Tried and true tips for cleaning taxidermy

July 28, 2015

You're proud of your trophy. That's why you had it preserved. So you want to keep it looking as good as the day it came home from the taxidermist, or perhaps from the antique shop, if you found an old specimen.

Tried and true tips for cleaning taxidermy

1. Don't touch the animals!

  • A taxidermic specimen isn't made for manhandling. Besides leaving damaging skin oils on the piece, you might expose yourself to insecticides or even to toxic heavy metals such as arsenic and mercury, which may have been used in preserving it.
  • The insecticides are used to prevent moths, larvae and other organisms from setting up house and feasting on it. So inspect it regularly for signs of damage from these pests.

2. When dust is a problem

  • Dust can find its way into the specimen's fur and feathers and be quite difficult to dislodge. And when you do dust, leaking toxins can migrate into a dust cloth or become airborne.
  • Besides stirring up heavy metals, you could send asbestos flying, if the modelling compound used to construct parts such as facial features contains asbestos, as some antique specimens do.

3. For a thorough cleaning

  • Call a professional.
  • Unless you know that your taxidermic specimen was preserved without dangerous toxins — perhaps because you requested it be done without them — realise that even minimal cleaning involves risks.
  • Experts recommend that specimens be cleaned by a professional every 10 years or so.
  • If you know your specimen is free of toxins, or you have decided to give it a quick once-over regardless, gingerly dust fur-bearing trophies with a barely damp, soft cloth, following the natural direction of the fur.
  • Wipe only the fur: Even slightly dampened skin will begin to stretch, and fats in the wet skin can begin to turn rancid.
  • For birds, use a feather duster, working from the bill or beak back, following the natural direction of the feather pattern.

4. To keep those eyes bright

  • Apply glass cleaner or a mix of 1 part white vinegar to 4 parts water to a small patch of clean cloth and wipe onto the glass eyes.
  • Baby oil, applied similarly, will bring back the lustre of horns and tusks.

5. Caution

  • Keep all cleaning products away from fur, feathers and skin, to prevent any damage to these fragile areas.
  • And avoid getting any solvents on specimens, particularly on preserved fish — they'll dissolve the fish's lacquer finish.
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