Spring Cleaning? 4 Things You Need to Leave Dirty

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I hate spring cleaning, but not for the reason most people do. They hate cleaning in general, regardless of the season. I love cleaning – when everything is in its place, I experience a wave of inner peace.

Problem is, once I start cleaning, I don’t know when to stop. And that’s gotten me in big trouble during previous springs. I end up cleaning stuff that would be better off left alone. Here’s a list of valuables I’ve ruined over the years…

1. Antiques

How much of a spring cleaning geek am I? In college, I couldn’t enjoy spring break until I had done a spring cleaning first. (To this day, I hate returning from a trip and walking into a messy home.)

One spring, I had a roommate who had brought an old silver coffee urn from back home. It was big and ornate, but also slightly dented and very tarnished. We kept it on our dining room table and used it for the occasional study group that came over. Mostly, it was decorative. So one spring, I asked my roomie if I could polish it up. She said sure – if I was willing to expend the calories, why not?

I really did a great job. That urn sparkled. It wasn’t until years later I learned from my ex-roommate that I had destroyed its value. When the Antiques Roadshow craze took off, she apparently took it for an appraisal and was told it was from the 19th century. But my cleaning had knocked literally hundreds of dollars off its value – something fans of Pawn Stars know from each week’s episode, when someone brings in an antique gun, painting, or jewelry. People who buy antiques don’t want their history washed away. And silver polish is the worst offender.

“Contrary to popular belief, silver does not need constant cleaning and in fact should not be cleaned more than absolutely necessary,” says the Association of Art and Antique Dealers. “Tarnishing does not actually harm silver.”

National Geographic goes so far as to say that store-bought silver cleaners “contain abrasives that not only remove tarnish but also strip off a thin layer of silver in the process.” The magazine suggests an eco-friendly soaking instead of a vigorous cleaning.

2. Old coins

When I was a teenager, my grandmother gave me some very old coins, many in near-mint condition. One was a Morgan Liberty Head silver dollar from 1898. It was large and intricately wrought, but it wasn’t shiny. So one spring, I buffed it with silver polish. Hey, it’s a silver dollar, right? And it worked real well on that coffee urn in college. (It would still be a few more years before I learned about my urn error.)

I wanted to display my silver dollar on my desk, which I had just reorganized in my latest spring frenzy. But my cleaning actually made the coin even less shiny.

What happened? The harsh cleanser I used stripped the coin of its toning, which is the light tarnish that gives old coins an appearance of depth. Once that toning was gone, the coin looked flat, and instead of being shiny, it looked uniformly gray and nicked up.

“Never clean coins with commercial jewelry and metal polishes or silver tarnish remover, which will remove the toning that normally collects over time on copper and silver coins,” explains MyCoinCollecting.com. “Removing tarnish often harms coins, leaving small spots, scratches, or pockmarks that can significantly diminish their numismatic value by up to 90 percent!”

Numismatic value is the fancy term for “how much money coin dealers will pay you.” If my frugal grandmother were alive to know what I had done to her coin’s numismatic value, I would (in her words) be cruising for a bruising. 

3. Smartphone screens

I have an iPhone 1 that my brother gave me. It doesn’t even work as a phone anymore, so I use it as a glorified iPod Touch. Apple’s website tells you how not to clean the screen…

  • Keep liquids away from the product.
  • Don’t get moisture into any openings, and don’t use aerosol sprays, solvents, or abrasives.
  • Do not spray cleaners directly onto the item.

…and I did all those things more than once. My excuse? I thought a glass screen would benefit from glass cleaner. Instead, I nicked up the screen, and when it’s hot and humid outside, the corners of the screen get foggy with moisture. The screen has dead gray pixels across the top, but I don’t know if that’s because the thing is old or because I cleaned it. Either way, here’s what Apple says I should’ve done: “Use only a soft, lint-free cloth.” Where’s the fun in that?

4. Plants

Obviously, you don’t clean plants. But you can trim them, removing dead leaves. And that can actually hurt your plants. I live in Florida and have palm trees in front of my house. One day, I was trimming dead fronds when a neighbor warned me against it. Sure enough, I looked it up and discovered No. 9 on the list of Top 10 Palm Tree Care Mistakes is over-pruning: “Palm trees need dying leaves for nutrients, and when you cut them off, your palm tree doesn’t like it. Palms move nutrients from the older fronds to the new growth.”

So before you prune dead leaves from any of your plants, look it up first. Sometimes it’s better for your plants to feel good than look good.

Finally, if you’re going to clean your windows this spring, don’t do it like this. And for more money-saving and time-saving cleaning advice, check out…

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