tarnishable gold metal, gold paste wax or gold paint. And any raised decorative pattern can be made of plaster.
Don't take chances damp-cleaning an old frame if you think it might be real gold leaf on plaster. A damp-cleaning adds enough moisture to loosen gold leaf and soak into fine cracks to dissolve the plaster. If you're in doubt about gold on an old frame, a frame shop should recognize the type.
For the real thing, use only a soft dry cloth and leave any extensive cleaning to a professional restorer. If your frames are not the real thing and valuable as antiques, you can try this method of cleaning: Remove all loose dust, then mix a cleaning solution of half-and-half portions of alcohol and ammonia. Apply to the entire surface with an artist's camel's-hair brush.
Allow the solution to remain a few minutes to soften the grime. Then remove with clear water, also applied with an artist's brush. Do not wipe dry; shake off any drops of water and stand the frame on edge in a well-ventilated place to dry naturally.
It is best to test in an inconspicuous area first, such as the back of the frame, to assure that this process will not harm the finish.
Q. I have a beautiful crystal decanter with a bottle stopper made of glass that is stuck tight in the neck of the bottle. Do you know of any method of unsticking a glass stopper? I have tried running hot water over the neck of the decanter as well as applying WD40 around the stopper.
A. Here is an old trick for unsticking glass stoppers in sealed perfume bottles: Use a piece of string that is quite strong, similar to fishing cord. Recruit a friend to give you an assist.
Loop the cord one time around the neck of the bottle. While one person holds the bottle, have the second person pull the cord very rapidly back and forth for at least three minutes. The neck of the bottle will heat up and swell. The glass stopper will not.
If at first you don't succeed, try again. This method works most of the time.
Send inquiries to Here's How, Copley News Service, P.O. Box 190, San Diego, Calif. 92112-0190. Only questions of general interest can be answered in the column.