Vintage View: How to clean a chandelier

If they are in a little-used room, vintage crystal chandeliers such as this one can be protected with a muslin or calico bag, or even a clean sheet, which can be draped around the bottom and tied lightly at the top to help head off cobwebs and dust. Gently does it when cleaning it!

Kya deLongchamps puts a serious shine on a grubby chandelier

YOU should approach cleaning any chandelier of any age in a heightened state of terror. It’s glass, it’s heavy, it’s hovering in space and it’s almost certainly electrified. The possibilities for disaster are limitless. Remember the famous chandelier scene in Only Fools and Horses on BBC? Seriously dirty, damaged or large, important crystal pieces completely out of reach are best left to a professional — and not the cowboy variety in a three-wheeled Robin Reliant.

Suspended for about a year, any glass lighting fixture will become fairly dirty, and its prismatic flash and brilliance will dim to a milky hue. Flies actively seek out sleek, glass surfaces. Dangling from their six sticky feet, they will remain, inverted, in apparent paralysis for days, decorating the end of a drop or lustre even when the lights are switched off. Once they do lift off, the rotter will gift a dollop of fly-dung in its creepy, wing-ed wake.

Now, we could go all Miss Havisham and keep it clean the old-fashioned way. If the chandelier is especially precious and in a room not much used at all, a muslin or calico bag, or even a clean sheet, can be draped around the bottom and tied lightly at the top and to help head off cobwebs and dust and keep the glass sparkling. If you take this Dickensian approach, disable the light switch with a piece of painter’s tape to ensure it’s not turned on with a hot light fitting in a shroud, or take out the bulbs.

To clean a chandelier within easy reach from a stable step-ladder, first turn off the power to the individual light (the fuse). As you work don’t take the last three steps of your ladder, and never, ever turn the chandelier around on its chain and wires. You might not only disconnect the power, but do a full Del Boy and bring it down if the ceiling rose is stressed. When you need to reach another section across the chandelier — move the ladder, not the light, and work from the top down in logical sections.

Wooden floor? Put a small thick rug under the fitting. Can’t be too careful! With the light made safe, you might get away with very gentle dabs over and through the elements with a micro-fibre plume-style duster. Don’t use a feather duster — it will catch in the metal hooks and could potentially prune the light of an arm.

The second approach, which works well for the usual bloom of dust and fly scat, is to mist lightly either the chandelier itself or a soft cloth in a very gentle cleaning solution. Choose from a biodegradable dish soap like Ecover in a lot of water, or 50:50 methylated spirit to water, which is not only gentle but dries spot-free.

Damp-dust just the glass, not the metal fittings, prism bands, crown, frame or finial — dry-dust those.

Gently wipe every glass surface with a small, clean section of dampened soft lint-free cloth, drying with the deft glide of another cloth. Avoid any pressure that might make the light fitting swing. Support the dangling piece you’re working, arm or sconce, lightly in one hand (cotton gloves will prevent adding fingerprints). Use the other to give the element a soft stroke of the barely damp cloth.

I said mist, not spray — try your local garden centre for a suitable bottle, don’t reuse an old Flash container which will soak the cloth and if aimed at the chandelier will wet the fittings right into the cabling. If you do mist the light directly, aim away from the bulb sockets.

If you wear white cotton gloves (buy two pair for a damp/dry job) one damp set of fingers can be used to dampen the drop. You then tickle the solution off with a dry glove. There are commercial drip dry sprays (HG, €15 for 500ml) which won’t leave water spots. Again, don’t over-wet the chandelier with this or any product.

The hanging pieces of a truly filthy chandelier can be very delicately removed for a thorough clean. Think carefully about disassembling — it could be a serious, shoulder numbing pain to put back together. Undress the light as carefully as possible starting from the bottom up, unhooking the drops and chains from the small C-shaped links. If you need a needle-nose pliers to get the clips open?

Stop, and work on the chandelier in place. There should be no reason to remove the arms or sconces (bobeches). Clean them delicately with your plume or cloths/gloves when the shrubbery of drops is off and out of your way.

Before you start any of this perilous stuff, take shots with your phone, showing the position and drape of individual chains and lustres. If the chandelier has been in place for a long time, this is a perfect opportunity to check the ceiling is in good fettle, examine the wiring providing the power, and the links holding the glass for signs of corrosion. Incidentally, get help. Even small chandeliers can be extremely heavy and it’s much easier to hand off pieces than mince up and down the ladder.

Wash pieces one by one. Work low — then if, God forbid, you do drop something, it’s less likely to smash. Chuck any glass elements rudely into a steel sink en masse and they will break and “bruise”. Be careful of any glass necklaces — don’t pull or stress the links.

Warm water with a touch of washing up liquid in a plastic bowl, with a clean rinse (bowl again, not a running tap) should be enough.

Put the pieces down on a soft lint-free surface as you finish them — newspaper is fine. Make sure the pieces are completely dry, as the metal links can rust otherwise. Polish the pieces to finish with a soft, lint-free clothand re-dress your beauty from the top to the bottom.

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