Some of your most prized possessions may be items that you’ve acquired from an older family member. This is especially true if it’s been passed down through many generations. Family heirlooms are a great way to remember your origins and honor your ancestors. They are also often delicate due to their age, and therefore must be cared for meticulously.
If you have one or several family heirlooms that are especially meaningful, take equally special care to preserve them. There are a number of guidelines to follow when caring for heirlooms or antiques to ensure that they maintain their structural integrity.
- Keep paper, documents and books dry. Any heirlooms made from paper are extremely susceptible to damage from water, so store them in acid-free binder page protectors or in an acid-free archival box that are kept far away from any kind of moisture. In addition, keep any paper heirlooms away from light, as light can cause paper to age and crumble much faster. If you have paper heirlooms you’d like to show off or use as wall art, do so in a darker room of your home with them encased in a protective, acid-free frame.
- Be careful what you use to clean jewelry. Antique and heirloom pieces can tarnish with time, making them tempting to scrub clean. In order to keep your ancestor’s jewels sparkling, you can use a soft toothbrush with warm water and mild soap. For silver pieces, you can use silver cleaner with a soft cloth. If you have heirloom jewelry that you want to display, do so with them sitting in boxes lined in satin to avoid scratches.
- Avoid washing cloth heirlooms. Clothing, dolls, blankets, gowns, uniforms and quilts can all be very sentimental heirlooms if they were made, used or worn by a family member, which is why they shouldn’t be washed or dry-cleaned. Display cloth heirlooms in an area that doesn’t get much natural light in order to protect them from fading, and only hang them on padded hangers that do not contain bleached cotton.
- Toy heirlooms are for looking at. Don’t attempt to pass antique toys or dolls on to your own children to play with. Porcelain dolls, or those made from wood, wax or rags need to be carefully inspected to ensure that they don’t have any type of eggs on them that will result in an insect infestation. Dust your doll heirlooms with cotton balls and distilled water. Do not use any type of cleaning solution on your antique dolls, and store them face side down in archive boxes to prevent their eyes from falling inside their heads.
Toys other than dolls can also be cleaned using plain water and a soft cloth or sponge with no cleaning solutions. If you’re storing plastic items, be sure to use boxes with vents, as plastic gives off gases as it decomposes. This can be damaging to some of your other heirlooms. Toys and dolls can definitely be put on display in your home, but be sure to place them on glass shelves rather than wood.