Caring for your wartime memorabilia
- How to clean medals

Work out what you need and assemble everything before you start. Work in a well-ventilated area. Some of the chemicals used in the process can irritate if they touch the skin or are inhaled. Do not smoke when working with paints or solvents. For each stage of cleaning, first try the cleaning method on a small area of the medal, for example part of the edge.

  1. Take the ribbon off the medal by cutting the stitching, not the ribbon.

    Cleaning products
  2. Degrease the medal by dipping it in a small jar of acetone (available from a chemist or hardware store) then wipe it with a cotton bud. The acetone will remove most lacquers used to coat medals. Scrub the medal gently with a soft toothbrush if it is very dirty. Work carefully and stop if the brush seems to cause scratching on the surface of the medal.

  3. If necessary, polish the medal, using a silver foam designed for silver or plate. Ensure that the foam does not contain silicone. If a foam is not available, use Silvo silver polish. Only as a last result, use a silver dip. A silver dip etches metal, cutting into the surface details. Follow the instructions on whichever product you use.

  4. Use Brasso brass polish only for very stubborn stains for copper and brass. Brasso is harsher than the silver polishes, and repeated use could wear away fine detail on the medal.

  5. Make sure you remove all traces of the polish after you finish-polish residues can cause corrosion.

  6. Dip the medal in methylated spirits and wipe it off with a cotton bud to prepare it for the next stage.

  7. Coat the medal with lacquer to prevent future corrosion. Use Wattyl Incralac which is available from hardware stores.

  8. Hang the medal on a small loop of picture wire, and dip the medal gently into the Incralac for a few seconds. Pull the medal out of the lacquer and, using the wire loop, hang the medal where it cannot touch anything. Place old newspapers beneath the hanging medal to catch any lacquer drips.

  9. Leave the medal untouched for 24 hours, after which the lacquer will be thoroughly dry.

If 'rainbows' appear in the lacquer on the medal, the lacquer is too thin or the room temperature is too low. Use acetone to remove the lacquer from the medal, then reapply it under more favourable conditions. Do not heat the lacquer or place it in front of a heater as it is very flammable.