There’s a lot to be said about clean buttons. Since the fall of 2010 when Kae and I started our button business we have learned a lot about buttons, their handling and care. Suffice it to say we have learned a whole lot from our mistakes.
The most important thing we learned is that a dark, air-tight space, whether it be a jar with a tight lid or a tin, is the worst place for your buttons. Bring them out into the air and light and let them breathe. This improves the health of your buttons. After all, they are your “babies.”
The next most important thing you can do for your buttons is sort them and clean them. Sorting by composition, as Kae did with her batch of buttons, before cleaning is imperative. Different types of buttons need different cleaning techniques.
Early in my button career I decided to wash a batch of plastic 2- and 4-hole buttons. I filled a small basin with lukewarm water and added a few drops of my favorite dish detergent. I was careful not to use too much soap. I gently put the buttons into the water and lightly swished them around. My trusty, green Tupperware colander served to sieve the water from my cleaned buttons. Imagine my surprise when I spread the buttons on a soft towel and saw that many of the lovely brown and tan “plastic” buttons were buttons no more. In reality, this batch of plastic buttons included a few beautiful brown-toned vegetable ivory buttons which broke into little pieces after being immersed in the water. Moral of the story is sort carefully and use the proper technique to wash buttons of varied composition.
When cleaning vegetable ivory buttons (at 6 o’clock in Kae’s red Tupperware tray), do not use water to clean them. I use a soft microfiber cloth or glass cleaning cloth and gently rub the buttons. This will generally bring out a sheen. Others have suggested the use of leather balm, furniture polish or mineral oil on a soft cloth to enhance the sheen. I have not used these products because the vegetable ivory buttons I have worked with have absorbed oils from my skin to enhance their beauty.