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How to restore my WWII medals

Updated April 17, 2017

War medal restoration deserves time and attention so that you can bring out the full detail of the design while avoiding damage to any parts of the medal. Your World War II medals were hard won, and when you wear them on special or commemorative days you show pride in the difficult job that you did as well as honouring those who fell. War medals remind the world of past history, and in restoring your medals you are ensuring that their detail, as well as their significance, remain sharp through future generations.

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Cleaning war medals

  1. Examine the medal under a strong light to see where dirt or tarnishing has obscured detail and reduced the shine. Use the magnifying glass to show up the areas that need particular care.

  2. Clean the larger surfaces of the medal with a pencil eraser, brushing away the flecks of rubber that will be produced. Brush them in a direction away from the ribbon so that they do not become embedded in the fabric weave.

  3. Cut another pencil eraser with a small blade or scissors to make a small point. Push this eraser point into the smaller areas of detail in the medal, turning the pencil backward and forward between thumb and fingers to loosen residue and rub away discolouration.

  4. Insert a needle or pin point into small crevices to gently pick away any stubborn dirt. Use the magnifying glass to make sure that you don't scratch the metal with the sharp tip.

  5. Clean the bar, brooch, suspension and suspension ring with the eraser in the same way as for the medal. Take care not to distort the suspension or the suspension ring.

  6. Polish the medal and the metal attachments with a soft cloth to remove any residual flecks of the eraser and to bring up the shine.

  7. Look at the medal under the light once more to check that all the detail is clean. Repeat the above steps if further cleaning is required.

Cleaning ribbons

  1. Brush the ribbon gently in the direction of the weave with a soft, clean, dry toothbrush to remove dust and dirt. Do not brush too hard in case you damage the fabric, and do not use any water or cleaning fluids.

  2. Pick out any ingrained areas of dust on the ribbon with the point of a pin or a needle, without damaging the fabric. The magnifying glass will help you see exactly where the dust and dirt are hidden.

  3. Brush gently again with the soft toothbrush to remove the loosened dirt and dust.

  4. Dry clean the ribbon if there are indelible stains, but if possible use the services of a professional medal restorer to avoid damaging the fabric in the dry cleaning process.

  5. Tip

    You may rub gently with a nonabrasive metal polish if you prefer, but this does not give as detailed a clean as the above instructions. When cleaning medals, use folded cardboard to protect the ribbon from the eraser flecks or the cleaning agent if used. Medals can be stored in cling film to prevent the air from discolouring or tarnishing the metal. A small bulbed air dust-blower can be useful in blowing away dust and dirt from the ribbon after brushing.


    Cleaners with an ammonia base should not be used in case they damage the metal. Harsh abrasives will damage the metal and will wear away the detail. The dyes in medal ribbons are not colour-fast, so do not wash them or immerse them in water.

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Things You'll Need

  • Soft cloth
  • 2 pencil erasers
  • Scissors or small sharp knife
  • Magnifying glass
  • Adjustable desk or table lamp
  • Soft, clean, dry toothbrush
  • Dressmaking pin or needle

About the Author

Veronica James

Veronica James has been writing since 1985. Her first career was as a specialty-trained theater sister responsible for running routine and emergency operating theaters, as well as teaching medical/nursing students. James's creative and commercial writing has appeared online, in print and on BBC radio. She graduated with an honors Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of North London.

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