Finding something at a garage sale that you know is worth big bucks is a joy, especially if you can snap it up for pennies.
You might find the perfect gift for your oh so picky sister but you don't just want to put it in a paper bag and hand it over to her on her birthday. What happens if your treasure has some little bumps, marks or flaws on it, is it still worth buying and gifting?
How can you make your garage sale find look like it came from a pricey gift store?
First off you are not trying to fool anyone to think that you spent millions on their gift when it might have only cost you $2. What you are trying to do is give them something that you know that they will love and present it in a way that brings it to it's best light.
The most important thing about your gift is that it should be clean, not smell, in almost perfect condition and safe. (Smells in some cases can be the hardest thing to get rid of especially it the odor is mustiness, mildew and cigarette smoke.)
I made my bread and butter in the antique business by spotting gems along the junk at garage sales and thrift store. Here is my list of tricks of how I breathed life into my finds.
Glass and Ceramic
Unless you know that they are an valuable antique (I'm talking 17th century type antique) pass these by it they are chipped or cracked. You could buy them for yourself but not as a gift. Also avoid glass ware that is fogged, this usually happens to decanters or perfume bottles that had their tops put on while there was still water in the vessel. You can't get rid of this fog as it is etched into the glass.
Glassware is very easy to spruce up, just wash it gently in warm soapy water and let dry. Never dump glass or ceramics in really hot water as you can crack it, especially if it was cold before. If it is an intricately carved, or cut, glass or crystal piece then use a very soft brush (old tooth bush) to scrub it clean. To bring a real shine to glass you can buff it with a glass cloth (a soft linen cloth that shines glass) or if it is not a food serving item use a glass cleaner.
You should also pass by any ceramics that are chipped or cracked. Depending on what type of ceramic it is don't assume that the coloring on it is fixed and stable. Those fabulously kitschy salt and pepper shakers from the 50's are notorious for having colors peel off if you wash them in water.
If it is a figurine or decorative item then use a damp warm cloth to gently wipe it clean. Many of these items have felt on the bottom so they don't scuff tables, make sure that you don't get any water on the felt. If the felt is stained or dirty then it is very easy to replace it with a new piece of felt. Just remove the old piece, use it as a pattern to make the new piece and glue it on with white glue.
Ceramic dishes and serving plates you can wash in warm water and buff dry to remove water spots. If you find an antique or vintage ceramic piece that you absolutely love but it has brown marks on it you can take a chance with it if it is cheap enough and soak it in warm water with 1/2 cup of Borax. Peroxide will also remove some of these stains but never use bleach as it damages the ceramic even more. If you have to remove stains then this items should only be used decoratively as the glaze is damaged.
Fabric- Clothes, Linens
Anything made from cloth has to be examined minutely for stains, tears and odor. If there is a stain in the fabric then you are taking a real risk as you might not be able to get it clean. Often in the antique business I would spend hours on a piece of fabric, believe that I had got rid of the stain and then have it"ghost" back on me. (Fine napkins and table clothes were notorious for this). Depending on what the fabric is you can try Oxiclean or other bleach free products.
Find out what the fabric is made of first before you try cleaning it. Silk is easy to clean in cold water with a gentle hand wash detergent but will disintegrate if you use bleach.
If you find a tear on a seam line it is easy to repair but any holes or rips will be noticeable no matter how good of a seamstress you are.
Odors can be remove from a great deal of fabrics by simply washing them unless that odor is from fabric softeners. (I HATE fabric softeners.) You might have to wash something a dozen times and leave it out to air for days on end to get rid of the odor of fabric softener. For other odors if you have washed it once and it still has a lingering odor then wash it with 1 cup of vinegar added to your detergent and place it outside to dry.
The best way to perk up any item made from fabric is after you wash it starch it to give the fabric back some firmness and body. Spray starch is easy to buy and use and can make cotton clothes look like new. (Do NOT starch silk.)
Metal - Silver Plate, Brass, Copper, Bronze, Stainless Steel
Everything made from metal has a metal cleaner. The one metal you don't want to clean is bronze as it actually looks better with age and cleaning devalues it.
Make sure that anything you buy that is made from metal does not have any deep scratches in it. You need to check that silver plated pieces don't actually have all their silver worn off, if they do no amount of cleaning will bring back the shine. (For more information on the care and cleaning of silver plate read Buying Antique and Vintage Silver Plate .
Never buy any metal that looks like it has pit marks in it as the metal itself is damaged. Brass and copper can look stunning shined up but make sure that you have a good cleaner as items that have been uncleaned for years will take time to shine up again.
Stainless steel really isn't stainless and can get water marks or rust marks on them. A grit type cleaner can be used to buff out these marks but if the stainless steel has a mirror finish it will lose it.
Candle holders come in all these metals and are great to buy as gifts. If you are having problems with old candle wax place the item in the freezer so the way gets hard and can be chipped off.
There is just so much jewelry out there made from so many different materials it is a bit hard to give general advice not knowing if what you have is a 1960's sterling silver art piece or plastic beads on a chord.
Never dip jewelry in water as it can ruin the finish of cheap metals, loosen stones and cause rust. If you are not sure what you have do a bit of research on the internet.
Solid metal pieces like broaches or rings can be cleaned in a jewelry cleaner or gently with mild soap and a soft brush. (For information on the care of silver jewelry read Silver Jewelry - Buying, Collecting, Cleaning).
Bead necklaces sometimes have to be re-strung as the original string can get very dirty and is almost impossible to clean. There are replacement clasps at almost any bead store so if that is the only thing that is holding you back consider buying the piece.
Any jewelry made from copper, brass or aluminium can be cleaned using the appropriate cleaner. Most fashion jewelry is made from a mix of cheap metal that once stained are almost impossible to clean. Also avoid buying any jewelry that is missing stones since it is extraordinarily difficult to find good replacements. If you love part of the piece then why not consider making it into something else. The beads from two different necklaces can make one stunning necklace or a single clip on earring can be made into a ring using a ring blank from a jewelry making supply store.
Small wood items like jewelry boxes or picture frames might have tiny scratches on them that are easy to hid with a tiny bit of stain. My favorite way to perk up wood items is to use a furniture restorer (for more information read The Cheater's Guide in Making Old Furniture Look Good Again)
When cleaning anything made from wood make sure that you first brush off any surface grime or dust so you don't rub the dirt into the item when you clean it. Often times I would find that a simple furniture polish would bring back the richness of wood on many pieces. If you have something that is made of teak make sure that you use the proper teak cleaners otherwise you can ruin the finish.
If the scratches are a bit deeper then look for a furniture pen in the same color as the wood to camouflage it.
Some items like baskets are best cleaned by a thorough vacuum cleaning, anything that is made from a porous material should not have water put on it (unless it is a last attempt to get it clean).
Sometimes it is best just to replace a part of an item than try to clean it, like drawer pulls or the fringe on a pillow.
Books and other non washable objects can take on odors of a household but if you place them open in a bag with odor control cat litter for a week it often removes any smells.
If you have found a treasure that you are not sure how to repair or clean the research before you attempt anything. It would be a pity if you ruined something that could have easily been cleaned or fixed.
While not everything you find will be brought back to its full glory you will be very surprised about how many items are easily polished up and fixed to look great again. Finally make sure that you take the time to find a proper box for it and wrap it up nicely as shown in How To Wrap Your Gift Like A Professional.
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