Looking After Medals


Medals are one of the most common relics of war, passed down in families around the world. If you’ve got medals in your home collection, here are some tips for looking after them. We encourage you to print this page and store it with your medals as a reminder of how to care for them.


  • There is a difference between removing dust and dirt (cleaning) and removing a tarnish (polishing)
  • Polishing medals is generally discouraged. Frequent polishing can damage the sharpness of the design and decrease legibility of inscriptions
  • If the medals are dirty or dusty, brush with a soft brush and rub gently with a cloth.
  • Avoid using commercial polishes (like Brasso) or immersing in water. If you must use a polish use a silver polish as it is less abrasive
  • Do not wash the ribbon on the medal. Old dyes are likely to bleed or run. You can clean the ribbon with a soft brush and a vacuum cleaner. Cover the smallest possible vacuum nozzle with a material like a net curtain or gauze bandage. Set the cleaner to the lowest possible suction and gently vacuum using the brush to loosen the ingrained dirt
  • If the medal or plaque has any crumbly, powdery-looking corrosion on the surface take them to a conservator. If in doubt, take the medal to a conservator. Contact Doncaster Museum & Art Gallery, 01302 734293, [email protected]


  • Keep medals clean and dry and away from extremes of temperature, humidity and light. Don’t store them in the attic (too hot), garage or basement (too damp). Damp can cause the medal to corrode and the fabric to rot. High temperatures can make the fabric brittle
  • Keep them off the floor. They are more likely to be damaged by water or insects on the floor
  • Store medals in small archival quality boxes or clear polystyrene boxes. Line the boxes with high quality acid-free tissue or a well-washed undyed fabric. Soft cotton like handkerchiefs or sheets is suitable. Avoid woolen materials like felt
  • Medal ribbons are vulnerable to light damage. Light can fade the dyes in a short time and make them brittle. Store in the dark
  • Good storage can keep dust and debris away from the medals reducing the need for cleaning
  • Vendors for archival quality boxes, tissue and folders: Preservation Equipment Ltd, Conservation by Design, Conservation Resources UK Ltd


  • Photograph both sides of the medal. This will reduce the need for handling the real medal
  • Back up digital copies
  • Photographs of the medals are not replacements for originals. Please keep them!


  • Minimize handling and handle with care
  • Always have dry and clean hands when handling medals. Consider wearing clean gloves to prevent dirt or stains.The oils on your hands can corrode the metal surface
  • Keep food and drink away
  • After handling gently wipe with a soft cloth to remove fingerprints


  • If you choose to display medals don’t hang them in a bathroom or over heat sources like radiators or fireplaces
  • Medals on display should be hung out of sunlight and bright lights
  • Don’t use spray cleaners around the medals. Many are corrosive and can damage the ribbon
  • Don’t use adhesives to fix the medals in to the frame