Caring For Your Lead Crystal

‘Glasses were made to be used’. This is something I stand by and frequently reiterate to friends and customers. Many people are surprised at the notion of someone using an 18th-century wine glass; although these objects can be admired for their historical and aesthetic value, they were originally made with one purpose in mind: imbibing.

In this article, I aim to offer advice on caring for your crystal, be it wine glasses, decanters, bowls, or vases. With just a few basic cleaning tools and some elbow grease, you’ll have sparkling crystal in no time!

How to clean your crystal

I always try to use a plastic washing-up bowl inside the sink rather than putting the pieces directly in the sink. This way the glass is protected from the hard surface.

Basic equipment you’ll need:

    • Cotton dishcloth
    • Rubber gloves (optional)
    • Soft bristled nylon toothbrush
    • Washing up liquid
    • White vinegar (optional)
    • Microfibre cloth

Get prepared

Fill your washing-up bowl approximately ¾ full of warm (hand-hot) water and a small squirt of washing-up liquid. If you suffer from hard water in your area then a cup of white vinegar added to the water at this stage helps to neutralise or soften it, resulting in a less streaky finish. It is important to ensure that your stemware is at room temperature before washing it. Glass is very susceptible to extremes of temperature and is likely to crack or break if immersed in hot (or cold) water. If you’ve had ice or chilled drinks in your glasses, empty them and let them warm up before you proceed with washing them.

Don’t overcrowd the sink

Similarly, it is best not to mix large, heavy items with small, delicate ones. Ideally, you should wash one piece at a time. However, place as many pieces as you feel comfortable with in the bowl and allow them to soak for a few minutes. Then, taking your clean cotton dishcloth, and holding your glass by the bowl, clean the inside and outside of the glass. NEVER hold a glass by the stem when washing it; it is not designed to accommodate the stress created by a twisting cleaning motion and will often result in the piece breaking.

If you have a highly-cut piece that has dust or dirt in the exterior detail then I recommend using a soft bristled toothbrush and gently scrubbing in a circular motion over the cutting.

Once you are happy that the piece is clean, rinse it with clean, warm water. If you have the luxury of space or a double sink, then a second washing-up bowl is best. If not, rinsing each piece under the tap is just as effective. This part of the process will not only mean that your stemware will be streak-free when dried but will also remove any traces of cleaning fluids from the glass, which might otherwise taint your next drink.

Drying your stemware

It is always best to allow your glass to drip dry on a draining board. I use a plastic-coated metal stand, which I can invert glasses on without the concern that the rims will get damaged. This also raises them off a flat surface and allows air to circulate them, providing an effective drying environment. I normally wait until something is about 60-70% dry (no longer dripping) and then manually finish it with a microfibre cloth. To get the best finish, I would advise that you get a lint-free microfibre cloth; these dry pieces quickly, with minimal drag or stress on the piece, and leave them streak and mark-free.

Decanters can be cleaned in much the same way as glasses. If a decanter has old wine or liquor stains in the base that prove stubborn to remove even after soaking, I would recommend that you try pouring roughly an inch of dry rice (or a layer of crushed eggshells) into the base with enough white vinegar to help it move when swilled. These act as an agitator and will gently clean the base without causing any damage to the glass. If you have lots of decanters that you need to clean regularly then I would strongly recommend investing in a specialist decanter brush. These come in various shapes and sizes to aid in cleaning anything from a wide ship’s decanter to a slender liqueur decanter.

Drying decanters can prove to be quite a hardship. The slender neck is often too small to fit a cloth down and if you do succeed then it can be hard to remove! Like wine glasses, decanters are best rinsed and then drained over a rack where they can aerate. Once they have dripped dry, you can either wipe them externally with a microfibre cloth and then leave them up the right way to air, or (if you are in a hurry) you can use a hairdryer on a cool setting to speed this process up.

One concern with inverting decanters is that they become too top-heavy and could fall over. I invested in some decanter drying stands and, although they are pricy, they are incredibly effective. The ends are rubber-tipped so that they don’t scratch the glass. Any water vapour that condenses at the top of the decanter will then run down the rubber and the central shaft, pooling at the bottom and aiding the drying process.

Unless your stemware is contemporary non-lead crystal and explicitly says you can, you should not put your crystal in a dishwasher. Dishwashing is too harsh on the glass and both the heat and detergents will leave it clouded. In many cases, this causes irreparable damage. Handwashing, although laborious, is still the best method.

Vases can be treated in much the same way as decanters. If your vase is in regular use, it is important to change the water and wash the vase thoroughly every day to avoid staining. If you end up with a film or mark at the waterline, this may be a hard water deposit (limescale) and may come off with white vinegar sprayed either directly onto the stain or added to the washing-up water when cleaning. 


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