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Cleaning Ivory


What is used to clean ivory? I have some ivory beads that I am using
in a necklace and some of the beads are discolored in spots. If they
were all ivory yellow the same it would not be a problem.

Ray Page


ray -

some of the beads are discolored in spots 

you might double check the beads for cross hatching to make certain
they are ivory. at one time a lot of items were made from celluloid
to imitate ivory, called, among other names, ‘french ivory’. it was
very prone to turn a yellowy/rusty color in spots from a chemical
reaction to oil, perfume, and other chemicals.

if it is true ivory the best way is lightly sanding each spot with
800 grit sandpaper - a strip glued to toothpick or match stick; stop
when the spot is close to matching the rest of bead. then buff spot
with some polishing compound on a q-tip. you could also try this on
the ‘french ivory’ - it’s worth a try.

good luck

who has been there and done both


I once had to clean an old collection of over 700 ivory pieces,
mostly elephant, some narwhal, some bone. Be VERY careful when
attempting to clean ivory. First, make sure it IS ivory and not bone
or an imitation.

Black spots on ivory are usually caused by mold, in turn caused by
keeping the ivory piece in a damp atmosphere. Ivory is quite porous
and will rapidly absorb anything placed on its surface. Here’s the
guidelines I’ve always followed, with attribution.

Cleaning ivory

Never attempt to remove the surface coat pigment or patina, as it
affords protection for the piece, and is an indication of age. Many
liquids, including water and cleaning solutions, are destructive to
ivory, and should be avoided. Applying water may cause swelling and
cracking. Extremely dirty pieces should be referred to a
professional conservator, as well as pieces that are dyed, pigmented
or inlayed. When in doubt, consult with an expert.

Dry cleaning methods may be attempted: Using a clean, soft paintbrush
or toothbrush, carefully brush dirt off the object.

Ivory that is in good condition should be cleaned and wiped gently
with a soft, clean cloth. If dirt remains, but no cracks, using a
solution of 50% ethyl alcohol and 50% distilled water, dip a Q-tip
into the solution and blot on a piece of paper towel. Use this to
clean a small, inconspicuous area, and dry immediately. If this goes
well, clean the entire piece in this manner, working on one small
piece at a time, and drying immediately.1

Remember: When in doubt, consult with a professional.

1 The Cane Collector’s Chronicle, Volume 4, Number 1, January,


Believe it or not, you can use a little regular toothpaste on a soft
cloth to clean ivory. Sort of like you would use furniture paste on
wood. Rub onto the spot. Buff off by hand. If the spotting is oil
based, or from a man made product, chances are it will not come off.
If the beads are old, then the discoloration might be the natural
variations of the ivory. If I could see the “spots” I would have a
better idea, but the toothpaste works well for cleaning ivory and
doesn’t harm it. If you want to know how I figured this one out, I
am a handcarver of fossilized ivory. The Inuits that I buy tusks from
told me this one.

Good luck,

Lisa, (Fabricating for the first time in white gold. Boy do I not
like this stuff! But on a good note, I did plant a strawberry tree in
the yard yesterday.) Topanga, CA USA


Be very careful that patina is what ivory collectors look for in
pre-ban ivory in US anyway. The only thing I have ever used to clean
ivory is simichrome it removes cigarette staining sometimes and the
surface dirt

An American Cameo Artist

What is used to clean ivory? I have some ivory beads that I am
using in a necklace and some of the beads are discolored in spots.
If they were all ivory yellow the same it would not be a problem. 

If you are just trying to bleach them to a consistant color, use
hair dressers peroxide. You will have to tinker with the strength to
get the effect you want. If they have been stained from contact with
metal or age patina, this may or may not work well, and you may have
to use a mild solution of oxalic acid (wood bleach). If these are
"fossil" ivory, the stains may not come out at all.

Ron Charlotte – Gainesville, FL
@Ron_Charlotte1 OR


Thanks for the These are old beads that have never been
strung. I have looked at them really close and seems they have the
same dentine lines that ivory has, but is hard to tell for sure.
There are several strands and are packed in with a lot of raw ivory.
This was all put down years ago before the ban on ivory.




I’m sure toothpaste (read: abrasive grit) is fine for cleaning
fossil ivory.

However, it would surely ruin the value of an old piece of fine
elephant ivory or narwhal or walrus tusk. Please.



Hi Wayne,

I carve fossil walrus tusk, but then I hit it with silicone wheels to
polish. Tom’s of Maine toothpaste has all natural ingredients, and I
wasn’t advocating the whitening formula. I’m pretty sure I was
specific, and said nothing about scrubbing. (Read: gently polishing).
Toothpaste has been advised for cleaning, (real), ivory piano keys
for years. Ray was asking about cleaning spots off of beads, not
refinishing an eleventh century Chinese ivory carving. I don’t think
I would have suggested toothpaste for that…lol.

Lisa, (got to get that Christmas tree up today) Topanga, CA USA