Deep Cleaning the Boys' Room at Mottisfont

A view of furniture and collection items including an armchair and harpsichord in the Boys' Room at Mottisfont, Hampshire

Mottisfont, like many other National Trust properties, is now open 363 days a year. This means that visitors can see our preventative conservation work in action - as opposed to our winter clean, which was usually done behind closed doors. While we work to clean and protect the collection daily, each room also gets a thorough annual clean, starting with us working from the scaffold on the ceiling and cornice, all the way down to the skirtings.

Here I am going to talk you through a few interesting methods we used in the recent deep clean of the Boys’ Room, in the hope you may be able to recognise them if you ever happen to see us, or conservation teams at other properties, working away.

The Boys’ Room is an interesting room as it contains a large handling collection - objects which we invite our visitors to have a look at, pick up and read. Because these are not part of our indigenous collection, they are easier to clean: a large majority of the objects can be done with a duster, books are dusted with a pony-hair brush into a hoover, and any textiles (the top hat, for example) hoovered on a low suction through netting.

Whilst all other paintwork in the Boys’ Room is original, the shelves have been painted with modern paint, replicating the marble effect of the original design. This again is due to the fact they hold the handling collection and people are able to touch the paintwork here.

We only ever clean any original paintwork lightly, dusting with a pony-hair brush into a hoover as it is very fragile. If we ever find any paint-flakes we also gather them up and store them safely to conserve as much of the original paint as possible.

The curtains in the Boys’ Room took about two days to complete a full clean. Working with our conservation volunteers Sally and Emma, we hoovered the textile through a net on a low suction, working from top to bottom. This is the way we clean the majority of textiles, as it helps to remove dust without snagging threads. 

The flat tops of wooden furniture in this room get dusted every day. During our annual clean, however, we will dust the whole piece of furniture using a hog’s-hair brush, allowing us to clean really thoroughly into every corner.

Conservation volunteer Sally Tweed dusting a table with a hog’s-hair brush and backpack vacuum
Conservation volunteer Sally Tweed dusting a table with a hog’s-hair brush and backpack vacuum
Conservation volunteer Sally Tweed dusting a table with a hog’s-hair brush and backpack vacuum

The flat tops (particularly if they ever get touched) then get covered with a coat of Harrell's Wax which is buffed into the wood and helps to create a protective barrier.

We often then place Melinex, which is a polyester film, on top of a surface of a piece of furniture and cut it to size, as we did for the card table in the Boys’ Room. This is a really effective and unobtrusive way of preventing dust from falling directly onto a surface, as Melinex itself is barely visible. 
 
One of our favourite jobs is cleaning metals, because the results are usually very satisfying. Emma, our conservation volunteer, cleaned the brass doorknobs in the Boys’ Room for us and, as you can see in this photograph, the difference is particularly obvious. We clean all doorknobs with a metals polish called Peek, which is buffed on using stockinette as it is very gentle on the surface.  
 

Conservation volunteer Emma Allen polishing the doorknobs in the Boys’ Room with stockinette and Peek polish
Conservation volunteer Emma Allen polishing the doorknobs in the Boys’ Room with stockinette and Peek polish
Conservation volunteer Emma Allen polishing the doorknobs in the Boys’ Room with stockinette and Peek polish

It took us two to three weeks to complete the deep clean of the Boys’ Room here at Mottisfont with help from our volunteers and, undoubtedly, one of the best parts of our job is seeing the finished result. So if you ever happen to see the conservation teams at work throughout Trust properties, see if you can recognise any of these conservation methods in use.