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Stained glass can be a beautiful part of any home. The colors of the windows themselves can be bright and vibrant, and when the sun shines through them they can light up a room. These windows, doors, and other features can be delicate, so it is important to know how to clean stained glass so you do not damage it.
How To Clean Stained Glass
There are two types of stained glass that are normally found in households. One type is simply glass that is painted on one side. This presents a modern uniform look. The other is made up of different panes of glass in patterns held together by metal frames. The cleaning process for both is basically the same, but the metal, also known as “cames” may need to receive special treatment.
Dust Stained Glass on a Regular Basis
The safest way to keep stained glass clean is to simply dust it. This will help prevent the buildup of soot or grime, and you will not have to deal with using a cleaner that may cause damage. There are a few different tools you can use to dust with, the main point being that your dusting implement is soft, as well as lint-free.
- Microfiber cloth
- Dry Swiffer cloths
- Feather duster
- Tea towel (if made from soft cotton)
In stained glass made with cames, dust the individual panels separately. Do not try to clean the whole window with a back and forth motion over the metal frame, this can a) make you miss spots and b) potentially damage the frame. This way you can also focus on the edges and small corners that would normally be missed.
Clean Stained Glass with Water
The next step up from gently dusting your stained glass windows is to use water on a soft rag or cloth to help wipe away any grime or dirt buildup. Try to only use distilled water! The minerals in hard water out of your tap can easily spot the glass. Filtered water may work as well, but the level of filtration should be fairly high.
Fill a bowl or bucket with water, and have a few towels laid out on the windowsill to catch any stray drips. You will want to use the minimum amount of water, so wring out the cleaning rag thoroughly to remove as much water as possible. Clean each stained glass pane one by one, starting at the top, and move to the next panels in rows so you can keep track of which ones are clean.
Clean Stained Glass With a Cleanser
If your stained glass is still not clean after dusting, or rubbing with a damp cloth, adding a cleaning solution is your next step. The basic method of cleaning is the same as using just water on your cleaning rag, but the choice of cleaner can be pretty important. The main thing to remember is not to use so much liquid that it drips all over the place.
When choosing a cleanser for stained glass, look for solutions that have a neutral pH balance of around 7. Commercial glass cleaners generally contain ammonia, a basic (over 7 pH) chemical that is great at cleaning glass, but can cause a chemical reaction with the cames or filler compound. Dawn dishwashing liquid, while often recommended for gentle cleaning, has a pH between 8.7 and 9.3.
Many of the commercial neutral pH home cleansers that you can find are based on cleaning stone or tile floors and countertops. Many of the same chemical reactions can occur with these different types of surfaces. Some neutral cleaning products that may work well with stained glass are:
- Zep Neutral pH Floor Cleaner Concentrate
- Frosch Natural pH Neutral Universal All Purpose Cleaner
- Bean & Lily Floor Cleaner
In general, once you find an appropriate cleanser, you will mix a small amount of it with warm water before using it to clean stained glass.
- Soak your soft, lint-free cloth in the cleaning solution.
- Start at the top of the window and work your way downward.
- Go section by section, top to bottom, left to right (or right to left, either way is fine as long as you keep track).
- When you find a stubborn spot, rub the cloth firmly against the glass without applying too much pressure that might crack the window or pop out the panel.
- To clean the edges and corners of the stained glass sections, you can use a cotton swab, or soft bristled brush.
- Do your best not to let too much liquid pass into the edges and corners of the sections.
- Dry each section after cleaning.
Stained Glass Construction
When looking at how to clean windows and other features made from stained glass, it helps to know how it is put together.
As referenced earlier, some stained glass is simply painted, while other installations have pieces of glass separated by metal bands called “cames.” This metal between the glass sections holds individual panes of colored glass in place. There are unavoidable gaps in a stained glass came, and these are generally filled in with glazier’s compound or putty.
The reason we point out all of these details is because in older stained glass, these are the parts that can be the most delicate to clean. When we speak about neutral cleaners, that is so you do not use a cleanser with a base pH that can eat away at the stained glass cames or binders.
Older stained glass window cames can be made of lead. In most cases this is fine, lead is only dangerous when heated, or its dust is inhaled. Oxidation in older displays may break down the lead, noticeable by the dark metal turning gray or even white. To reduce possible lead exposure, wipe it down.
- It is necessary that you put on a mask and gloves. Eye protection is recommended as well.
- Wipe any gray areas of the stained glass came with an old damp rag. Distilled water is preferred, but if you are cleaning the entire piece at the same time, it is not necessary.
- After cleaning dispose of the mask, gloves, and everything else used during the process.
Tips to Clean Stained Glass
- Be careful of abrasives! Harsh brushes, abrasive powders, steel wool and metal tools can cause serious damage.
- Check for loose sections first. When cleaning an older stained glass decoration, or even anything newer that is still held together with metal bands, loose sections can cause multiple problems. Water can accumulate under loose putty, causing long term damage. You can also accidentally push sections out.
- Whiting powder can be effective. While our previous tip was to avoid abrasive powders, whiting powder has just the tiniest bit of abrasion and can work well to help clean and polish non-painted stained glass. It is gentle on came and can help remove residue from stained glass.
- Carnauba wax and other polishes can be used. 100% carnauba wax will not only clean your stained glass, but it will also add an additional luster to the came, solder, glass, and putty of your window.
When it comes to cleaning stained glass, it is not as easy as spraying Windex onto it and rubbing until you don’t see any streaks. These pieces of art should be treated gently, especially those that have metal bands that hold the different sections together. Dust them on a regular basis, use a cloth dampened with distilled water when necessary, and use a pH balanced cleanser when necessary.