How to Clean Ivory

An ivory chess piece.

Growing older isn’t so bad anymore. This year I get to rent a car without excessive charges for being under the age of twenty-five. When I’m thirty I can say I’ve lived through three whole decades. When I’m forty I can become a cougar. And fifty is now the start of a whole second life. Yes, I’ll run into some wrinkles and damage along the way, but age is valuable. The same is true about aging ivory. These days, if you have new ivory you might get some nasty looks and some equally nasty calls from PETA. Your antique ivory is a different story. By now you may have noticed that your ivory has become yellowed with time and even perhaps dirty and dusty. The yellowing of the ivory comes with age and can add value to it, but dirt and mold…not so much. Don’t fret; cleaning ivory can be simple with the right materials.

Cleaning Ivory

  1. bunch of soft paintbrushesCleaning ivory with a soft paintbrush. First, dust off your ivory using a soft paintbrush. Ivory is porous and can become stained by the oils on your skin so make sure to either wash your hands or use clean white gloves when handling ivory. Using a paint brush to clean ivory also helps with getting the tough-to-reach dust in between small crevices.
  2. white vinyl eraserCleaning ivory with a white vinyl eraser. If you have dirt that is being a little more stubborn you can use a white vinyl eraser. White vinyl erasers are free of contaminants and dye. Make sure to use minimal pressure and work over a small area at a time. Brush away the eraser guts with a soft paintbrush.
  3. package of groom/stickCleaning ivory with Groom/Stick. Groom/Stick is a sticky, rubber product that can be used to clean ivory. Roll the Groom/Stick over a small area to pull out any dirt. Make sure not to use too much pressure and always test it out over an area that isn’t noticeable in case the Groom/Stick pulls out any of the ivory’s natural patina.
  4. bottle of mineral oilKeeping your ivory hydrated. Keep in mind that ivory is taken from a living thing (elephant, walrus, and sometimes whale) and with time it will become brittle and dehydrated. To rehydrate your ivory and keep it looking nice, you can soak a dye-free white cloth in pure mineral oil and wrap your ivory piece in it for about eight hours. After the ivory is done soaking, carefully wipe off any surplus oil with another clean white cloth. Do this about twice a year.
  5. sunrise width=Displaying your ivory. Ivory is porous, so things like heat, humidity, sunlight, and temperature can affect it in different ways. Putting your ivory in direct sunlight can cause it to bleach and become brittle faster. Display your ivory where the temperature stays pretty constant and the humidity (excessive humidity causes ivory to mold) is never above 70%. Also, keep ivory keepsakes away from outside walls and excessively bright lights.
  6. ziploc bagStoring your ivory. Storing ivory is like feeding a vegan; once you have all the rules it’s easy, but the list of can’s and can not’s gets pretty long. Good thing storing ivory is easier. If you want to store your ivory, again, put it away where the temperature stays constant. A dark, damp, mold-prone basement will not do. To absorb any impurities, put activated charcoal (like the kind used in fish tanks) into a clean, unbleached, white cotton bag with your ivory piece. Wrap the ivory in acid-free tissue paper or cotton. Put the ivory and the charcoal bag into a sealed container like Tupperware or a zip lock bag.

More Tips for Clean Ivory

Go see the Master, grasshopper. All trades have a master. If you have a piece of ivory that is excessively dirty, has mold on it, or is broken, don’t hesitate to call a professional. A professional can better assess what your piece of ivory will need for it to come back to its old glory. You can call your local museum for recommendations or you can find businesses online that do restorations. When searching online always make sure to look at the businesses’ credentials and customer reviews. Now, go in peace and may the clean ivory be with you.

Ivory Cleaning Products

laid out paintbrushesSoft paint brush.A soft paint brush can be found at any art supply store and even places like Wal-Mart and Target. Paint brushes that are used for watercolors are usually very soft. Try getting one that has a flat or fanned-out tip for flat areas and one that has a fine pointed tip for smaller crevices.

white vinyl erasersWhite vinyl erasers. White vinyl erasers can be found at art supply stores like Michaels or on Amazon. Not all white erasers are made out of vinyl so be sure to look at the label. Other erasers tend to contain dyes and other properties that can damage ivory. You can order erasers from Amazon.

blob of groom/stickGroom/Stick.Groom/Stick can be found at art supply stores and from online vendors. If you image search Groom/Stick you will find a nice array of bride and groom stick figures. Hooray, words are fun.