Cleaning Ivory with Toothpaste?

Daily Wire Tip Jan. 18: Cleaning Ivory with Toothpaste?

By on January 18, 2011
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Daily Wire Jewelry Making Tip for
January 18, 2011

Question:

I have a stained, dirty piece of ivory. Can I clean it with toothpaste, a tooth brush and a little warm water? Ivory is basically teeth anyway!

-Pam in Mechanicsville, Virginia

Answer:

Hi Pam, I have to tell you that when I read your question, I could understand why you would think toothpaste would be an obvious choice to clean ivory with. However, at the same time, I grimaced, knowing that our Ivory Expert would scold me. So I posed your question to Wire-Sculpture Faculty member Mary W. Bailey who responded:

"Oh goodness, what a supposition. First of all, toothpaste has an abrasive in it…so don’t use it. A soft toothbrush would be fine to start with, but do not use water, since ivory and water are a bad combination. I would use some glycerin and work it gently to clean off the surface dirt. The glycerin will also help put oil back into the surface and loosen deeper dirt. Keep working the glycerin into the ivory and wipe it off between cleanings with a soft rag. I realize this is a general answer, since I don’t know what the item is: a bead, a carving, a tusk, or other ivory piece."

For more tips on Ivory, click our Ivory and Pearls blog category.

Answer contributed by Dale “Cougar” Armstrong

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6 Comments

  1. avatar

    Danette

    January 18, 2011 at 10:37 am

    I thought I should add that teeth are not made from ivory; they are made up of dentin and enamel, a hard substance made up of calcium, phosphorus, and other minerals. Thank goodness, right, since ivory is so soft!

  2. avatar

    Dharlee

    January 18, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    I would have believed the same thing about the toothpaste lol. I thought it was illegal to sell ivory of any type these days. Is it not now?

  3. avatar

    Viv Lees

    January 18, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    Read this blog with interest. Does anyone have any tips for cleaning ivory piano keys. Do you think glycerin would be good for that too?

  4. avatar

    Sherrie Lingerfelt

    January 18, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    Hi Pam,
    I just wanted to throw in my 2 cents. Before I began working with stones and other materials I threw my jewelry into “Jewelry Cleaner”, that was before I knew how harsh that stuff really is and how quickly it can damage your pieces. I have learned that many materials we use in our jewelry should be handled with much more care. When you buy your materials, find out the best way to clean, store (this can be very important with materials such as pearls) and otherwise take care of your materials, and finished pieces.
    Good Luck with your ivory,
    Sherrie

  5. avatar

    Margaret Roper

    January 18, 2011 at 11:09 pm

    An old friend of mine who made beautiful jewelry with antique beads told me that she cleaned ivory by soaking it in milk. I have never had occassion to try it myself.

  6. avatar

    jennifer

    October 3, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    I have a large wood tray with ivory inlay that had some stain and varnish. While ivory is now illegal I received this from my grandmother whom received it as a gift from my grandfather while he was stationed in Africa. Over the years some of the varnish has come up and the ivory has stained and darkened quite a bit. I want to know the best way to lighten the ivory without damaging the wood and varnish, and how to polish the wood without further staining the ivory. I would love some advice because after this tray I have a matching bowl and pedastol that was left in an attic allowing the stain to cake. As you suggested I will try the glycerin as I have some readily available but I would greatly appreciate some advice, thank you.

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