Cellulose acetate is a plant product, but you won't find it in a flower pot. Couture companies synthesize the compound into something a bit more stylish, typically molding it into plastic used in bracelets, watchbands and eyeglasses. Acetate bracelets have become increasingly rare, but they were all the rage from the 1840s through the 1940s -- you can tell a vintage acetate bracelet by its slightly vinegary smell. While you can't reverse cracks and yellowing -- just consider those elements a chic patina -- you can gently tidy up your acetate jewels, no matter the color.
Gently rub the surface of the bracelet with a soft and dry acid-free tissue to remove dirt and grime. Work in small circles over the inside and outside of the bracelet, as though waxing a car. This removal of surface debris may reveal some of the bracelet's former brightness.
Brush the entire surface of the bracelet in short, controlled strokes, using a soft-bristled brush with non-metallic, non-abrasive bristles. A good brushing rids the bracelet of any excess debris freed by the tissue rubdown.
Dampen a cotton swab with warm water. “Dampen” is the key word here -- you don't want a soaked swab, just a lightly moistened one. Rub the surface of the bracelet with the swab just as you did with the tissue, this time applying a tiny bit more pressure. This process gently buffs the bracelet, letting its white hue shine through.
Dry the bracelet thoroughly -- but gently -- with a clean acid-free tissue and allow it to air-dry completely before storage.
Never use any sort of solvent or detergent to clean acetate-based plastics. Tempting as it may be to whiten your bracelet with bleach, solvents cause stress cracks over time, and detergents lead to swelling.
Don't wait until your white bracelet turns yellow to start cleaning; give your acetate a tissue rub and brushing every month to prevent degradation.
To better preserve your acetate bracelets and accessories, store them in cool, temperate areas with low humidity and no direct sunlight exposure. Keep vintage or valuable pieces by themselves, loosely covered in acid-free tissue or silicone paper.
You may have a white fabric bracelet made from cellulose acetate, although this textile is less common than plastic is, and it typically lends itself to linings and lingerie. Take silky looking acetate bracelets to the dry cleaner. For knitted cloth acetates, hand wash the bracelet in warm water with a dab of sudsy dish soap. Rinse the bracelet -- don't wring or twist it -- and allow it air-dry.
- Conservation Register: Care and Conservation of Plastic Materials
- Encyclopedia Britannica: Cellulose Acetate
- The University of Rhode Island: Conserving Plastics in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Costume Collections
- The Laundress Blog: Fabric Glossary
- "The Courant," March 21, 2010: How To Launder Acetate, Acrylic, Cashmere, Cotton, Denim...
- Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images