How to Clean and Maintain Your Antique Cuckoo Clock

Cleaning a cuckoo, especially the vintage mechanical variety, can seem pretty daunting at first. Cuckoo clocks are absolutely full of nooks and crannies, as well as tiny moving parts, where dust and dirt can lodge itself.

Tradidional cuckoo clockSome amount of wear and dust can actually add to an antique clock’s charm. However, too much can make your clock seem derelict, and can actually affect the performance of the internal mechanisms. So regular cleaning and maintenance is important.

Try and find a professional clock repair expert to do the job. They have the know-how to safely clean and maintain clocks and look for potential problems, like worn gears.

If you feel confident enough to clean your own cuckoo, then it’s very important to approach the job with the utmost care. With a particularly large number of delicate moving parts, one wrong move can cause an expensive amount of damage.

The most common cleaning task is cleaning the exterior. Normally the wooden exterior will not need anything other than regular dusting. This should be done with care to avoid breaking any of the exterior carvings.

Failing to dust regularly may lead to a built up layer of grime after a while, and you may want to resort to a cleaner. Make sure the cleaning agent you use is a natural oil based one, labeled as appropriate for finished hardwood. Test it out on the back of the clock, before you start cleaning in earnest, to make sure you don’t damage the varnish.

If you feel the interior of your clock has developed enough buildup that it’s hindering the performance of the mechanisms, you may need to resort to cleaning the inside. This can be done with a q-tip which has been moistened with water and a mild soap. Avoid dripping water on the wooden housing.

The objective is to reduce the buildup of grime, rather than to get things spotless. You’re concern is function, rather than appearance.

Some cuckoo owners who inspect the interior of their clocks may think they are in need of oiling when the see the gears are dry and coated with dust. However you should never apply any kind of lubricant to your clock’s mechanism, as they are intended to be dry to prevent them getting gummed up.

Clock shops sometimes apply graphite powder to clock workings to maintain their function. This is applied sparingly with a blower bottle. You can remove dust with a can of compressed air, available at computer stores.

Clock mechanisms have numerous gears which move on pivot shafts. On the front and back plate of the gears, are oil wells, where lubricant can be placed with a syringe. Annual oiling can protect your clock mechanism from wear and tear and extend its lifespan. Be careful not to get excess oil on the gears themselves, as this will attract dirt and cause the gears to become sticky.

Some clocks have mechanisms that are accessed through a side door. In this case, you can oil the gear shaft where it meets the front and back plates.

Above all, always be careful not to disturb the delicate inner workings of your clock. Treat your clock with a gentle hand and you can keep it beautiful and extend its functional life for generations to come.

Share!Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestEmail this to someone


Skip to comment form

    • Lou Freschlin on May 6, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    The gears on my cookoo clock have lot of oil on them. What solution should I use to remove old oil, & grim?

    • Kay on July 30, 2014 at 1:09 am

    How do I clean mildew off a traditional handcarved cuckoo clock? It was wrapped in plastic in a damp basement.

    Thank you.

    • Steve Smith on January 10, 2015 at 5:02 pm


    Thanks for your informational webpage on cleaning and maintaining a cuckoo clock. I’m a mechanical engineer and toolmaker, and I just wanted to point out that you say in one paragraph that one should never apply oil to a clock’s mechanism, and two paragraphs later that the front and back plates have oil wells for lubricant that can protect the mechanism. Although I understand what you are trying to say, I think that it might be a good idea to reword this to indicate that one should not oil anything but the shaft bearing points where the oil wells are; not the sprockets or gears or chains, or anything else, for example. Since the shaft bearings are part of the mechanism, it is pretty confusing.


    • Mare on December 28, 2015 at 6:22 pm

    Very good point to clarify, Steve… just what I (and likely many others) was thinking.

    • MamaB on January 27, 2016 at 12:34 am

    I don’t understand what the heavy piece piece is u for
    Please help

    • MamaB on January 27, 2016 at 12:37 am

    What is the big heavy thing used for
    Thank you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.