Steady tips to clean stained or leaded glass

Stained glass is associated mostly with churches, but leaded- and stained-glass windows were also stylish in homes, institutions and commercial windows from about 1895 to 1925. Of course, there are also more recent examples, and craftspeople make a wide variety of beautiful ornaments out of leaded and stained glass. These instructions for cleaning windows can also be applied to less hefty objects, such as lampshades, boxes, light (or sun) catchers and much more.

Steady tips to clean stained or leaded glass

1. To clean leaded or stained glass

The lead in leaded glass refers to the material used in the cames — the grooved metal rods that hold the panes of glass together. If the glass pieces are coloured and form a decorative pattern or picture, it is called stained glass.

  • Use plain, warm water.
  • Wash each pane individually with a clean cloth dampened in the water.
  • If necessary, use a cotton swab to get into corners.
  • Don't use a spray bottle, because the water will drip into the cames.
  • Wipe dry with a clean, soft cloth or chamois cloth.
  • Never apply much force, because you can actually bend the windows, especially if the cames are lead, which is a very soft metal. Some cames are made of copper or zinc, which are stronger, but it's still called leaded glass.
  • Use only the damp cloth for cleaning the cames.

2. For more cleaning power

  • Use 5 ml (1 tsp) of methylated spirits in 1 litre (1 quart) of warm water and follow the same procedure as above.
  • If dirt or old finish remains, leave it alone.
  • Never use common household glass cleaners, vinegar, lemon, ammonia or any kind of abrasive cleaner.

3. Window restoration

  • Leaded and stained glass windows can last for centuries, as countless European churches show. But over time, they are subject to such ills as: broken or cracked glass; loosened lead around the glass; broken or missing lead or solder joints; deterioration of putty, glass paint or the frame that holds the window.
  • If you have a window that is more than 50 years old, it's a good idea to have a condition study done. Such a study will identify any problems and can be the focus of a restoration plan.
  • If you belong to a church with stained-glass windows and want to participate in their preservation, you could organise a group to commission such a study.
  • To find a consultant, ask museums or large churches that have used such services.
  • The next step would probably be to raise money — window restoration is a time-consuming and expensive project demanding professional help.

4. Caution

  • If the glass has painting on it, don't clean it at all.
  • Even water might damage or remove fragile paint.
  • Painted parts of a window are usually something like a bird or a face applied onto the glass, rather than an integral part of it.
  • House numbers are also sometimes painted on.
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