Ultimate Guide To Cleaning Your Antique Ivory Pieces

Ivory is wonderful material for antique pieces although it quickly absorbs moisture making it require special care. With time, ivory darkens or turns yellow developing a patina coloring surface. This color change indicates ivory age with a subsequent effect on value. Applying chemical cleaners to alter the color makes the item lose value. To clean your ivory collection without affecting its value, the following guide is very helpful.

Image credit: ivoryandart.com

How to begin

Before cleaning your ivory antiques, it is important to realize that ivory has dentine. This is made up of organic and inorganic components. Organic components offer the capacity to grow and repair while inorganic components give dentine strength and rigidity. Understanding this allows knowing how ivory is likely to react to the environment including:

  • Getting bleached on exposure to light
  • Fluctuating heat leads to shrinkage and swelling
  • Exposure to high humidity encourages swelling and warping
  • Low humidity might lead to shrinkage, desiccation, and cracking

Presence of patina on ivory is proof of the natural aging process. Ivory is porous making it stain on exposure to oil, skin, colored materials, and corroding metals. This explains why you have to wear white cotton gloves when cleaning or handling your ivory antiques. When gloves are not available, wash your hands with water and soap to remove dirt and oils.

Cleaning ivory figurines

Caring for the best ivory carvings is just like caring for other ivory antiques. Giving your items regular care is very important to prevent hairlines. This should be done at least once annually using mineral oil and soft brush for applying a thin coat on the carving surface. For ivory figurines in good condition, using a clean soft brush to wipe the oil is recommended. Let the oil sit on the item for a while if it is dry and requires extra hydration. Clean the excess oil using a soft brush.

Afterward, polish the item surface gently by using a clean soft cloth until it looks oil free. Alternatively, consider using pure beeswax to polish your ivory carvings annually. This requires warming the beeswax and gently rubbing it onto the carvings. Dip a cotton swab in warm beeswax to apply it on some items. Ensure that the beeswax is colorless to prevent staining your ivory items.

Cleaning procedure for antique ivory

Test your cleaner

Before cleaning the while piece, test the cleaning agent on a small area to test for any effects and colorings. It also helps determine items that need gentle or harsh cleaning. This allows determining the cleaning requirement for each piece. Begin cleaning items that need gentle cleaning until you work your way to those than needing more effort to clean. Keep in mind that each ivory piece reacts differently to a cleaning method but look out for any cleaning that affects the item’s value or color.

Remove dust

Dusting the pieces removes dust and enhances cleaning while minimizing the risk of damage, use a brush to remove dust and loose dirt before cleaning. Go through all tight areas to eliminate dust that might hide there. For pieces that need more cleaning, use a moist soft cloth or cotton swab, and distilled water. Afterward, wipe the items gently on a dry piece of cloth immediately to check your progress or whether there is any coloring. In case the item is changing color, stop the cleaning immediately. This explains why it is important to work on a small area before moving to another area.

Some bonus tips

A magnifying glass helps to check whether your items are genuine or fake. Genuine ivory has a grain pattern while fake ivory is smooth. Additionally, genuine ivory has a dark line indicating growth marks from the tusks as new layers formed over old ones. Real ivory naturally darkens and splits over time. Avoid immersing ivory antiques from water or cleaning solution. Additionally, do not rub ivory items with lemon or place them in direct sunlight. It prevents bleaching that significantly affects ivory value and development of cracks.

Cloth for cleaning ivory items should have soft fabric and dry to limit causing marks on the item surface. Ivory pieces that are drying out require hydrating. The solution is to saturate a soft cotton cloth using glycerin or mineral oil. Wrap it on the ivory item and let it stay overnight before wiping off the excess oil in the morning.


To any art enthusiast, owning ivory carvings is a wonderful thing. These amazing pieces are a good investment and make exception interior décor items as well. However, it is best to understand the best way to keep your ivory carvings clean. This requires taking caution and diligence to avoid discoloring the item with a consequent loss in value. Applying the tips above will make cleaning your ivory carvings a smooth process that enhances the aesthetic appeal of these wonderful pieces of art.