Spring cleaning stately style
Have you had the itch to fix the furniture, clean the cupboards or patch up the paint? Whether we want to keep our households in good health or because we are spending more time at home, a thorough spring clean is on more minds than ever. Looking after treasured historic houses, we know how to keep a magnificent mansion in tip top condition. Our expert conservators draw on an array of tips and techniques which have stood the test of time, many of which you can apply when caring for your own home.
Claire Magill, Conservator for the National Trust in NI explains: “Dusting, cleaning and polishing are just a few of the daily tasks our house teams carry out. When cleaning we apply a range of researched techniques and natural products which housekeepers in the past knew were effective and which give great results. And by using natural materials wherever possible, you can be reassured these methods are good for the environment as well.”
Get inspired with an insight into some of the cleaning that happens at National Trust NI houses:
Cleaning the books at Mount Stewart
At Mount Stewart the family loved to read and so they accumulated over 10,000 books in their collection. Some of the books are several centuries old and so need special care, but all the books need a dust every so often to keep them in good condition.
Andrea Hutton, Senior House Steward at Mount Stewart explains the process which you can also apply to your books at home:
'There are many parts of a book and regardless if it is a paperback or bound in leather, all books are cleaned in the same way. To begin we gather up all the equipment needed. A duster for the shelf, a soft brush - we use pony hair brushes but you can use one for painting or even a clean blusher brush, and a vacuum cleaner. Cleaning one shelf at a time, we start from the top shelf of a bookcase and remove all the books, then give the shelf a dust.'
'Taking one book at a time and holding it firmly closed, clean the top of the book by gently brushing the dust away from the spine towards the vacuum cleaner. Then move onto the bottom of the book, and finally the closed pages on the side, always brushing in one direction towards the vacuum. The front, back and spine of the cover are brushed next. We also clean the first and last couple of pages and check for any unwanted activity in the book i.e. bookworms or any bugs that might be enjoying the book as dinner. Then we repeat the process for each and every book.'
Polishing the Venetian floor at Florence Court
'At this time of year, the Venetian floor at Florence Court can look slightly dry with a smoky reflection', explains Mhairi Walton, House Steward at Florence Court.
'I have been busy gently cleaning the floor with a dry mop before carrying out an inspection to spot dry areas and places where heavy footfall has resulted in more ware. Post inspection I apply a clear wax all over the floor and leave it to dry for up to 30 hours before removing it with a small mechanical buffer (you can use a mop or brush with a dry, clean towel and plenty of elbow grease on your floor at home). To finish, the floor is given a dry mop which gives it a twinkle.'
Dusting at Springhill
The main aim for Stephen Byrne, House Steward at Springhill is to keep the dust at bay. 'If we didn’t clean then dust can build up and alter the appearance of an object, hiding its decorative detail. If left for a long period of time dust can bind to historic objects and when dusting does happen, some of the detail can come away with the dust. The difference between cleaning objects ‘then and now’ is that the team today use a little science to look after our objects. Over cleaning and the use of abrasive chemicals have long since gone, replaced with a range of more sensitive tools of the trade.'
'Today’s vacuum cleaner has a range of suction powers and we always set the power to low suction when cleaning the historic carpets. We also use micro-fibre clothes and horse-hair brushes. These items are more sensitive around our aging historic objects.'
Cleaning the chandelier at Castle Ward
'We have taken this opportunity during our closed period to bring some sparkle back to one of our most dazzling objects, a mid-nineteenth century glass chandelier' reveals Neil Watt, Collections and House Manager at Castle Ward. 'The chandelier is a real focal point of the house and with Castle Ward normally welcoming thousands of visitors each year, we inevitably see the introduction of dust and dirt from the outside. This dust dulls the natural brilliance and beauty of the glass giving it a grey, almost milky coloured tone.
The approach was to carefully remove each piece of detachable glass from the chandelier to a table, where we could use a firm brush to gently brush the dirt and dust away from the glass. If you clean over a white cloth, you will see the amount of dust which comes off which is always very rewarding for those doing the work! For the larger pieces of the glass chandelier, we use a ladder to reach these pieces in situ. We brush the dust from the pieces using a small natural hair brush, collecting what we can with a vacuum nozzle. When the chandelier is reassembled, it twinkles and shines, bouncing light from crystal to crystal in joyful and playful ways.'
Inspired by our expert insight, here’s our top tips to care for your home like a pro:
1. For routine cleaning, start nearest the door – where the dirt comes in – and for areas furthest away and less frequently used, clean less often.
2. For a spring clean, start on the upper floors and work down. In each room, clean from the top down – let gravity be your friend. Finish by dusting low shelves and vacuuming carpets or sweeping floors, so you don’t have to clean the same areas twice.
3. Dust smooth surfaces like tables or glass using a lint-free cotton cloth folded into a pad.
4. For carved or textured surfaces – including grills on your ‘surround sound’ speakers – use a natural bristle brush and collecting the dislodged dust with a handheld vacuum cleaner.
5. To dust the tops of books, use a softer natural bristle brush and flick the dust into a hand held vacuum cleaner.
6. To give wax-polished wooden floors a dust and buff up, use a woollen cloth soaked in 50% vinegar and 50% liquid paraffin wrapped around a mop – this is an invaluable time-saver.
7. Wash precious ceramics with cotton-wool balls dipped in a mild detergent solution (e.g. sensitive skin washing-up liquid, or baby shampoo), rinse by dipping new cotton wool in clean water. Avoid holding fragile ceramic or glass by its handle or rim - this may be a weak point.
8. Put glass mats under vases on polished and decorated furniture to prevent water spills from staining the wood.
9. Always seek specialist advice before attempting to clean or repair any valuable heirlooms or fragile items, whether pictures, furniture, textiles or other historic materials.