It's a dirty job and no one wants to do it, so here's how you can do the work yourself


January 19, 1991|By Geoffrey W. Fielding

When it comes to cleaning crystal chandeliers, little professional help seems to be available in the Baltimore area. Even Evergreen House on North Charles Street, which recently completed a two-year restoration, had to rely on its own volunteers to clean the several large and ornate crystal fixtures which grace its halls and rooms.

The telephone directory is no help. You might find CHANDELIERS -- Cleaning in the Yellow Pages, but it directs you to the categories art restoration and conservation. None of the people called does this sort of work. Of the stores contacted that specialize in lighting fixtures, none offered a cleaning service, although one suggested that if the fixture (which weighs some 50to 75 pounds) was taken to the store, they were sure that they could clean it. The whole idea was very unattractive.

In addition to the dearth of help, there is also very little literature on the subject. There are some spray-type chandelier cleaners on the market which claim they work without wiping. However, some drip and are, therefore, messy; some also leave a film on the crystals, which defeats the purpose of washing the fixture.

This method for cleaning the household chandelier employs a steady hand and common sense. And the results can be very rewarding even though the do-it-yourself project can take up to several hours.

A crystal chandelier is designed to catch and break up the light from an internal source, much as a brilliant-cut diamond does as it flashes under a light. To do this, the facets of the crystals have to be clean.

Unfortunately, household pollutants such as smoke from a fireplace, greasy fumes from the kitchen and most especially cigarette smoke tend to cover the crystals with a dirty film, which cuts down on the refraction and reflection of the light.

The crystals themselves can be a combination of several types. Most popular are drop prisms which catch and flash the light as they move. Also popular are graduated chains of crystal beads similar in shape to square-cut diamonds; these are often suspended from a rim and drawn together at the bottom to form a bowl.

Longer chains are sometimes used to form a glittering circular cascade around the stem of the upper part of the fixture. There are round, faceted beads and various types of balls, lozenges and pendants, all cut to maximize the glitter from the lights. All are attached to each other or to the chandelier by soft metal pins, usually of brass, which are bent into loops and hooks.

The lamps themselves are usually clear bulbs, often flame shaped, which give much more glitter than ordinary soft white or smoked light bulbs in which the filament cannot be seen.

To clean such a chandelier is relatively easy, but certain precautions should be taken. The tools and equipment are elementary, the most important being the two hands, used without rubber gloves.

You need a stepladder which has a shelf; several long shallow trays, such as the rigid plastic green plant trays measuring 22- by 2- by 2 3/4 -inches and available for a few dollars at garden stores; several tea towels to line the trays and sink to protect the crystals and also for drying the crystals; liquid detergent; household ammonia; a pair of needle-nosed pliers for recalcitrant wire pins; and plenty of hot water. You may need extra pins or copper wire, and replacement crystals.

Put a thick carpet or some other substantial padding under the chandelier. There is nothing worse than having a crystal prism slip through your fingers, or a chain of them break and crash to the floor. These crystal prisms and chains are very hard to replace.

Next, line each tray with a tea towel to protect the crystals from chipping.

If you haven't dismantled the light fixture before, take a few minutes to look it over. The chandelier is divided into distinct segments. There may be a top section of strands or chains of graduated crystals hooked to the chandelier at top and bottom. You may find several concentric rings of drop prisms or there may be just five or six suspended from each lamp cup. There may be a circle of crystal spikes, each fitted with a small threaded rod which screws into the fixture and often with a separate glass collar.

While you are examining the chandelier, draw a simple sketch of its basic parts or take an instant snapshot to help you remember how to put it back together.

After you see how it is put together the next step is easy -- just take it apart!

Dismantle the easiest section of the chandelier first. You'll find which is the easiest because until those crystals are removed, you often cannot reach or remove the next section. And so on. Place each dismantled strand or section into its own tray until all the crystals have been removed. Put them in a safe place -- in the order in which they were removed, if you think you will not remember.

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