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Butcher's Wax, Renaissance Wax
Use them on: Wood and more. Our editors also use archival-quality Renaissance Wax (amazon.com) on wrought iron, ceramics, porcelain, bronze, and leather.
How they work: A thin coat of wax seals and protects surfaces from moisture and dirt, but it can be removed (some polishes leave a permanent film).
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Use it on: Wood, vinyl, plastic, glass, and ceramics.
How it works: This liquid won't damage the surface of an antique, but it will get rid of many offenders, such as old tape, candle wax, and price stickers. "It even removes prices written in permanent marker," says Fritz Karch, Martha Stewart Living's collecting editorial director.
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Use it on: Most metals.
How it works: One of the strongest metal cleaners, this German import (amazon.com) removes heavy tarnish, even smoothing surface pits and eliminating stains. "It revives finds that seem beyond revival," Karch says.
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SCI Plain Stain Remover
Use it on: Marble, alabaster, granite, and onyx.
How it works: This poultice-style cleaner lifts grime from stone. Collecting editor Quy Nguyen once bought a nineteenth-century doorstop that was almost black; cleaning it with this product (stonecare.com) revealed white marble. Just wet the object, and apply the cleaner to form a paste.
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Zud, Oven Cleaner
Use it on: Enamel, porcelain, and cast iron.
How it works: Typically meant for household rust removal, Zud can make antique sinks and tubs look new. For smaller grimy items, spray with oven cleaner, seal in plastic bags, and let sit for several hours; dirt will wipe off.
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Use it on: Vintage and antique glass and pottery.
How it works: It dissolves stubborn calcium buildup, lime deposits, and water marks; antiques experts prize it for cleaning white film from vintage glass. "I fill a vase with CLR solution, add rice, and swish it around before the rice softens," Karch says. "The friction dislodges grit."
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Use it on: Fabric and ceramics.
How it works: Usually used on textiles, this chlorine-free powder can remove stains from ceramics, such as earthenware and ironstone. Just submerge the object in a bucket of cool water, add a scoop of OxiClean, and let it soak -- grease and food spots will seep out.
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Novus Fine Scratch Remover
Use it on: Lucite, Bakelite, celluloid, and other plastics.
How it works: Antiques dealers love this polish (novuspolish.com) because it cleans thoroughly and buffs fine scratches rather than just filling them. It also evens out discoloration and restores clarity and shine with minimal elbow grease.
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Use it on: Hardwood, tortoise, bone, ivory, and horn.
How it works: This drugstore staple moisturizes dried-out pieces naturally and without odor. Rub it on with a soft cloth or paper towel to restore luster, keep cracks from getting worse, and prevent new fissures.
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Wright's Copper Cream, Noxon
Use it on: Brass and copper and other metals.
How it works: Wright's brings out the orange hue of copper (other cleaners can result in a more golden color). Noxon is a multitasker able to polish several metals, including aluminum, nickel, pewter, and stainless steel.