Preparation is the key to resolving many of life’s problems, and chandeliers are no exception. But preparation isn’t very satisfying because it may not feel as if you’re actually doing anything. You’re just, well, preparing to do something. That’s probably why so little prep work is done. But you must prepare before doing any cleaning, or you could cause more harm than any new cleanliness might compensate for.
First, because the chandelier obviously has to be turned off during this exercise, arrange for alternate lighting, if necessary, so you can see what you’re doing. Since we assume you regard the preservation of life and limb as a high priority, we urge you to put a piece of tape over each electrical switch that can electrify the chandelier (and you!) during your cleaning efforts. Perhaps greater than the risk of shock is the risk that you might be startled while perched on the ladder and lose your balance. Who knows what you might grab as you fall? Remember that scene from Phantom of the Opera where the chandelier descends with such spectacular results? Need we go on? Actually we will, for the truly prudent will throw the circuit breaker or unscrew the fuse that serves the chandelier. This is the safest way to proceed. However, it will probably complicate providing a source of alternate lighting. (Time to find that extension cord.)
If the chandelier hangs above a table, move the table completely out of the way. Now put a dropcloth, a thick layer of newspapers, towels, or multiple cleaning cloths under the chandelier and the surrounding overspray areas. Use a sturdy ladder or step stool if you need one, and start by removing the lightbulbs because they actually conduct or wick liquid cleaner into the sockets. Clean the bulbs themselves with a Blue Juice-dampened cleaning cloth before replacing them.
Use either a solution of clear ammonia and water (up to one part ammonia to three parts water) in a spray bottle or a commercial chandelier cleaner in an aerosol or pump form. Liberally spray either solution onto every part of the chandelier that you want to clean, until it is dripping freely onto the towels or what have you below. Avoid, without being overly paranoid about it, the light sockets. A bit of spray in the sockets shouldn’t hurt anything as long as you let them dry thoroughly before you turn on the fixture again. To avoid getting the sockets wet, you can poke a corner of a cleaning cloth into empty sockets when spraying around them. Or after spraying, you can blot up any standing solution.
Once you’ve sprayed the chandelier thoroughly, allow the cleaning solution to drip for a few minutes. Then use a dry cleaning cloth to wipe only the easy-to-reach and visible parts of the chandelier from the top down. Resist the impulse to fuss, and allow the balance of the chandelier to air-dry. If you noticed any rust while you were up there spraying cleaner all over the place, it would be a good idea to speed up the drying (and slow down the rusting) by turning up the heat or aiming a fan at the chandelier until it’s dry.