How to Clean Ivory Elephant Tusks

elephanttusks

Jose asked: What can I use to clean an Ivory elephant tusk? My father was in Africa in the 1960s and brought two ivory elephant tusks, each about 28 inches. They have parts on them that are brown, and I would like to know what I can use to clean them.

Ivory is porous and permeable. Moisture moves in and out of ivory leading to discoloration and changes in shape. In addition to taking extra precautions to keep the environment around the tusks stable, periodic cleanings are helpful to maintain the beauty of these unique pieces.

You Will Need:

  • Fine cleaning powder
  • Mild soap
  • Water
  • Bucket
  • Soft cloths

Steps to Clean the Tusks:

  1. Keeping ivory pieces dusted is an important part of keeping them clean. Dust them by rubbing them with a clean, soft cloth.
  2. Use a fine cleaning powder to clean the surface of the ivory.
  3. Apply following the manufacturer’s instructions and wipe away with a soft cloth.
  4. If a deeper cleaning is needed, clean the area with a soap and water mixture.
  5. Add just a few drops of mild soap to a bucket full of water.
  6. Moisten a cloth with the mixture. Wring it out completely so the cloth is only slightly damp.
  7. Gently wipe the surface of the ivory.
  8. Dry immediately with a clean, dry cloth.
  9. It is best to work in small sections or only clean the dirtied areas.

Additional Tips and Ideas

  • If any liquid cleaners or cleaning solvents are used, they should be wiped away immediately so that they are not absorbed into the ivory.
  • Avoid sudden changes in temperature as well as prolonged exposure to sunlight. Both can cause damage to the ivory pieces.
  • For information about cleaning antique ivory pieces, see How to Clean Antique Ivory.

Comments

  1. Gidi says:

    Is it possible to clean Ivory elephant tusks with steam cleaner?

  2. Melanie says:

    Gidi,
    Ivory can be damaged (cracked, warped, etc.) by extreme temperatures or humidity changes, so do not steam clean it.
    Source: Canadian Conservation Institute – How to Care for Ivory, Horn, Bone and Antler
    Source: Smithsonian Institute – The Care and Handling of Ivory Objects

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