Thursday, April 21, 2011

Spring Cleaning, Steiff Style!

Steiffgal's German grandmother used to say that everything benefits from a little soap, water, and elbow grease And that certainly includes vintage Steiff collectibles!  Steiffgal is a very strong believer in the power of a good scrubbing - and a recent special arrival to her hug is a perfect reason to prove it!  Check out this "before and after cleaning" photograph of one of the rarer post war Steiff Teddy bears - the mohair white Zotty - and see for yourself!

Steiff's white Zotty Teddy bear, before and after a serious cleaning and refreshing.

This particular Zotty cub is one rare bear indeed.  He is 28 cm tall, five ways jointed, and made from very shaggy white mohair.  He has a peach colored mohair bib, peach felt paw pads, and a happy, smiling open mouth.  Most collectors are quite familiar with his classic caramel mohair cousins  - who appeared in 9 sizes and were beloved constants in the Steiff line from 1951 through 1978. On the other hand, this white wonder was only produced in 1960 and 1961 in 28 and 35 cm. 

Let's get white to the point about why cleaning this Zotty - and almost all vintage Steiff collectibles -  is SO important.  There are four main reasons.  First, obviously, is appearance.  Dirty items simply look worse and less cared for than clean ones, and dirt and dust "mats" down mohair.  (The "before and after" shot above couldn't be a better example of this!)  Second is structural integrity and longevity.  Dirt and dust are not good for mohair or its cotton backing and can weaken the materials over time, possibly decreasing the item's lifespan.  Third,  dirty mohair items also can attract moths and other bug pests, and everyone knows the havoc and sometimes irreversible damage these insect pests can create.  And finally, when you bring a vintage item into your collection, you really don't know most of the time the conditions in which it was loved, kept, or displayed in any of its previous lives - or what might be hidden in the mohair.  It is never a bad idea to thoroughly clean a vintage item before introducing it to the rest of your Steiff hug.

Cleaning basics (minus the elbow grease which is hard to photograph)
The steps involved in cleaning Steiff items bears repeating again.  Here what Steiffgal recommends...

You will need:
  • mohair item(s) you wish to clean
  • white terrycloth washcloths or rags
  • warm tap water
  • Woolite hand washing gentle detergent
  • Oxyclean laundry spray 
  • a spray bottle
  • a wire pet brush   
  • (optional) a vacuum cleaner
1.  Remove as much surface dirt and dust as possible by shaking the item carefully yet vigorously.  You don't want to damage the item, so use common sense here. You will be surprised how much dust floats off of most items; even more tends to come off of long haired ones.  If possible and practical, vacuum the item very gently and at a distance. 

2.  Make a solution of about one and a half cups of warm tap water and 1 teaspoon of Woolite detergent, and a few sprays of Oxyclean.  Stir this up; the water will turn slightly grey-cloudy. Pour this into the spray bottle.

3.  Dampen the washcloths or rags with the cleaning solution. Do not spray the item, just the cleaning cloths, so you can control the amount of moisture on the item you are cleaning. Do a small test clean on the bottom of the item to make sure that that the mohair reacts well to the cleaning solution. Then start at the top of the piece and rub it down with the damp cloth. DO NOT soak the washcloth or the item, this is a surface cleaning only!  You'll be surprised what comes of, so keep changing the place on the washcloth where you are rubbing, or you will be grinding old dirt into new places on your item!  Strategically work your way downward or forward (depending on the design of your item), so you can keep track of what you have done, and what's left to be done.  

(One of the reasons to use WHITE washcloths is so you can see the dirt that comes off your item, and adjust the cleaning surface accordingly.)

Wire toothed pet brush, perfect for fluffing
4.  Once you have given the item a complete head to toe cleaning, take a clean white washcloth and rub the item down once more, to remove any excess water, cleaning solution, or lingering dirt. 

5.  Let the  item naturally air dry away from the sun and heat sources. 

6.  Take a metal toothed pet brush and gently fluff up the item.  Again, before doing the entire item, do a little test on a hidden part of the item to make sure that the brushing does not pull out the mohair instead of fluffing it! It is amazing what a difference a good fluffing after cleaning can do.

Of course, if you have an exceptionally old, frail, damaged, or otherwise fragile Steiff collectible, it is recommended that you have it cleaned by a professional restorer who has experience with delicate items. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion about white Zotty's spa treatment has inspired you to do a little (Steiff) spring cleaning on your own!

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