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A Helpful Guide to the Proper Care, Cleaning and Handling of Fine Arts and Furniture

April 5, 2004

Chartwell Insurance Services co-sponsored a conservation workshop at the studios of Bernacki and Associates, a Chicago-based conversation and restoration company.  The following are highlights from the remarks of Barton Bjorneberg, Master Gilder and Fine Arts Conservator, Bernacki and Associates.

Many repair jobs result from improper cleaning and handling.  Before moving fine arts and furtniture:


  • Look first, don’t touch, especially if the item has been in the same place for a long time.
  • Lift the item underneath, below the center of gravity.
  • Check for areas where finish or paint is chipping or worn away.
  • Wear cotton gloves with polyester nodules that will not mar the surface and will improve your grip.
  • Be careful about transporting top-heavy items.  Consider an experienced mover who will custom crate. 
  • “Sacrifice knuckles before the piece.”  Guard corners as you move.
  • Place item in plastic bags before moving to save pieces that might fall off.
  • Do not air-tight seal with plastic wrap and do not store a long time in plastic.


  • Light is one of the most dangerous elements you can expose fine arts to and will break down all organic materials.
  • You can filter sunlight with UV filters on the windows, in window shades and on framing glass.
  • Ideal light is incandescent.
  • Test artificial light to see if it is warm near the piece being illuminated.  If you feel warmth the light is doing damage to the work.
  • Avoid drastic fluctuations in temperature and humidity.  Be careful of hanging paintings on exterior walls.


  • Don’t overclean, a little dust is ok.
  • Wood does not need to be “fed.”  Deionized or distilled water on a soft cloth is all that is needed to clean furniture.
  • Rub out to avoid catching edges, wipe dry to minimize moisture.
  • Use wax with carnauba (vegetable in origin), paraffin or beeswax.  Never use furniture polish with silicone!  If you can buff to shine you do not need to reapply wax.
  • Line sink with soft cloth to avoid scratching ceramics while cleaning.
  • Be careful of “organic” and “citrus” cleaners.  Some are as dangerous as chemical cleaners.


  • Leave outside of home, in a garage or basement and covered in plastic for a few days to check for insects.
  • If you bring a contaminated piece into your home you will have to fumigate your entire house.   (And insurance does not cover insect damage.)


Sources for obtaining archival supplies including gloves, cleaning products and storage materials:

Archival Suppliers |

Gaylord  |


Chartwell Bulletins are produced by Chartwell Insurance Services, Inc. an independent insurance broker specializing in the personal asset protection of high net worth individuals. Chartwell Bulletins address issues of general interest and since coverages vary by company and by state, should not be taken as an interpretation of a particular policy or advice on any individual situation. Chartwell Insurance Services, Inc. is not affiliated with Archival Suppliers or Gaylord and does not accept compensation from them. A representative of Chartwell Insurance Services, Inc. will be pleased to discuss all aspects of your personal insurance.

Contact: Rebecca Korach Woan | 312. 645.1200 |