Ivory is an expensive collectible that many around the world pay a huge price to acquire. I you are in possession of one, then why do you want to mishandle it? if you want your ivory objects and figurines to last you a while, then you must follow a strict routine for its maintenance.

In this article, we will share some expert tips to care and maintain your ivory objects. However, before you get started, you need to check the item’s condition as you would have to change your approach based on its state.

Check the material – ivory or bone?

Many new collectors often confuse between ivory and bone. Which is which will depend on the part of the animal it came from. For example, if you have Ivory Figurines made from the tusk of an elephant or a mammoth, then you have actual ivory. However, since real tusk has become too far and few, you can also find ivory obtained from walruses and even whales. It is also possible that there is synthetic ivory mixed in the ‘genuine’ one. It is often confusing because chemically, ivory and bone are the same. However, while the bone is porous, ivory is dense. Despite their composition, they are both sensitive to light, heat, and moisture.

Check the condition of ivory

If your ivory collectible is too fragile, then don’t risk cleaning it yourself. Instead, take it to a conservator who will use the right methods and approach to clean it for you. Ivory can easily oil and stains. Therefore, it is very important to wear white cotton gloves when working on them. You should also make sure that you wash your hands and dry them completely before handling your ivory objects.

Stable and tough ivory

If the ivory you have is stable and sturdy, then you can clean it yourself at home. Take a soft cotton cloth or cotton swabs, slightly damp, and clean the surface with gentle hands. The cleaning liquid can be made at home by mixing mild dishwashing liquid with water. If you are unsure about the chemical composition of your cleaning solution, then you can also just use water. Using too much moisture can leave fractures on the surface. Therefore, be very gentle in your cleaning. Once you are done, wipe off the surface with a dry cloth and then clean again with mineral turpentine cotton swab to remove all soap solution. Use a dry cloth to wipe clean. Experts recommend that you should never rub the ivory surface vigorously as you don’t want to remove the original patina as well as surface coats.

Removing wax and oil from ivory

Never introduce your oily or waxy ivory items to cleaning solutions without testing them. Make sure that you test a small, inconspicuous corner with mineral turpentine dipped cotton swab to see how it holds up against the cleaning technique. If it doesn’t react well, then don’t clean it yourself and take it to the conservatory instead.

Cleaning stained ivory

The best way to clean a stained ivory item is to take it to a conservator. The stains usually appear due to oxidation that may have appeared due to oily hands or with age. It is also possible that the ivory is exposed to sunlight that bleached it. To regain its white warm color, you will have to entrust it in the hands of expert cleaners. You may not know this but keeping ivory hidden away from sunlight can accelerate the process of yellowing that comes with aging. However, exposing it to too much sunlight can cause it to dry and crack.

Storing your ivory items

The only way you can maintain their longevity is by storing them in a controlled environment. The humidity levels should be maintained between 44% and 55% and the temperatures should be no more or less than 21°C. The lighting in the room should be low and warm, and not intense and harsh. These conditions should be maintained to avoid any irrevocable damage to the ivory. Fluctuating these conditions will only hasten the damage. Low humidity will dry out the ivory and make it crack. Increased humidity and fluctuating temperatures will cause your ivory to expand and contract, thereby making it fracture as a result.

A word of caution

Here are some factors that can damage your expensive ivory:

  • Prolonged exposure to sunlight or spotlight
  • A closed display case with bulbs and heated from inside
  • Stored or placed near ventilation ducts or top of appliances that emit heat/cold

These are some very helpful maintenance and care tips that you can follow at home to ensure that your ivory collection remains the way it is for years to come.

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