Fine crystal and glassware is becoming a rarity these days and so are the skills needed to care for it. If you’ve been lucky enough to inherit or otherwise come into some pieces of fine crystal and glassware you may be at a loss for how to clean crystal or similarly fine glassware.

Never fear, in this excerpt from the book Household Magic by Joan Wilen and Lydia Wilen the authors share all the tips and tricks you need to know how to clean crystal and care for your glassware.


Glass is mainly made of silica (sand). When Englishman George Ravenscroft added lead oxide to the glass composition, he created a highly refractive (more sparkly) and softer glass that’s easier to cut. And so, in 1676, lead crystal was born.

It’s NEVER a good idea to clean crystal pieces in a dishwasher. They may crack or chip, and they may lose their sparkle. So always be sure to handwash your good glass and crystal pieces. Here are some other ways you can clean glass and crystal…

Caring for Glassware

We fill an empty plastic liquid dish-detergent bottle with one part dish detergent, one part distilled white vinegar and three parts water, and shake it a few times.

We use this solution daily—a little on a sponge—to do the dishes and glasses. It’s a winning combination that leaves everything clean and sparkling, and lasts a long time.

Best Way to Clean Up Broken Glass

When you break a glass, the first thing to do is put on shoes if you’re barefoot. Then put on rubber or latex gloves. Start the cleanup by picking up the bigger pieces and putting them into a trash bag.

To collect all of the tiny scattered slivers of glass, carefully use wet paper towels. Also, check the bottoms of your shoes for little shards of embedded glass. If you have a vacuum cleaner handy, a final suck-up is a good idea.

Glass-Breaking Celebration

Whenever a glass broke at our home, we’d all yell “Mazel tov!” as though it was a good thing. And we thought it was, because of the custom of breaking a glass at the very end of a Jewish wedding ceremony. The custom comes from several different traditions…including a medieval belief that making loud noises will ward off evil spirits. (Ringing church bells comes from the same era and idea.)

So, if and when someone breaks a glass, take it as a sign of good luck and the banishment of evil spirits—you will make the glass breaker feel less guilty for the little accident.

Unstick Drinking Glasses

Don’t you hate it when your stacked glasses stick together? Submerge the bottom glass in hot water, which will expand it…then pour ice-cold water in the top glass, which will contract it. Once you have the hot-and-cold thing happening, you should be able to pull the glasses apart easily.

◆ When you are washing glass dishes in hot water, always put them into the water side[1]ways. This will prevent them from cracking due to expansion (from heat) and contraction (from cold).

Caring for “The Good Crystal”

◆ We’re talking about the tumblers and stemware and serving pieces you only take out for company…special company…and on special occasions. To clean these irreplaceable treasures, fill a basin or the sink with a 3:1 combination of hot water and distilled white vinegar.

NOTE: For crystal that is really grimy or filmy, use three parts hot water to two parts distilled white vinegar.

Once all the crystal is clean, rinse and dry each piece with a lint-free cloth. Your best bet in terms of lint-free is a linen towel, or a cloth made of least 25% linen.

Protect Your Breakables

When you wash glasses in the sink, line it with a fluffy towel or a rubber mat in case a piece of crystal slips out of your hands.

◆ If your crystal has ornate and deep decorative etching, clean it with an old-fashioned shaving brush. If you do not have a brush lying around, they’re available at The Art of Shaving Shops. You can also use a big makeup brush (used for rouge or powder, available wherever cosmetics are sold). These brushes are stiff enough to get into the dirt[1]collecting crevices, but are also soft enough to not damage the crystal.

◆ To repair hairline scratches on your crystal, put a dab of non-gel white toothpaste on a cloth and rub the scratches. The mild abrasive paste should smooth out the glass without a trace of a scratch. Rinse and wipe dry.

◆ If you don’t use your crystal for long periods of time, consider covering each piece with plastic wrap. Then, the next time you take out the good stuff, each piece will be spotless and ready to use.

Cleaning Crystal Vases

◆ If you’re reading this, it means that you don’t have a bottle brush with which to reach the bottom and sides of your narrow-necked vase. Hopefully, you do have two or three tablespoons of dry, uncooked rice (either short-grained white or brown rice), and about ¼ cup of distilled white vinegar.

Put the rice and vinegar in the vase, and then use a circular motion to shake it. The idea is to have the vinegar clean as the rice scours—without scratching the crystal.

◆ If your vase has caked-on crud on the inside, measure the amount of liquid it will hold, then mix two parts strong black tea to one part distilled white vinegar to fill it. Let the mixture stay in the vase overnight. The next day, spill out the solution and wash the vase with regular dish detergent. Rinse, dry and bring on some fresh flowers!

◆ Fill the vase with just-boiled water, then toss in two Alka-Seltzer tablets and let the citric acid and sodium bicarbonate bubbles scour your vase clean. Rinse as usual and dry.

For additional food tips and other advice for your home, purchase Household Magic from

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