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Cleaning Medals


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Hi Folks


Came across your forum when I was google whacking how to clean medals - seen a ton of ways to do it, even read this very old article https://www.greatwarforum.org/topic/64479-how-do-you-clean-a-medal/ which one person was very precise about how to do it but I wanted to know what should be done if something like silvo or brasso has been used previously?  Should a cleaner or soapy water be used first?  These are post WW2 issued medals just FYI, 3 Stars and the Defence and 39-45 medal.


Any help would be appreciated!



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There are a lot of arguments about conservation, preservation and presentation.


Where medals have been cleaned using silvo & brasso, as was common practice in military service and by service personnel after their return to the civilian community. At this point the medals have lost the "finish" and treatment from the manufacture process. In my "opinion" at this time there is no problem with again cleaning them with silvo/brasso to the finish that the service owner displayed them. These cleaners are abrasive and indefinite repeated cleaning will remove detail from the medals so the repetitious use of these cleaners should be avoided.  After cleaning they should be washed in warm soapy water, then thoroughly rinsed in clean warm water, then dried with a soft cloth and dried at a very low heat in an oven (say 60degC). They should only be handled with gloves. Contamination from hands will cause accelerated tarnish. They can then be displayed with ribbons in a controlled humidity environment and will not require another clean for several years.


There are polyurethane based spray lacquers for use with brass and silver. Some people apply a thin coat of lacquer at this stage as it gives a virtually indefinite protection against corrosion. The lacquers should be able to be removed by soaking in acetone.  I choose not to use these lacquers on medals as I am just too concerned that there will be problems safely removing it after several years.


If not on display, the medals should be wrapped in acid free tissue.  If displayed in a picture frame, the backing board and all mounting matts should be acid free.



Ross T. 

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Hi Ross


Thanks for that - really helpful info.  I know with Brasso, continued use is ill advised but for one time application after 62 years of ill treatment, it has brought a shine to the medals that wasn't there for 62 years!  I have no intention of selling them, they are my grandfathers from both sides and they will remain in the family as they have done for 3 generations so far so I'm not at all bothered about value, they're priceless in my mind.


I am however working on a project that will bring me in to contact with other honours that may require a freshen up but again, won't be sold in any way.  I just want to be sure they are cared for correctly and looked after.  Thanks for the tips on after cleaning, that's what I suspected but wanted to be sure it was the right thing to do.  Didn't know about the gloves, that's good to know.  Any tips on cleaning the ribbons?  Looks like one of my grandfathers spilt tea down his 39-45 star so there is a stain there but didn't want to touch it without some advice!


Appreciate your time!



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personally dont clean any of my collection, there will be many ways and view from brown sauce and vinegar , acidic and silvo and brasso abrasive.

just remember they have lasted as they are for years, if you clean them you will have a job for the time you own them or they will return to original condition.


you might also be interested in the britishmedalforum for other information..


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Hi Rowan,


Firstly, welcome to the forum.


Some sound advice already given (IMHO) by both Ross and Chaz. I would echo Chaz's post by at least advising careful thought before you attempt to clean anything, but much depends on how "bad" they are in the first place. It might be helpful if you posted pictures. There are certainly circumstances where dangers are posed if medals are NOT cleaned, for example where corrosion exists. I am fairly convinced that any build up of old polish deposits actually causes corrosion because they hold moisture. Where bronze medals are going green you almost certainly have an issue that needs to be resolved. There are also other considerations. One of the most fundamental being if the medals are "loose" or have been mounted for wear in some way. The latter restricts your options unless you are considering having them remounted.


The threat to medals during cleaning can either be posed by the chemicals being used or excessive abrasion. If you must use something like Brasso the advice given on washing and drying them afterwards is absolutely sound.


In all cases what you must avoid is excessive rubbing and contact with hard objects. It's a subtle difference, but my philospophy has always been that cleaning may be good but polishing is always bad. That brings us neatly onto storage and display. Wherever possible ensure that medals are not in contact with each other if there is any possibility of movement. You only have to look at most Cavalrymens medals to see what the result can be! Unless you are going to display them I would also advise keeping them in the dark and well away from moisture, because it is contact with air and moisture that promotes tarnish - which is merely oxidation. One of the things that I have found that seems to work is the old wives tale about aluminium foil. Not in contact with the medals of course, but it's presence in close proximity actually does seem to slow oxidation and remove the need for further cleaning. I usually scrunch a piece up and place it into the boxes in which medals in my collection are stored. In terms of frequency, I have many medals in the collection that have never been cleaned because I feel that they didn't need it. I have others that were cleaned when I obtained them and have not been touched again in twenty years.


Cleaning remains a controversial subject amongst collectors and others who care for medals, but is something that is (IMHO) required sometimes. The relatively new technique of ultrasonic cleaning is something that seems to have its merits, and I know of at least one vastly experienced medal dealer who advocates it. At the very least (using just water with no additives) it may well offer a really thorough way of washing them, and the results I have seen are very impressive.


As for ribbons, your options are restricted if they can not be separated from the medals. I frequently replace old stained of faded ribbons but always keep the old ones clearly labelled and stored with the medals. If you are considering having medals famed a good tip is to wrap the old ribbons in acid free tissue and have them placed in the back of the frame, it keeps everything together. Always keep ribbons well away from sunlight because they are highly susceptible to fading.


Hope that helps a bit!




Edited by Medaler
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as Terry says quick light wash, I only use this method if medals a grubby otherwise I just leave them as is


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Thanks chaps - really good information and pleased I signed up to join the forum now!


I can't take the medals off the ribbons sadly because they are all attached to a bar.  I take onboard the foil idea though and that does have some scientific merit I'm sure so might keep that one handy.  To be honest, they've been on display openly ever since I was given them as a wee lad.  I know excessive use of brasso and alike is what will wear them away, I've not done that but I found with a couple of the marks on them, water and soap just wouldn't budge it but a very small section of brasso, talking stamp size, did the job straight away and I buffed it up and have now rinsed it off.  As this is the first time they've been cleaned I think I am safe for now. 


I understand some collectors have a thing around wear and tear and value, as I stated, I will never sell them but this information is very good to know for my future project.


Thanks again - really appreciate it.

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