Military medals are valuable items, both in terms of physical and emotional value, but even they can erode with time and lack of attention. Doing a little research can help you, or your family, maintain these icons of service in prime condition for generations to come.
Service medals can actually be quite fragile, with only a thin layer of valuable gold or silver on the surface. Gold and silver are soft metals and should be handled delicately and only when absolutely necessary. This is because repeated contact can cause damage due to the natural acids in human perspiration. When these acids come into contact with metal they can quickly cause oxidation and lead to erosion, pitting, and rusting on the valuable outer coat.
In fact, cleaning too regularly or aggressively can damage the medal as much as neglect. Instead, inspect and clean your military medals once a year, at least.
Try to avoid heavy chemicals for similar reasons. When handling try and remember to remove ribbons, if possible. This avoids undue stains and wrinkling.
Use a soft brush, preferably camel hair to clean the medals manually and, when storing, avoid using rubber bands which can cause black marks that cannot be removed once they occur.
For storage, place medals in a sealed container and keep them away from things like direct light or water. This can cause rust in the metal or mold in the ribbon. Stick to dry places rather than garages or basements. The best locations are interior spaces that are far removed from pipes or exterior walls to protect against accidental damage.
There are many places that offer services for preservation and display, placing the items in a sealed glass casing. Alternately, a small momento box can work just as well.
It’s also important not to polish old medals too much. This wears on the metal and strips it’s natural coating. Military medals are not designed with the same luster as jewelry and often come with a warm, natural patina that darkens with age. A patina is a very thin layer of smooth rust or oxidation that results from age and exposure. This often serves as an extra layer of protection, helping your medal to combat the negative affects of age and exposure.
These tips can help you preserve your military heirlooms for personal satisfaction or to pass on to future generations. Similarly, these useful tips can help owners to protect and maintain precious family heirlooms.