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How to Clean Things Made of Bakelite

How to Clean Things Made of Bakelite

Bakelite plastic has been used in a number of different vintage items and antique pieces such as old telephones, radios and even pieces of jewelry. If you have one of these and want to bring back the shine on it, go through the Bakelite cleaning tips highlighted in this HomeQuicks article.
HomeQuicks Staff
Bakelite is known to release a typical smell when it comes in contact with hot water. If your Bakelite jewelry smells like formaldehyde, then it is authentic Bakelite. If, however, it smells like burnt milk, camphor, or nothing in particular, then most likely it is not Bakelite.

In an ideal world, all would be brand new and shiny forever. However, we don't live in an ideal world, and everything is subjected to the endless barrage of dust and dirt that is present everywhere. Without proper cleaning and care, many of our not-so-new items, would therefore loose all their luster and end up looking all soiled. Therefore, it is essential that proper care be taken for maintaining our precious possessions.

Today, we shall learn how to clean and take care of one such household material―Bakelite. It is an old plastic, which was first made way back in the 1900s. It was widely used earlier before being replaced by more modern forms of plastic. Bakelite is very durable; however, it tends to develop a dull or hazy finish when exposed to the elements. To restore it to its original state, a special cleaning procedure has to be followed. In the following sections, we take a look at how to effective clean and take care of Bakelite

How to Clean Bakelite
Step 1

Over a period of time, Bakelite, like all other materials, accumulates dust and dirt which takes away from its appeal. To clean it, rub the Bakelite using a dry cleaning cloth. To remove the dirt that has collected within the cracks and the grooves, scrub it using a soft bristled toothbrush.

Step 2

Once you have taken out as much dust as possible, as described in Step 1, you can proceed to the actual cleaning, which firstly involves choosing the right cleaning product. Bakelite needs a mildly abrasive cleaner to remove all the deteriorated plastic from the surface. However, too harsh a cleaner can damage it beyond repair. Hence, it is recommended that specialized Bakelite cleaner be used rather than a general purpose one.

Magnolia Glayzit or Soft Scrub can be used for cleaning slightly faded Bakelite. Cleaning with Brasso, NOVUS Plastic Polish or Simichrome metal polish, can help bring back the luster to scratched and deteriorated surfaces. Cost wise, among these, Brasso is certainly the cheapest but using cleaning with it requires more effort.

Step 3

Once you have chosen the appropriate Bakelite cleaner, take a small quantity on a dry and clean piece of cloth, and rub it on the Bakelite's surface using firm circular motions. It is important that you do not apply excessive pressure, especially if the surface being cleaned is highly scratched or cracked, doing so might cause the outer surface to wear off, exposing the potentially toxic filler material inside.

Step 4

If you have chosen NOVUS or Magnolia Glayzit, leave a thin layer of the cleaning compound over the Bakelite's surface and allow it to dry until a cloudy or hazy film remains. If you have decided to use any other cleaners apart from the ones mentioned above, you can skip this step. Most importantly, follow the instructions and procedures recommended by the manufacturer.

Step 5

After the cleaning is done, use another dry and clean piece of cloth to buff the Bakelite material. Buff it by rubbing the cleaned surface using firm circular motions to remove the excess cleaning product off it. Ensure that your Bakelite is thoroughly clean and dry. If more cleaning is required repeat the above steps again.

Step 6

This step should be used only when the above steps fail to repair the damage caused by scratches even after repeated attempts. The method highlighted below has the potential of damaging your Bakelite, hence it is to be used only when all other methods have failed.

Buff the Bakelite surface using a high speed buffing wheel. As an alternative, lightly and evenly sand the Bakelite with the finest grit paper you can find. Once done, apply cleaning compound again, or paint the surface.
How to Take Care of Things Made from Bakelite
The procedure described above applies to most Bakelite products. However, specific Bakelite products may require special care, and the following are a few examples of these specific Bakelite products.

How to Clean Bakelite Door Handles
If you have an unclean door handle made of Bakelite, you can use the procedure described above for removing dust and dirt on it. Most door handles, however, are also prone to paint stains, especially during renovation or repainting of the house. Using a highly abrasive paint remover can cause damage. Instead, a mild solvent should be used. In the following steps, we show you how to clean paint off Bakelite door knobs and handles. These steps may even be useful for removing paint off other Bakelite products as well.

Step 1

Dip a piece of cloth or rag in white spirit solvent, and slowly, yet firmly, rub it over the paint stains. It is recommended that you wear rubber gloves during this process to avoid contact with the chemical.

Step 2

While the handle is still wet with the spirit solvent, cover it using a white plastic masking sheet. Tape all its edges to prevent air flow from drying up the solvent. Wait for 10 to 15 minutes, allowing the solvent to work and loosen the paint stains. After that, remove the masking sheet.

Step 3

Using a wide plastic putty knife and sandpaper, scrape off the loose paint. If the Bakelite handle or knob has ornamental inundations, scrape the paint from within them using a dental hook.

Step 4

Gently scrub the Bakelite surface using steel wool dipped in spirit solvent to get rid of the remaining minute paint particles, and dry it off with a fresh clean piece of cloth.

How to Clean Bakelite Jewelry
Between 1929 and 1950, jewelry made from Bakelite had become very popular. Though fashion has moved on since, these jewelry items still hold value among collectors and enthusiasts. However, like all other Bakelite products, they need cleaning to maintain their colors and shine. Careful cleaning is important to prevent damage, and hence, it is recommended that the following step-by-step procedure be followed for cleaning Bakelite jewelry.

Step 1

Rinse the Bakelite jewelry under running hot water and polish it by rubbing with a cleaning cloth. Many jewelry items have ornamental patterns and markings on them. Over time, dust tends to accumulate between the cracks and crevices of these patterns. To clean it, use a soft bristled toothbrush, and gently scrub it off.

Step 2

Once you are done cleaning the Bakelite jewelry item and have gotten rid of the dust which had accumulated on it, it's time to polish it. For that, firstly you need to dry the jewelry item thoroughly with a dry cloth. Then, take a small quantity of liquid metal polish on another piece of cloth, and rub it all over the jewelry item using firm circular motions. You should allow the polish to cloud over before continuing, and in case the section of the cloth being used turns yellowish or brown, then a clean section should be used.

Step 3

Finally, buff off the polish using a clean cloth and by using the same firm circular motions as before. Once the buffing is done, a bright and shiny finish should be seen on the item. It is recommended that this process be repeated multiple times for obtaining the best finish.

How to Clean and Polish a Bakelite Radio
A Bakelite radio can be cleaned and polished in the same way as described above. However, since it is an electrical appliance certain precautions need to be taken.

1. It is extremely important that the radio is not running or even plugged into the electricity socket while the cleaning takes place. This is to prevent the risk of accidental electric shocks.

2. For dust and dirt removal, don't use water. Simply rub it clean with a dry cloth.

3. Use only a small amount of cleaning compound. Also, take care not to let it enter the radio through any of the openings. If it comes in contact and spreads over the electric circuits, it might damage the device.

4) While polishing too, take care not to let polish enter the device.
Thus, if you have a Bakelite item which has lost its color and/or shine, do give the above mentioned procedures a try. With a little effort and care you should be able to restore it back to its original glory.
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