Church Cleaning

Cleaning should be undertaken gently and respectfully especially in the case of historic materials. In the normal course of events all materials are subject to change: metals oxidise and lose their shine, wood contracts and expands, the colours on stained glass may fade, textiles wear and fray, stone changes colour. Cleaning should not rub away every trace of time or attempt to make everything shiny and new-looking, rather the aim should be to maintain the historical authenticity and integrity of the objects - that often means leaving ingrained dust and dirt, staining and so on. Modern churches and furnishings also need to be treated like historic materials, despite their relative youth they too are part of the continuum of our architectural heritage.

Cleaning the interior of an historic church is a matter to be approached with care and caution if serious damage to the historic fabric is to be avoided. Excellent advice on cleaning can be found in the National Trust Manual of Housekeeping. This brief note cannot hope to give details of cleaning every item. However, some of the most common questions are answered.

Before you start cleaning check that you have the correct equipment and products for the job.

Use different brushes for different materials. Write the purpose of the brush clearly and boldly on its handle.

In the past, the National Trust recommended a neutral detergent. Unfortunately the recommended product is no longer available. The best option is to use Boots Sensitive Skin washing up liquid using no more than 1 drop per pint of water.


Wall Plaques, Hatchments, Furniture, Carvings, Statuary, Misericords, Wall Panelling
Dust gently with a soft brush. If there is no flaking or cracking use a vacuum cleaner at its lowest power setting. The nozzle should be covered with gauze and should not be allowed to touch the surface being cleaned. Crevices and carved work should be brushed out at the same time with a hogs hair or paperhanger's bush, depending on the scale of the carving, using brush in one hand and vacuum in the other. Damage to carved work can be avoided by wrapping a piece of foam rubber around the head of the crevice tool of the vacuum cleaner.

Polished wood should be dusted as described above occasionally buffing up the surface with a duster or chamois leather. Only apply polish once or twice a year very sparingly and evenly using a wax polish of the same or slightly lighter colour than the wood being polished.

Polished wood floors should be dry polished from time to time. Be careful not to let the polisher brushes become impregnated with polish. A woollen cloth impregnated with a 50/50 mixture of paraffin and vinegar can be wrapped round a mop to collect dust and leave the floor shiny. Two or three times a year apply a thin coating of Johnson's Traffic Wax. Unpolished wood should be mopped very occasionally with a damp mop rinsed in clear water and dried off with a dry mop.


Dust lightly once or twice a year and carefully remove dust trapped in tooling and crevices with a soft bristle brush. Brass polishes should not be use to shine brass.

Dust lightly once or twice a year and carefully remove dust trapped in tooling and crevices with a soft bristle brush. Bronze does not need to be polished or washed.

Clean with warm soapy water applied with a cloth or leather and dried and polished with a soft dry cloth.


Stone, marble, terrazzo and tile floors should be mopped very occasionally with a damp mop rinsed in clear water and dried off with a dry mop.

Gently dust with a soft brush.

Gently dust with a soft brush.


Plain Glass should be washed with clean water to which a few drops of methylated spirits have been added. Use a soft clean cloth. Dry and then polish with chamois leather. The use of use of proprietary window cleaners is not advised as they leave powder traces along edges and corners.

Stained Glass should be lightly dusted with a soft brush. Due to the fragility of the material stained glass requires specialist care - this should be undertaken by a suitably qualified professional only.


Walls and Paintwork
Before cleaning paintwork test a small area to ensure that the paint surface is not removed by the cleaning method. Proprietary cleaners or abrasive powders should not be used as they will damage and abrade the surface.

Limewash walls should be gently swept with soft broom or brush.

Wash other paintwork with water to which a small amount of detergent has been added.

Wall Paintings (murals) should only be cleaned by an appropriately qualified professional.

Paintings on Canvas or Wood
Dust surfaces gently with a soft brush (if there is no flaking), otherwise painting should only be cleaned by a specialist conservator.


Vestments, Altar Cloths
Textiles of historic interest should be cleaned by an appropriately qualified specialist, they should not be washed or dry-cleaned. This also applies to textiles that are fragile, have beads, loose fringes etc.

Soft Furnishing/Upholstery/Leather
Vacuum textiles at low power and cover the nozzle with a nylon gauze screen (for example, a pair of tights). Do not press down onto the textile with the vacuum head.

Take care when dusting furniture that the duster does not come into contact with any textiles upholstery. Upholstery can be gently patted with a plastic fly swat before vacuuming to loosen dirt.

Clean leather with a small amount of saddle soap and a soft cloth. Test an area hidden from view before cleaning generally.

Carpets and Rugs should be vacuumed frequently to prevent damage from dust and dirt.


Floor and wall tiles and mosaics can be lightly washed with clean water. Glazed bricks and tiles can be washed with a mop and water to which a small amount of detergent has been added. Wash off with clean water and polish with a soft cloth.

Loose dirt and dust can be removed from fair-face brickwork with a dry bristle brush; using water will only spread the problem.