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Antique Dealers Guide

Remove Those Stains from Your Precious Pottery!

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Pottery can collect stains easily if not maintained properly. There are various processes that can aid in fast removal of these unsightly blots.

(1) Removal of iron oxide stains: Stoneware and earthenware fall prey to these stains. The ceramic is to be wetted first. Now take some cotton swabs and soak them in 10% oxalic acid solution. Transfer this acid to the surface of the piece being cleaned. The stain is successfully removed, although a minute bit of iron in the paste might go with it too. Rinse the object thoroughly.

Now, if you notice iron oxide stains in the paste or glaze, then go in for 5% EDTA solution instead of oxalic acid. This will ensure a minimal amount of iron loss. This is actually more efficient in functioning because it has a lower pH.

There are two points to be kept in mind, however. Do not go overboard with your cleaning. Secondly, rinsing has to be complete and thorough to get rid of residual acid on the surface.

(2) Removal of rust stains: Sometimes, rust gets onto your artifacts. It is actually a mineral that is in an oxidized state. So, a reducing agent such as 5% solution of sodium hydrosulfite solution or sodium dithionite is to be used first, for changing the rust stains into soluble forms. You will notice the reaction as soon as you apply the solution. There may even be a bleaching action that is visible.

Now, wash the object thoroughly in water first, and then in a special solution. This solution consists of dethylene triamine pentacetic acid (DTPA) and 5% solution of sodium hydroxide with a pH of 5.5. The result is that a chemical bonding occurs between the rust stains and this chemical solution. Once you rinse your antique or soak it in water, the stains disappear.

If you wish to, you can also go in for a commercial rust remover or muriatic acid.

(3) Removal of iron sulfide and organic stains: Many pottery items are recovered from shipwrecks. It is therefore natural that they can appear with black metallic sulfide stains. If you have such items with you, immerse them in a hydroxide peroxide solution (It should be 10% to 25% by volume). The time period for the disappearance of these stains can vary, dependent on how long they have been there. You might see them gone within a few seconds, or you might need to wait patiently for a few hours! And yes, you do not need to rinse your articles after this treatment.

Do you also have shards (broken pieces) that require cleaning? Treat with nylon first, and then use hydrogen peroxide. The solution goes through the nylon film and removes stains.

This liquid can work on organic stains too—tin/glazed enamel wares such as faience, majolica and delft. However, if you do not keep a careful eye, you might discover that the glaze itself has come off entirely because of the bubbles produced during treatment!


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