Winter cleaning on a grand scale

Chloe, the house manager at Ickworth holding a brush

Can you imagine cleaning a huge country mansion, the likes of which National Trust teams tackle each and every year? Inside our houses are a hive of activity during the winter months, as conservation teams dust, vacuum and polish their hearts out.

In addition to being able to give the house an in-depth clean, winter gives us an opportunity to closely examine every item for signs of wear and pest activity, and to update our records. Of course we’re constantly monitoring the collection and we keep the house clean throughout the year, but during the winter we do this on a much greater scale. And now we'll be doing this more than ever before in front of visitors.

To polish or not to polish?

We assess each item individually as to whether to polish it or not - we no longer polish whole items routinely because this cleaning can act as a form of wear and tear. Removing dust helps limit this corrosion. It’s a simple thing to do but effective, so we dust regularly throughout the year and top up on the protective wax in winter. 

Our team works hard conserving our collection
Volunteer conservator cleaning a teapot. Mottisfont, Hampshire
Our team works hard conserving our collection

It’s not just housework

Do you fold your duster in a special way to prevent the edges catching on things? Do you get out a hogs hair brush to get all the dust out of the crevices? Do you have special brushes for cleaning certain items? We do… and these are just a few of our ways of working to keep our collection conserved.

Join our team and help our conservation work
Volunteer dusting mirror
Join our team and help our conservation work

Cleaning on a grand scale

Can you imagine cleaning a huge country mansion, the likes of which National Trust teams tackle each and every year?

Nevermind the sheer size of the places involved and the number of rooms, there are delicate and historically important objects everywhere – from carpets, tapestries and ceramics to marble busts, carved wooden staircases and sparkling chandeliers – oh and a suit of armour or two!

Cleaning from dizzy heights in Peter the Great room
A member of the conservation team cleaning a chandelier
Cleaning from dizzy heights in Peter the Great room

Chloe Woodrow, is the House Manager at Ickworth House and is no stranger to cleaning; it’s just on a bigger scale than the rest of us are used to!

Chloe’s top tips to try at home:

  • I wouldn’t be without vinegar and paraffin on a woollen cloth, as it buffs floors amazingly and when you have lots of wooden floors to keep in tip top condition it is invaluable.
  • I would also recommend Renaissance Wax, which I use to protect metalwork after cleaning and leatherwork.
  • Autosol is fantastic for cleaning brass and copper.
  • When dusting furniture, flat surfaces in good condition need only light dusting with a clean, dry lint free duster with hemmed edges. A carved or raised surface needs a natural bristle brush.
  • Textiles such as upholstery, bedspreads and rugs can be vacuumed on low suction, using a crevice tool covered with fine nylon netting to prevent snagging of loose threads.

Just imagine how many hours are needed to clean the 5,383 items in Ickworth’s collection and that doesn’t even include the items on loan or in storage. The staff and volunteers work like mad to clean the 947 items of furniture, 865 ceramics, 845 pieces of silver, 571 paintings and drawings, 357 textiles, 153 items of glassware including 4 chandeliers, 106 sculptures and then there are the clocks, armour, toys and general decorative elements of the house. And it all needs to be done before we open our doors for the new season!

So next time you visit one of our big houses stop for a minute and imagine all the hours of intricate cleaning that goes into keeping it clean and dust-free.

When you uncover a house's past, it helps us safeguard its future

Thanks to you, when you join, donate, visit or volunteer, your support helps us to look after special places for ever, for everyone.