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Products to remove grime from metal

Posted: Tue Jan 12, 2021 10:02 am
by Caduceus
I am trying to clean the back of a fairly large vintage clock. The back isn't particularly important. It's just one large round metal piece, although I can't tell what type of metal it is. It looks silverish-greenish after dirt is wiped off.

The problem is that it's taking me forever to clean the thing. I'd estimate it takes me an hour to really completely get all the layers of dirt and grime off an area the size of an Iphone. But maybe that's because I'm only using a soft cotton cloth and distilled water. And also, it was in a brothel/gambling den for the better part of a century so the exterior really is quite filthy.

Is there an easier, safer way to do this, since I can't dunk the whole thing in water and just scrub away to my heart's delight. Has anyone tried rubbing alcohol? Has it harmed the metal?

Re: Products to remove grime from metal

Posted: Tue Jan 12, 2021 10:05 am
by barnaclebob
is it tarnish? Have you tried vinegar? What does the grime appear to be, does it smell? Pictures would also help.

No matter what you do, try a very small area first.

Are you looking to preserve value or to just make it look nice?

Re: Products to remove grime from metal

Posted: Tue Jan 12, 2021 10:14 am
by Watty
How valuable is it?

If you do more than a superficial cleaning you will likely lose a lot of any value that it has.

You need to be careful.

Re: Products to remove grime from metal

Posted: Tue Jan 12, 2021 10:16 am
by JupiterJones
Barkeeper's Friend?

Re: Products to remove grime from metal

Posted: Tue Jan 12, 2021 10:16 am
by Caduceus
barnaclebob wrote: Tue Jan 12, 2021 10:05 am is it tarnish? Have you tried vinegar? What does the grime appear to be, does it smell? Pictures would also help.

No matter what you do, try a very small area first.

Are you looking to preserve value or to just make it look nice?
I don't think it's tarnish. The stuff that comes off just looks like black dirt and soot. The underlying metal is silverish with a tinge of blueish-green, which I assume is the oxidised/tarnish color, so I don't think I'm removing that, although even if I accidentally removed the tarnish like the idiots who restored the Sistine chapel removed the shadows from the frescoes (thinking it was soot), it would just be a clock, and the back of it at that.

I don't think I can use vinegar - aren't acids in general harmful to vintage/antique things?

I'm looking to stabilize the object and just have it be less dirty. It doesn't have to be 100% clean, but right now it's 100% filthy. I'm not doing anything much to the front as I have no experience properly handling conservation work for that.

Re: Products to remove grime from metal

Posted: Tue Jan 12, 2021 10:21 am
by barnaclebob
Caduceus wrote: Tue Jan 12, 2021 10:16 am
barnaclebob wrote: Tue Jan 12, 2021 10:05 am is it tarnish? Have you tried vinegar? What does the grime appear to be, does it smell? Pictures would also help.

No matter what you do, try a very small area first.

Are you looking to preserve value or to just make it look nice?
I don't think it's tarnish. The stuff that comes off just looks like black dirt and soot. The underlying metal is silverish with a tinge of blueish-green, which I assume is the oxidised/tarnish color, so I don't think I'm removing that, although even if I accidentally removed the tarnish like the idiots who restored the Sistine chapel removed the shadows from the frescoes (thinking it was soot), it would just be a clock, and the back of it at that.

I don't think I can use vinegar - aren't acids in general harmful to vintage/antique things?

I'm looking to stabilize the object and just have it be less dirty. It doesn't have to be 100% clean, but right now it's 100% filthy.
Yeah im not sure if vinegar is a good choice for your application but it does frequently bring the shine back to metals if that's what you want. I'm betting someone with much better antique restoration knowledge will have a heart attack when they read this thread and chime in.

If you just want to remove the grime, you could try with something that has more scrubbing power before you try any chemicals. There are various grits? of industrial scotch brite which could help speed the process:

https://multimedia.3m.com/mws/media/119 ... ochure.pdf

You could also just try the green or blue stuff from the grocery store and go very lightly at first to make sure you get the results you want.

Re: Products to remove grime from metal

Posted: Tue Jan 12, 2021 10:34 am
by adamthesmythe
Caduceus wrote: Tue Jan 12, 2021 10:16 am
barnaclebob wrote: Tue Jan 12, 2021 10:05 am is it tarnish? Have you tried vinegar? What does the grime appear to be, does it smell? Pictures would also help.

No matter what you do, try a very small area first.

Are you looking to preserve value or to just make it look nice?
I don't think it's tarnish. The stuff that comes off just looks like black dirt and soot. The underlying metal is silverish with a tinge of blueish-green, which I assume is the oxidised/tarnish color, so I don't think I'm removing that, although even if I accidentally removed the tarnish like the idiots who restored the Sistine chapel removed the shadows from the frescoes (thinking it was soot), it would just be a clock, and the back of it at that.

I don't think I can use vinegar - aren't acids in general harmful to vintage/antique things?

I'm looking to stabilize the object and just have it be less dirty. It doesn't have to be 100% clean, but right now it's 100% filthy. I'm not doing anything much to the front as I have no experience properly handling conservation work for that.
On the well-known TV show they usually say NOT to clean it.

Now if you do want to clean it anyway- if it's not water-soluble it might be solvent-soluble. Try vodka, because of its previous life it may respond well. Cheap vodka will be fine.

Re: Products to remove grime from metal

Posted: Tue Jan 12, 2021 10:46 am
by Yooper
Try some Brasso. Regardless of the name, it's not for brass only.

Re: Products to remove grime from metal

Posted: Tue Jan 12, 2021 10:47 am
by KneePartsPro
Consider trying #0000 ultra fine steel wool.

Re: Products to remove grime from metal

Posted: Tue Jan 12, 2021 10:56 am
by squirm
Try a plastic scrubbing pad first with mild soap and warm water.

Re: Products to remove grime from metal

Posted: Tue Jan 12, 2021 11:01 am
by msi
JupiterJones wrote: Tue Jan 12, 2021 10:16 am Barkeeper's Friend?
+1 Nothing works like Barkeeper's Friend.

Re: Products to remove grime from metal

Posted: Tue Jan 12, 2021 11:03 am
by LittleMaggieMae
I'm a big fan of Dawn dish soap for grime - which is usually 'grease' and dust. It might also have a nice coating of nicotine.
Dawn should do the job. Use hot/warm soapy water and an old tooth brush or cloth to clean with.

Added: it has to be Dawn - trust me. I've tried other dish washing detergents - it's hit or miss which will cut thru the grime.
If you don't have Dawn at home - a drop or two or three of HE liquid laundry detergent (Tide or ALL for example) in hot/warm water might work as well. Liquid laundry detergent is some amazing stuff when it comes to cleaning.

If you are truly desperate and have done absolutely every thing you can:
There's a cleaning product TSP that will deal with the nicotine and anything else on it - but I strongly urge you to read the directions and to follow them. TSP can strip the paint off walls for example. Used correctly and with a bit of care it works really well.

Re: Products to remove grime from metal

Posted: Tue Jan 12, 2021 11:28 am
by kabob
Post a Pic ...
Image
Antique Clock, Lets see whatcha got. Does it Keep Good time? Chime?
That's a good Covid pastime...

Re: Products to remove grime from metal

Posted: Tue Jan 12, 2021 11:45 am
by alfaspider
adamthesmythe wrote: Tue Jan 12, 2021 10:34 am
Caduceus wrote: Tue Jan 12, 2021 10:16 am
barnaclebob wrote: Tue Jan 12, 2021 10:05 am is it tarnish? Have you tried vinegar? What does the grime appear to be, does it smell? Pictures would also help.

No matter what you do, try a very small area first.

Are you looking to preserve value or to just make it look nice?
I don't think it's tarnish. The stuff that comes off just looks like black dirt and soot. The underlying metal is silverish with a tinge of blueish-green, which I assume is the oxidised/tarnish color, so I don't think I'm removing that, although even if I accidentally removed the tarnish like the idiots who restored the Sistine chapel removed the shadows from the frescoes (thinking it was soot), it would just be a clock, and the back of it at that.

I don't think I can use vinegar - aren't acids in general harmful to vintage/antique things?

I'm looking to stabilize the object and just have it be less dirty. It doesn't have to be 100% clean, but right now it's 100% filthy. I'm not doing anything much to the front as I have no experience properly handling conservation work for that.
On the well-known TV show they usually say NOT to clean it.

Now if you do want to clean it anyway- if it's not water-soluble it might be solvent-soluble. Try vodka, because of its previous life it may respond well. Cheap vodka will be fine.
I'd use denatured alcohol before vodka. Vodka will have various impurities that will remain as deposits after the alcohol evaporates. Plus, voka is only ~40% alcohol, which means it has a lot of water in it. Denatured alcohol should just evaporate and will do so quickly.

Re: Products to remove grime from metal

Posted: Tue Jan 12, 2021 4:09 pm
by barnaclebob
msi wrote: Tue Jan 12, 2021 11:01 am
JupiterJones wrote: Tue Jan 12, 2021 10:16 am Barkeeper's Friend?
+1 Nothing works like Barkeeper's Friend.
For pots, pans, and sinks yes. No way in heck I'd put it on any antique unless a last resort.

Re: Products to remove grime from metal

Posted: Tue Jan 12, 2021 4:51 pm
by Bogle7
First, try liquids that won't harm the metal: alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, Dawn, mineral spirits.
Second, try liquids that are mildly abrasive such as Brasso.
Third, never use abrasives or metal such as Comet, Barkeepers Friend, steel wool.

Re: Products to remove grime from metal

Posted: Tue Jan 12, 2021 7:23 pm
by msi
barnaclebob wrote: Tue Jan 12, 2021 4:09 pm
msi wrote: Tue Jan 12, 2021 11:01 am
JupiterJones wrote: Tue Jan 12, 2021 10:16 am Barkeeper's Friend?
+1 Nothing works like Barkeeper's Friend.
For pots, pans, and sinks yes. No way in heck I'd put it on any antique unless a last resort.
Bogle7 wrote: Tue Jan 12, 2021 4:51 pm First, try liquids that won't harm the metal: alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, Dawn, mineral spirits.
Second, try liquids that are mildly abrasive such as Brasso.
Third, never use abrasives or metal such as Comet, Barkeepers Friend, steel wool.
Barkeeper's Friend is intended for use on metal, and you can also use it on lots of other surfaces: https://www.barkeepersfriend.com/products/cleanser/

Just test in a small area first. This is the back of a clock we're talking about.

Re: Products to remove grime from metal

Posted: Tue Jan 12, 2021 8:25 pm
by cashboy
I've used this product 'as a cleaner' with great success on multiple items - including an antique coal scuttle. Flitz.

amazing stuff.

https://www.amazon.com/Flitz-Plastic-Fi ... 7525354483

Re: Products to remove grime from metal

Posted: Tue Jan 12, 2021 9:24 pm
by Doogie
Is it sticky? If all else fails try lacquer thinner. Like others have said try a small area first.

Re: Products to remove grime from metal

Posted: Tue Jan 12, 2021 10:18 pm
by mkc
What's the intent in cleaning it? If it's potentially valuable, I would not use a chemical or abrasive cleaner on it until I knew what the base metal was. I would absolutely not use Barkeeper's Friend or Brasso on it until I knew what it was.

Many years ago (like 28-30), DH and I restored antique clocks as a hobby. There are a number of resources for clock restoration materials, safe cleaners, etc. I would look to them for help in identification of the clock and the materials and cleaning methods.

Re: Products to remove grime from metal

Posted: Wed Jan 13, 2021 12:46 am
by F150HD
Watty wrote: Tue Jan 12, 2021 10:14 am How valuable is it?

If you do more than a superficial cleaning you will likely lose a lot of any value that it has.

You need to be careful.
+1
I am trying to clean the back of a fairly large vintage clock.
like erasing history. :( why clean the back if no one will see it anyway?

Re: Products to remove grime from metal

Posted: Wed Jan 13, 2021 9:39 pm
by Lee_WSP
msi wrote: Tue Jan 12, 2021 7:23 pm
barnaclebob wrote: Tue Jan 12, 2021 4:09 pm
msi wrote: Tue Jan 12, 2021 11:01 am
JupiterJones wrote: Tue Jan 12, 2021 10:16 am Barkeeper's Friend?
+1 Nothing works like Barkeeper's Friend.
For pots, pans, and sinks yes. No way in heck I'd put it on any antique unless a last resort.
Bogle7 wrote: Tue Jan 12, 2021 4:51 pm First, try liquids that won't harm the metal: alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, Dawn, mineral spirits.
Second, try liquids that are mildly abrasive such as Brasso.
Third, never use abrasives or metal such as Comet, Barkeepers Friend, steel wool.
Barkeeper's Friend is intended for use on metal, and you can also use it on lots of other surfaces: https://www.barkeepersfriend.com/products/cleanser/

Just test in a small area first. This is the back of a clock we're talking about.
It leaves minute scratches in the metal, FYI. It's acidic and mildly abrasive, more abrasive than a metal polish like Braddock, but less abrasive than steel wool.

Re: Products to remove grime from metal

Posted: Thu Jan 14, 2021 11:48 am
by Pedro Smada
Micro Fiber cloths work with hot water and or clean solutions.
Mothers make some good metal polish/cleaners. Usually found in the car care aisle.

Re: Products to remove grime from metal

Posted: Thu Jan 14, 2021 6:41 pm
by corysold
I’ve used Everbrite products on metal like you describe with good success

Re: Products to remove grime from metal

Posted: Thu Jan 14, 2021 6:44 pm
by tennisplyr
How about WD-40 or Dawn dishwashing liquid.

Re: Products to remove grime from metal

Posted: Sat Jan 16, 2021 12:46 pm
by Info_Hound
I clean antique sewing machines where you do not want to pit the metal (chrome parts etc) nor remove the shellac finish exposing the decals and causing 'silvering'. These machines, depending on the year/age and manufacturing location are very sought after and expensive.

I and others use sewing machine oil as our first cleaner because it will not harm finishes but does a good job getting under grime and loosing it up so it can be wiped off with a soft cloth or q-tip. For chrome parts a product found in the automotive department called Never Dull does a good job, but use only on chrome. Also found in the automotive department are a series of cleaners and polishes by the brand name of 'Mothers' that are kind to the metal and won't pit it.

Finally, if you can get parts removed, use a sonic cleaner, usually used for cleaning jewelry and gun parts. It has always worked the best for cleaning without abrasion or pitting (or discoloration) of the item.

Re: Products to remove grime from metal

Posted: Sat Jan 16, 2021 4:39 pm
by RJ5
JupiterJones wrote: Tue Jan 12, 2021 10:16 am Barkeeper's Friend?
^^^ Thos

Barkeepers Friend helped me restore a burnt stainless steel pot. nothing else worked

Re: Products to remove grime from metal

Posted: Sat Jan 16, 2021 5:05 pm
by Pandemic Bangs
Caduceus wrote: Tue Jan 12, 2021 10:02 am And also, it was in a brothel/gambling den for the better part of a century so the exterior really is quite filthy.
Been in the fam' for years, eh? :D