Dust, bugs, airborne cooking oils - it doesn't take long for these home-based interlopers to find their way onto your favorite lighting fixtures.
These soils are the most common blight you'll find on your home's light fixtures, dimming both your home's ambience and your fixtures' ability to put out all the wattage you're paying for.
Now, the good news: Light fixture cleaning needn't be a supercharged effort. Regular once-overs with a rag or dust cloth, optimally whenever you do your regular house cleaning, but at least each time you change the bulb, will keep most of the grime from settling in for a permanent stay.
Whether your fixtures are sconces or lamps, brass, glass or chrome fixtures, regular cleaning will keep them bright attractive pieces of your home's decor.
Of course, each has its own challenge and special needs.
Whenever possible, check with the manufacturer or read a new item's tags to determine the safest way to care for and clean the surface.
If it's a lacquer light fixture, has a high-tech finish such as satin, nickel or pewter, how you clean it depends on whether it is sealed or not with a lacquer or hand wax.
Sometimes all you'll need is a damp cloth, no solvents, no cleaners.
But you really need to find out what's appropriate before you start cleaning.
There are a few important ground rules: First, adhere to the less-is-more adage when cleaning, especially if those manufacturer tags and information on the finish was recycled long ago. Next, always make sure the light fixture is off before you begin cleaning.
Finally, be sure to check for frayed wires before attempting any light fixture cleaning. If you notice any damage, have the fixture fixed before cleaning.
In general lighting fixtures really require very minimal cleaning, just dry dusting every couple of weeks.
If you've skipped a few buffing sessions and your brass, chrome, steel, nickel, or pewter fixtures are looking a bit dull however, resist the urge to lather on brass or other abrasive cleaners, which can mar the manufacturer-applied wax or sealer that keeps the fixture looking its best.
Instead, gently rub the surface with a damp cloth. Or, contact the manufacturer or the retailer for specific instructions for cleaning your specialty finish.
If your piece has been around for a while, that may not be possible. A few general cleaning guidelines: For brass lights, it pays to know your finish - or lack thereof. For lacquered brass, cleaning involves little more than wiping with warm water or a damp cloth and drying with a soft cloth.
Brass items with a factory-applied lacquer finish require only dusting and an occasional rinsing in warm water. Don't use any cleaner on lacquered brass; it can cause the surface to tarnish or become scratched. Use brass cleaners only on unlacquered brass.
Glass fixtures, such as wall sconces, can be safely deep cleaned with a mild cleaner such as hand dishwashing liquid or glass cleaner.
Always wash by hand - not in the dishwasher. Overly enthusiastic cleanings and harsher automatic dish-washing liquids can scratch the decorative designs and coating on some fixtures.
Plastic recessed lighting covers, commonly found in kitchen cabinet under-counter lighting fixtures, can be similarly cleaned in the sink with hand dish-washing liquid when the covers appear cloudy with cooking oils and dust.
For hard-to-reach fixtures, a stepladder or an extended reach dust and dirt remover tool and a vacuum dust brush will keep fixtures looking clean and grime-free.
And what about those dusty lamp shades - of linen, parchment or silk? Simply use a vacuum cleaner to draw out the dust. It needs to be done often, as often as you dust and clean everything in your home.
Finally, to keep shades from wearing out before their time, make sure you're using the correct wattage for the fixture. Don't use more wattage than the fixture can take. In a lot of cases, manufacturers put some sort of limit as to wattage. Too much wattage can burn the shade.
If you're unsure as to the wattage, opt for a lower wattage bulb to save energy. Since energy for lighting can account for up to 10 percent of your electric bill, you can save your lamp shades and your pocketbook by lightening up on your wattage.
If you're using 100-watt bulbs where 60-watt bulbs will do, consider replacing them. Or, switch to fluorescent bulbs. The newer ones give off a warmer light that's close to the light of incandescent bulbs.