Tips on Caring for Your Family Treasures
Ten things you can do to protect your family treasures at home
- Document your treasures. Take photographs of them and create a family treasures album. Keep a record of family members who owned them, how and when they were first acquired, where they were used, and any other interesting information about each object's history.
- Inspect your family treasures regularly. Look for signs of recent damage, pests, dirt, or deterioration. If you encounter extensive pest infestation, discuss concerns for your heirlooms with a professional exterminator.
- Handle your treasures gently. Wash your hands to remove any harmful oils naturally occurring in your skin before handling and lift pieces carefully from their most stable point. Avoid placing fragile objects where they might easily be bumped by people walking by or opening a door or window.
- Keep temperature settings constant. Stable temperature and humidity conditions in your home that are comfortable for you are generally acceptable for most family treasures too. To stay on the safe side, avoid storing them in the attic or basement or displaying them near doors and windows that are frequently opened and closed. Leave the fan in the "ON" position on your home temperature gauges: keeping the air circulating will help balance and stabilize temperature and humidity levels throughout your home. These steps will help avoid harmful temperature extremes, sudden changes in humidity, and development of mold and mildew.
- Protect your treasures from light damage. Light can cause colors to fade, wood to bleach, and fibers to become brittle - all ultimately hastening deterioration. Avoid placing objects in direct light, close blinds or drapes, and turn off lights when no one is using a room. Change the placement of objects around a room from time to time. Reproduce family photos and store the originals.
- Protect your treasures from air pollution. Avoid placing objects over a fireplace, wood stove or in a room frequented by smokers and clean chimneys and stovepipes regularly. Soot and smoke can disfigure objects, dulling original colors and brightness, darkening surfaces and coating them with an overall stain.
- Mount your treasures for display safely and securely. Have them mounted and framed professionally using quality acid-free materials. Avoid using commercial tapes, glues, and metal clips and pins. Distribute the weight of large pieces like quilts across the entire surface to reduce stress on one area. Check hooks and wires on frames periodically to ensure they are secure.
- Keep your treasures clean. Regularly dust objects with a magnetic cloth or soft artist's brush or gently vacuum with clean brush attachment on low suction. Dust can soil, abrade or attract pests. Always wash antique textiles by hand, not in the machine. Avoid using household detergents, cleaning and waxing supplies. Remember: "The best treatment is the least treatment." Consult a professional for advice on cleaning and repairs.
- Use acid-free materials to store your treasures. Avoid using plastic bags, commercial tapes, glues and pins. Unfold and lay paper and textile items flat. Large objects such as quilts can be gently folded, padding folds to prevent creasing, or rolled with acid-free padding. Stuff clothing items such as christening gowns, wedding dresses and shoes with acid-free tissue to maintain their shape. Store fragile pieces in single layers or else avoid placing heavier items on top of them.
- Insure your treasures, especially objects having considerable monetary value, such as jewelry, furniture and artwork.
Following these guidelines will help make your treasures last through the years, to be enjoyed and shared with other family members. As part of your legacy when you are ready to pass your heirlooms on to children and grandchildren, pass along these guidelines too.
Got a question about the care and preservation of a family treasure? Email the Collections Manager or call 703-631-1429 for help or direction to appropriate resources.
Object Care and Conservation Resource Links:
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