Those fortunate enough to reside in, own, or be the property agent of a historic home are also stewards of history. art, and culture. Most people aspire to live in such homes even though the world around us is starting to lean towards futuristic architecture and design. Cleaning protocols play an integral role in the remedial and preventative conservation of historic homes, as well as in their continued aesthetic appeal.
The challenges of minimizing any damage caused during the cleaning process of such houses are significant. A study into the remediation of dust in historic homes reported that every room or space in a National Trust managed property received 20 to 30 minutes of daily cleaning attention. This is necessary to prevent irreversible stains on historic surfaces. As it’s unlikely that most custodians of historic homes have the time and resources for such a labor and cost intensive approach, it’s important to know how to freshen up such a home without damaging it.
Tools and Techniques for the Task
Many of today’s cleaning products are developed for modern building materials, surfaces, and finishes, and thus may be too harsh to apply to historic homes which often comprise a large proportion of old masonry. Masonry can be a combination of materials such as stone, brick, terracotta, and concrete. It’s necessary to carefully examine the exact nature of the masonry, as well as its condition, in order to determine its level of sensitivity to cleaning products.
For example, sandstone and limestone may appear similar, but require a separate cleaning method for their protection, with limestone being particularly sensitive to acidic products. Features such as window hoods, cornices, and entablature, may look like masonry and yet be made from metal so make sure to inspect these parts carefully. Meanwhile, cleaning agents that can cause corrosion of paintwork or on glass should be avoided on or near any such surfaces.
Expertly Applied Skills
Often a DIY approach to cleaning isn’t the most effective, or even affordable, solution in the long-term. Deciding to undertake the cleaning of a historic home without the proper guidance, products, and techniques could easily lead to sub-standard results. Even worse, it could cause irreversible damage.
Employing experts who use effective cleaning techniques specifically designed for historic properties is the best way to ensure a fault-free process. Cleaning firms that provide dedicated historical home services will assess the source of all debris and dust, identify smoke, oil, and metal stains, as well as mold, mildew, and plant growth. They will then tailor a cleaning process using agents and techniques that are effective but gentle so as not to cause damage.
Ageing Gracefully and with Intention
It’s also wise to undertake an inventory of the reasons for cleaning a historic home, and allow them to make informed decisions on the appropriate actions to take. Is the cleaning in preparation for presenting a home that is intended for sale? If so, it may require a particular aesthetic focus. If cleaning is intended to restore historical integrity to a building, it may involve very specific practices, such as the removal of non-historic painting coatings. Meanwhile, maintenance cleaning, which should be scheduled to occur at regular intervals, engenders another approach. Environmental factors relating to climate and geography will also determine the level of cleaning required for a historic home, as exemplified by the action of greater particle fixture to masonry and surfaces that accompanies higher levels of humidity.
Historic homes are testament to the exquisite design and building skills of our forebears. As curators of such homes, we owe them our care and attention, a role conducted by engaging experts whose passion it is to repair, retain, and revitalize historic homes.