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How do I clean a filthy 2.5m balsawood battleship.

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Hi I have no modelling experience I think the piece was commissioned for a museum or returned servicemans club. I bought it secondhand.

I have cleaned away the fluffy dust with a dry paintbrush. What is left is slightly greasy dust/grime obscuring the colour and making the whole thing look dirty. The paint underneath is a pretty matt finish. It doesn't seem sealed I suspect rubbing too much will take the paint off the balsa.

There is a heck of a lot of detail on this really large boat. A lot to clean but at this stage I just don't know what liquid to use to shift the grime.


Thank you so much for your help


https://imgur.com/WXP8pwXhttps://imgur.com/O5ejfw4 https://imgur.com/Kos7mPg https://imgur.com/njI9JZO https://imgur.com/EvLT3QP

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The lightest solvent you can use is saliva. Moisten a Q-tip (cotton bud) and roll it over the surface carefully - don't scrub! It is a long and painstaking process, but should shift the dirt. If it is really greasy, use a dilute soap mix on the cotton buds first, then 'rinse' with saliva and Q-tips. Needless to say, don't put the Q-tip back in your mouth! You will get through a lot of Q-tips and expect to spend serious time on cleaning the model. Good luck with it.

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Q-Tips will work but you are right about it being feasible. That is probably nicotine residue that is greasing up the model. Think I would look around for someone who cleans up and details heirlooms after fires, they have access to methods and chemicals that most of us know nothing about or don't have the license to obtain if we wanted them. This might be a project to do the best you can and the build a display case for it. If you can root out more history like, by whom and why, it was created, a lot of aging may become part of the models attraction.


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Looks like a pretty well made model and may be worth the conservation time. I like the q-tip/saliva idea and you might start in a place where its not too obvious and observe the results.Maybe even try different methods, I would NOT spray it with a cleaner though. Just do small areas at a time. You might even Google conservancy methods. Once its clean better get a case made or a glassed in alcove in your house.  


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Joel: Some oil painting cleaners are OK, but others are not. It depends what is in them. Only use a reputable brand if you choose that route.


And, yes, it will involve serious time. Even a small model takes hours to clean. Put on your favourite music and....

Edited by druxey
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NO ON THE BABY WIPES!!!!! They contain oils that would only damage your model. Try to find a museum with a qualified conservator and get second opinions before doing ANYTHING to your model. Take your time in finding out what to do. And first do an area that's not clearly visable,so that you can try out the cleaning process on a very small area,and then let it age for a while to see if there are any adverse aftereffects to what you have done in cleaning.


Take your time in researching  out the information and those who can help you. Make sure they are documented people in cleaning artifacts.


Just remember that you want to do it the correct way the first time,and not to end up with something that's worse than what the condition is now.


I just wish I had this task to do now that I am retired.



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  • 3 weeks later...

All good ideas. I would start with  a medium paint brush and very carefully remove any surface dust I could. The saliva idea is worthwhile. New moms have been using saliva as a primary cleaning agent for their progeny for millennia! :). I would also try a dilute solution of Isopropanol. You can buy it at any pharmacy. I would experiment at a discrete can be seen spot on the hull. IPA can affect acrylics but I suspect this model was not painted with acrylics. A weak solution of IPA can remove greasy sol including nicotine. Good luck with he project. It looks like a beautiful model.


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