CLEANING UP CHROME

Ready to clean some chrome.

Ready to clean some chrome.

I love chrome. It shines and reflects light beautifully and adds a retro feel to a room. When I think of a 1950s kitchen I think of Formica tables and countertops with sparkly chrome trim and legs and vintage appliances full of shiny chrome accents. I have quite a lot of chrome in my current kitchen and will likely have even more in the new one. However there have been a few times while out picking and thrifting that I’ve almost turned something down because its chrome had a dull patina or spotted rust. But the good thing about chrome is that even old rusted chrome can shine almost like new again. I have a few items with chrome that I have been meaning to clean up before it goes in the new place. So I have gone on the search for the best and simplest ways to clean up chrome. I first did a search through a few of my go-to vintage books for home makers. From ‘Heloise’s Kitchen Hints’ book (1963) she suggests soaking a cloth in vinegar and snuggling it around the chrome and soaking for an hour which will make your chrome ‘bright as new’ again. ‘The Encyclopedia of Household Hints and Dollar Stretchers’ (1960s)  suggests simply dipping rusted metal ware in cider vinegar and then letting it dry and then wiping away any remaining rust particles. I had an antique shop owner once tell me that tin foil worked to shine up chrome and steel wool worked for removing thicker rust. I had also heard of using lemon juice for cleaning rust. I have used lemon to clean our shower with good results in the past but had never tried it on chrome. I also did a brief online search which brought up 16 000 000 results! One suggestion was to wet the area with cola and then rub it with tin foil. Another idea was to use a mix of toothpaste and baking soda on a cloth to wipe the rust off. So I gathered a few things to try out some of these ideas on and here are the results. I decided that I would try the toothpaste and baking soda mix for a chrome 1950s clock I picked up recently. Here is the clock before. It has a rusty spotted finish all over the chrome.

Vintage chrome clock 'before'.

Vintage chrome clock ‘before’.

Rusted vintage chrome clock.

Rusted vintage chrome clock.

I mixed a tablespoon full of toothpaste (I used Crest whitening gel but I’m sure most toothpastes with fluoride would work) with about a tablespoon of baking soda. I used an old toothbrush to scrub all around the clock with the mixture. I then left the clock covered in this mixture for a couple of hours.

I let the toothpaste and baking soda mixture sit for a while.

I let the toothpaste and baking soda mixture sit for a while.

After wiping the somewhat dried toothpaste off with a hot cloth and drying it, I think it definitely looks much better. I would say the toothpaste and baking soda mixture worked well.

Nice and shiny.

Nice and shiny.

I did the same on a chrome plastic wrap/paper towel dispenser that had quite a build up on the top. Here’s the before:

Wrap dispenser before...nice layer of dull grime.

Wrap dispenser before…nice layer of dull grime.

And the after…

Shiny and clean.

Shiny and clean.

The chrome on this children’s chair wasn’t in horrible shape but had light rusting all over as you can see in the second photo below.

Before, child's chrome chair.

Before, child’s chrome chair.

Light rust on the chrome.

Light rust on the chrome.

I tried the steel wool on one side. I used S.O.S pads and they did a great job of removing the rust pretty quickly with just a little elbow grease.

S.O.S. steel wool pads can be a bit of a blue mess, but they work.

S.O.S. steel wool pads can be a bit of a blue mess, but they work.

And after wiping clean:

In pretty good shape after using steel wool.

In pretty good shape after using steel wool.

chrome cleaning For the other side I tried the cola and tin foil method. I simply poured some cola on a cloth and saturated the chrome then poured a little on the tin foil and started rubbing the foil on the chrome.

Ready to try the coke and tin foil method.

Ready to try the coke and tin foil method.

This worked pretty well I think.

Bright and shiny after.

Bright and shiny after.

The chair legs are much shinier than before.

The chair legs are much shinier than before.

For my next experiment I used some vintage chrome hardware I just got for the new kitchen cabinets. Most of the pulls were in okay shape but some had a sticky grimy coating and some had very dull chrome with spots of rust.

Hardware before.

Hardware before.

I soaked the first batch in pure apple cider vinegar. And if you have ever used apple cider vinegar it does not have a very pleasant smell. I let them soak for about an hour before rinsing them and shining them with a soft rag.

The pulls in their apple cider vinegar bath.

The pulls in their apple cider vinegar bath.

They came out pretty clean and shiny.

The cider vinegar worked well.

The cider vinegar worked well.

I soaked another bunch in a mix of pure lemon juice and hot water. They also turned out pretty good.

After cleaning with lemon juice.

After cleaning with lemon juice.

Finally (and unfortunately) I decided to try out a product I bought a while ago but hadn’t tried yet. It was a naturally derived calcium, lime & rust remover. The only ingredients listed on the bottle were water and organic salt so I thought it would be safe to use on chrome.  However, I should have tested one of the pulls before I optimistically dumped all of the remaining door pulls in the solution. I left them for a minute to soak and when I removed them I noticed many of them had darkened to an almost black. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The cleaner had eaten away their chrome coating apparently. I learned a very valuable lesson, ALWAYS test a product such as this on one item or on one spot before assuming it will not damage your things. I am not blaming the product though – it is my own fault. After reading the small print fully it does say not to use it on aluminum or painted/metallic glazed surfaces – that would have made me hesitate to use it. Oh well, lesson learned. Now I am hoping to find someone in the area who does chrome plating.

So, I guess my top picks overall would be vinegar for simply shining up dull chrome, toothpaste and baking soda for cleaning up dull and mild rust spots on chrome (this method definitely beats cider vinegar for smell) and for heavier rusted areas both the steel wool and tin foil worked but I think the steel wool was a little easier to use than the tinfoil and coke mixture. So don’t give up on old or rusty chrome – it can shine bright again. Happy chrome cleaning!

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