How do I clean sticky fine china?
March 26, 2013 4:02 PM   Subscribe

My grandmother's heirloom china set (now mine) was stored for a while in an area that apparently cooking grease must have vented to. Below the standard layer of dust is a sticky film that I can scrape with a fingernail.

Things that have not worked: sprayed vinegar and paper towels, water and elbow grease. The stickiness of the residue seems to attract not just the layer of dust, but any cloth or paper I use to wipe, and nothing seems to cut the gunk. Any ideas? Again, this is fine china from the early 1900s.
posted by juniperesque to Home & Garden (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Mr. Clean Magic Eraser (or the store brand version) may work -- I've used it for kitchen grease of that sort before. You do tend to use up a ton of Magic Erasers, but it works.
posted by pie ninja at 4:06 PM on March 26, 2013

You need a degreaser; they're made exactly for removing that sticky film.
posted by halogen at 4:07 PM on March 26, 2013

Steam and/or a degreaser. Don't use magic eraser or any abrasive, you'll wreck it.
posted by bensherman at 4:08 PM on March 26, 2013 [13 favorites]

I read somewhere that cooking oil, oddly, can remove grease. I also read that baking sode used as an abrasive might work. I haven't tried these methods myself, nor do I know whether they would damage your fine china.
posted by Dansaman at 4:18 PM on March 26, 2013

Thirding degreaser. You'll still need to put in a little elbow grease but if you really let it soak in it's like magic.
posted by mskyle at 4:22 PM on March 26, 2013

I'd try soaking it in very warm water with Dawn dish soap and check it every 15 minutes or so until the film wipes off easily with a sponge. Dawn is commonly used to clean stained glass projects - it's a great degreaser.
posted by summerstorm at 4:24 PM on March 26, 2013 [7 favorites]

Spray "Simple Green" degreaser, let stand a few minutes and then gently use a regular (not a "Heavy Duty") Magic Eraser. The melamine foam is abrasive on a microscopic level; test on a small hidden area. Magic Erasers can induce swirling in glossy plastics, but if used with care I can't imagine how they could damage china. Read labels for warning, naturally.

Disclaimer: I've never cleaned heirloom china.
posted by plook at 4:25 PM on March 26, 2013

Yes, Dawn will work. I have even used regular dishsoap and very hot water. Let it soak a few minutes.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:26 PM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Magic Eraser will take off any pattern if you rub too hard. I'm a big fan of Dirtex, but wash the dishes afterwards.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:32 PM on March 26, 2013

Formula 409 works great for this, from experience.
posted by jferg at 4:32 PM on March 26, 2013

oven cleaner (Easy Off or house brand) removes grease without harming ceramics. No scrubbing or rough handling required.
posted by which_chick at 4:34 PM on March 26, 2013

I would just use hot water and regular mild dish soap. I have the misfortune to live in a house with attractive, horribly impractical, open kitchen shelves, so I have been there and done this with my own china. Just wash it with a regular sponge and dish soap in the sink and either air dry or use a linen towel. I would NOT use oven cleaner or a magic eraser.
posted by mygothlaundry at 4:43 PM on March 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

pie ninja: "Mr. Clean Magic Eraser (or the store brand version) may work -- I've used it for kitchen grease of that sort before. You do tend to use up a ton of Magic Erasers, but it works."

Magic eraser and their ilk are essentially blocks of sand paper; I wouldn't use them on anything I actually cared about the finish on.
posted by Mitheral at 4:44 PM on March 26, 2013 [7 favorites]

Degreasing dish soap (Dawn) and really, really hot water. BOILING water. Soak, scrub -- no abrasives. Something like a Dobie is as scoury as you want to get.

If that doesn't work, try again with TSP from the hardware store -- it's a powder, comes in boxes, might be near the painting supplies (you clean your walls with it before painting). Ecologically suspect but you're going to be using very small quantities of it, not millions of gallons. Follow the directions on the box.
posted by Fnarf at 4:54 PM on March 26, 2013

I find Dawn Power Dissolver (different product from their dish detergents) very useful in cleaning my deep fat fryer. It behaves as though it congeals grease into something that's more water-soluble and easy to wash off.
posted by XMLicious at 5:01 PM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Borax, warm water, and a soft cloth worked well for me.
posted by kellyblah at 5:28 PM on March 26, 2013

Hot water and Dawn. Dawn does a great job with degreasing and it's incredibly gentle. You don't want to ruin a finish or any of the detailing, and Dawn'll get it clean without abrasives.
posted by headspace at 6:02 PM on March 26, 2013

Fast Orange waterless hand cleaner will do the job. Wipe it on thinly and let it sit for 10 or 15 minutes. I suspect that other brands, Goop, GoJo, etc. will also work, but I don't have recent experience with them.
posted by Bruce H. at 8:53 PM on March 26, 2013

I've used the Dawn Power Clean dishwashing soap and very very hot water, it is very good on vintage dishes.
I'm not sure how strong the Power Dissolver is that is mentioned above, or how it would work on dishes.
posted by calgirl at 9:38 PM on March 26, 2013

You could try homemade Goo Gone: 1 part vegetable oil and 2 parts baking soda.
posted by pimli at 12:00 AM on March 27, 2013

Itsounds crazy, but I've used straight mineral oil, or baby oil to remove that dusty kitchen oily grime layer off of overhead fixtures, random jars etc.

Oviously after removing the grime, you'd then need to give the dishes a wash with hot water/soap as mineral oil isn't the tastiest. It s pretty harmless.

I wouldn't go to town with anything harsher than Dawn, hot water and sponge if you're going to go that route, but give the mineral oil a go- it really does work.
posted by larthegreat at 5:54 AM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Eucalyptus oil is my go to for these sorts of things, it's transcendental for ripping grease off and smells lovely to boot.
posted by Jilder at 5:58 AM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your dishwasher may have a fine china setting.

We used our dishwasher when cleaning our heirloom china for the first time after 30 years of storage in a dirty environment. First, we ran one cycle with a chipped piece to see if the china was damaged, which it wasn't. We now use our dishwasher to wash our fine china without any concerns.
posted by lstanley at 6:21 AM on March 27, 2013

Best thing I've ever used for this sort of thing is a paste of baking soda and water. It's cheap, non toxic and cuts through sticky oil and grime like no one's buisness.
posted by k8oglyph at 9:15 AM on March 28, 2013

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