Alabaster is a water-soluble stone, more finely grained and fragile than marble, soft enough to carve and polish to a high gloss like soapstone. Artists love it because it sculpts so readily. Cabinetmakers have used it for inlays thanks to its fine finish and easy shaping. You may find it as a tabletop, lamp base or shade, sculpture -- such as bookends -- or other decorative objects in your home. Alabaster stains, collects grime, scratches and shows damage that requires delicate cleaning. A really valuable piece should be restored by a professional, but you can clean most alabaster with appropriate care.

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Dust the piece of alabaster with a soft, clean cloth or soft-bristled brush to remove all loose surface dirt. The stone absorbs stains, and can be scratched with a fingernail, cracked or chipped very easily. It may look like marble, but you should treat it like fragile porcelain. Regular dusting prevents the accumulation of difficult to remove grime buildup. Carved incisions can be dusted with a fine, natural hair painter's brush.

Pour dry powdered borax into a shallow bowl or saucer to begin a more ambitious cleaning. Dampen a soft, untreated cloth just slightly with plain water; dip it into the borax and rub the cloth gently on the alabaster. Test the cleaning method first, if possible, on a hidden section of the object -- a side panel of an inlaid chest or the underside of a carving. Borax is very mild and won't scratch alabaster's delicate surface. But don't rub vigorously because any abrasion could damage rather than just cleaning it.

Rinse the light film of borax paste and the loosened grime away with warm water. If the piece can't be placed under running water, use another cloth or a clean natural sponge that has no particles of sand or shell in it, repeatedly dipped into clear water, to thoroughly remove the borax.

Buff the cleaned alabaster gently with a soft cloth until it is completely dry. Alabaster is water-soluble and moisture left on the surface could damage it.