How to Clean Christmas Ornaments

By: Alexa Erickson

When the holidays arrive, towns and homes are transformed into whimsical wonderlands. Our front doors, dining tables, mantles and furniture turn into Christmas scenes with snowy villages, crimson velvet pillows, fresh pine wrapped into wreaths, and, above all, dangling ornaments sparkling from Christmas trees. But while the joy is rich from taking out the boxes of decorations to creating scenes throughout the home, when the season is over, it’s time to get to business by taking everything down and storing it for the next year. One thing that’s often overlooked is cleaning the Christmas ornaments.

Ornaments are the finishing touch of the season, and deserve to shine their brightest against the backdrop of an evergreen. To make less work for next season, you’ll want to properly clean away smudges, dust and dirt before placing them neatly away. That way, you can turn on the tunes next December and have the utmost fun taking them right out of their boxes and placing them on the tree without fussing with cleaning.

But it’s not as simple as a quick spritz of a spray bottle and a cloth! There are various types of ornaments, from antique glass heirlooms that have been passed down and preserved for years, to hand painted ornaments, hand carved wood ornaments, and even fabric ornaments, which each deserves individual attention to keep them looking their best. There are certain products that work well with some, but are dangerous to use on others.

Once you’ve learned the tricks and tips for properly cleaning different types of ornaments, you’ll want to properly group them in the right types of boxes, adding padding, and then finding an environment to store them that offers the right temperature and humidity.

This comprehensive guide is your go-to for ensuring you care for your ornaments so they remain in prime condition for years to come. Here’s everything you need to know about how to clean Christmas ornaments — and then some!

Inspect for “Crizzling”

Whether antique heirloom ornaments or modern ones, your glass ornaments can seem dirty even when they’re not! Fine cracks can form on your ornaments, resulting in a cloudy haze. This is called crizzling, a type of “disease” on your glass that can occur from glass that’s been subject to prolonged storage in high humidity. The glass begins to hydrate in this environment, and the alkali in the glass is brought to the surface. If you notice the sickly looking glass, don’t try to scrub it clean! This could damage the glass further. Leave the job to a professional conservator to ensure your favorite glass ornaments are brought back to health. If your glass ornaments are free of crizzling, you can clean them yourself.

How to Clean Glass Ornaments

For ordinary glass ornaments that don’t show signs of a cloudy haze, simply wipe very gently with a glass cleaner and a soft microfiber cloth. For crystal glass ornaments, wipe over the surface gently using a polishing jewelry cloth. For stubborn spots or stains on glass ornaments, try rubbing a paste wax onto the surface and buff until it shines. Cotton swabs also work well to clean small crevices.

How to Clean Glitter Ornaments

It’s a bit tricky to clean glitter ornaments since even a light scrub can take off too much glitter. One way to rid glitter ornaments of grime is to use a feather duster very gently. You can also use a small, dry makeup brush or paintbrush. However, if you notice too much glitter is falling off, it’s best to stop and let the ornaments be.

How to Clean Hand Painted Ornaments

Hand painted ornaments are a beautiful, intricate way to decorate your Christmas tree. It takes a lot of work to create such special decor, so cleaning them with TLC is very important! Be sure to slip on a pair of latex gloves to ensure the oils from your skin don’t damage the paint. If you don’t have gloves, keep your hand only on the ornament’s hanger. Clean the painted ornaments using a feather duster or soft sable brush. Steer clear of using any wet cleaning products like sprays. Such cleaning products can damage the paint.

How to Clean Precious Metal Ornaments

For ornaments made from sterling silver or gold, simply use a polishing jewelry cloth to wipe away grime and bring back their shine. Use a circular motion to remove the dust and fingerprints. For tarnished sterling silver ornaments, apply a silver polish that both dissolves and removes tarnish while also leaving behind a protective coating to prevent tarnishing from forming again.

You can also use household products, like dish soap. Just mix a few drops of gentle dish soap with water, then dip a soft cloth into the solution and rub over the silver to remove the tarnish. Rinse away the soap with cool water and buff with a dry soft cloth. Baking soda is a great option for heavy tarnish. Create a paste of three parts baking soda to one part water and apply to your ornaments with a soft cloth. Rinse well and buff dry. A third option for removing tarnish is toothpaste. Apply white paste (avoid gel!), to your ornaments and rub gently with your finger or a soft cloth. This will gently exfoliate your ornaments. Rinse with lukewarm water and buff with a dry soft cloth.

How to Clean Wood Ornaments

For regular wood ornaments, you can do a quick dust or simply wipe with a soft cotton cloth across the surface. For hand carved wood ornaments, you can use a toothpick or toothbrush to free up any debris stuck in crevices. If your ornaments appear scratched, try rubbing them down with walnut meat or a crayon that’s slightly lighter than the wood’s color, followed by a crayon slightly darker than the first one you applied. Then, use a soft cloth to wipe away the excess crayon wax.

How to Clean Fabric Ornaments

Fringed bulbs, small cloth animals, or ones made from yarn or felt need more than a dusting to clean them up for next year’s use! First, inspect each ornament for any loose threads, beading or sequins and take the time to snip what can’t be fixed or reattach what can. Next, fill a clean sink with lukewarm water and Eucalan, then submerge your ornaments. After they’ve soaked for a while, hang to dry away from the sunlight (sun exposure can yellow your ornaments).

Group Your Ornaments

Once you’ve put in all the hard work of cleaning your various types of ornaments, it’s time to properly store them. If you’re guilty of tossing all your ornaments into a big box, you’re subjecting them to scratches, cracks, fabric tears and more! Choose small boxes that won’t cause the ornaments to roll around, and be sure to opt for metal or wooden boxes, since plastic can trap moisture and cause an unfit environment for your precious pieces.

Group like ornaments within each box. Before storing them in their respective boxes, wrap each one in acid-free tissue paper. This will help prevent moisture and color transfer from one ornament to another. Using moisture-trapping packs of silica gel inside the tissue paper can help preserve painted surfaces on your ornaments and prevent mildew. If there are any open spaces between each ornament, create a padding with extra tissue paper. Finally, label the top of each box with what’s inside and label as fragile. You can also place your ornaments inside an air-filled Ziploc bag to provide a cushion against breakage.

Store them Correctly

If you take out your ornaments and notice issues like crizzling, you may be storing them incorrectly! After all that cleaning, grouping and labeling, it’s important to focus on storing the boxes that hold your ornaments in the right environment. Attics and basements are prone to fluctuations in temperatures and humidity, and thus make for some of the worst places to store ornaments. The best place to store your ornaments is a location that has a stable, cool temperature and low humidity such as a closet shelf.