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How to Clean Military Medals

Updated April 17, 2017

Military medals are among the highest honours a nation can bestow. Awarded for bravery and self-sacrifice, these awards typically take the form of metal pins or medallions. They may look indestructible but are actually quite fragile and require special care. Many medals come with cloth ribbons. Gold or silver on a medal's surface is usually just a thin coating of the precious metal. Overzealous cleaning can actually ruin military medals.

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  1. Remove ribbons if possible. If ribbons cannot be removed, be careful not to get solvents on the ribbons.

  2. Use silver cleaner on each medal's surface. (Silver cleaner should be used on all types of medal, whether silver, gold or brass.) Use a soft cloth and rub gently to remove grime.

  3. Remove very tough stains on brass medals with brass polish. Use brass polish sparingly---it's more abrasive than silver cleaner.

  4. Clean crevices with a cotton swab. If dirt is very tough, use a toothbrush dipped in silver cleaner or brass polish. Scrub carefully and only in the dirty areas.

  5. Buff the clean medal with a soft cloth. Keep buffing until all cleaner or polish has been removed. (Polish or cleaner residue will tarnish or corrode your military medal.) Continue buffing until the medal shines brightly.

  6. Tip

    A warm patina is a sign of an authentic vintage military medal. Patina is not grime and does not need to be removed.


    Do not use abrasive cloths or cleansers. Abrasives will damage your medal. Avoid handling military medals. Fingerprints leave oils and grime that can damage the medal. Less handling means less cleaning.

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Things You'll Need

  • Silver cleaner
  • Brass polish
  • Cotton swab
  • Toothbrush
  • Soft cloth

About the Author

Brian Adler has been writing articles on history, politics, religion, art, architecture and antiques since 2002. His writing has been published with Demand Studios, as well as in an online magazine. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Columbia University.

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