I get many questions about how to clean and take care of old beads traded in Africa. "Trade Beads", as most of us know, are old Venetian and European beads made from the early 1500s (early 7 layer chevrons) to the heyday of the trade bead era, mid 1800s to the early 1900s and traded in Africa, Asia and the Americas.
Many of these beads come in from Africa with a layer of dirt or grime and can have a dull finish. The best way I have found to clean and re-vitalize these beads is to:
1. First of all, keep them strung on the raffia. It is easier to clean them this way and keep them together. If you want to clean loose beads, follow the same steps.
2. Get a sink partially full of hot soapy water or a large pot full of hot soapy water. I would recommend the pot for loose beads.
3. Submerge the entire strand of beads into the hot soapy water. If you have singles you want to clean, put them in a some type of porous bag.....like old pantyhose, tied off or something to keep them from going down the drain or even worse, into the garbage disposal.
4. Let the beads soak for 5 or 10 minutes. Get a soft brush and gently brush the dirt off of the beads.
5. Rinse with warm water.
6. Dry with a soft towel.
7. Although many people are opposed to oiling old beads, I find it brings back their original luster and color and I oil all of my beads. I have done so for over 30 years and have experienced no problems with this. I use baby oil. Some people like mineral oil. To oil your beads simply put some baby oil or mineral oil in your palms, rub them together and then rub the oil onto the strand of beads. Make sure you coat all of them thoroughly and then wipe them down with a soft towel. You will notice this "oiling" will also remove more dirt from the beads and really bring them back to life.
Please see our large selection of old trade beads in our ebay store, Africa Direct
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