How to Conserve and Care for Medals

Written by john peterson Google
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How to Conserve and Care for Medals
Controlling humidity is key to preventing corrosion. (medal ussr. image by Mikhail Pogosov from

The temptation of many collectors is to attempt to restore objects to "like-new" condition. This is a mistake for collectibles and antiques, because such efforts will actually lower their value. True restoration is expensive and best left to highly trained professionals. To maintain the value and appearance of your medals and to keep them in good shape, it is important to properly clean them and learn basic conservation methods. Controlling the storage or display environment is critical for conservation.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Hygrometer
  • Acid-free paper envelopes
  • Polythene or Mylar envelopes or album pages

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    Cleaning and Handling

  1. 1

    Identify the materials that constitute your medals before attempting any cleaning. There are different types of metals--bronze alloy being the most common--and other materials such as ribbon that are commonly found on medals. Each material will require a different cleaning method.

  2. 2

    Think carefully before attempting any polishing of the medallion. Some medals were meant to have a patina and should not be polished, as that creates a false appearance. Polishing with harsh chemicals can abrade the surfaces and cause irreparable damage.

  3. 3

    Use compressed air to blow loose dirt from crevices in the medallion. However, avoid compressed air if surfaces or medal attachments are not stable.

  4. 4

    Clean with a damp (not wet) cloth and mild detergent. Cleaning of the medallion should consist of simply removing surface dirt, not altering its finish or patina.

  5. 5

    Avoid getting moisture on the ribbon or ferrous metal while cleaning the medallion. Cleaning ribbons is trickier, and other than light dusting it is best to seek advice from a conservator for ribbon cleaning.

  6. 6

    Use clean cotton gloves when handling medals. Oils from fingers can cause corrosion of metal surfaces. Always handle a medal by the medallion and not by the ribbon or anything else attached to the medallion.


  1. 1

    Control humidity. Storing and displaying medals with proper humidity is key to preventing corrosion of the metal. Try to maintain relative humidity levels between 30 per cent and 55 per cent. Use a hygrometer to monitor humidity levels.

  2. 2

    Avoid exposure to sunlight and fluorescent lights. Ultraviolet radiation is particularly harmful to the medallion's finish and will fade colours on ribbons.

  3. 3

    Keep each medal in its own storage container. Use acid-free paper boxes and envelopes or other archivally stable material such as polythene or Mylar containers. Storing medals together can cause them to nick and scratch each other.

  4. 4

    Display in such a manner as to limit stress on ribbons or other attachments to the medallion. Stress on ribbons and attachments can cause them to break or tear. Also, display medals away from pets and children, and avoid high-traffic areas.

Tips and warnings

  • It is best to consult a conservator for advice on polishing or removing corrosion.
  • Avoid aggressive cleaning of lacquered surfaces to avoid chipping.

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