Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Glass Stains

A lot of people want to use old window glass – for recycling reasons, for the character of the older glass or because it is cheap or free. This glass often has stains or the appearance of corrosion or etching from age or storage conditions. To remove these blemishes you should start from the least aggressive method and work your way through the more aggressive methods until you find one that achieves the cleanliness you desire.

When using these methods appropriate breathing and hand protection are a requirement. 

Surface deposits
The first method is to wash the glass in water with a bit of crème cleaner. Place the glass flat on a work bench and scrub it with a brush containing the water and cleaner. Rinse and dry. This may be all that is needed.

More persistent stains require chemicals. Use rubber gloves for this kind of process. Soak the glass in a dilute (5-10%) solution of lye. This is also known as caustic soda. Chemically it is sodium hydroxide (NaOH). After the soak wipe with a disposable towel and dip it into a dilute solution of hydrochloric acid (5-10% again) or vinegar to neutralise the caustic soda. Wipe the glass with a towel and rinse with plain water and polish dry.

Metallic stains or iridescence and etched surfaces
If the blemishes are more than surface deposits, more aggressive methods are required. The metallic-like stains and iridescence are usually evidence of the corrosion of the surface of the glass. These and any etching require grinding and polishing.

You should start with a polishing process to determine if that will be sufficient to bring clarity back to the glass. The use of an optical polishing material such as cerium oxide paste and a felt polishing head is often enough. Ensure that you do not let the cerium oxide get any drier than a paste to avoid localised heating and therefore breakage of the glass. Rinse the glass in clean water and polish dry.

If this does not remove enough of the surface to provide the desired clarity of the glass you can try either using pumice or jeweller's rouge, or dilute hydrofluoric acid.

Hydrofluoric acid used in a 10% or less solution will remove the surface of the glass, so eliminating the evidence of corrosion. It will even out, but not eliminate, the evidence of any etching. The disadvantage to this method is the risks associated with such a dangerous chemical. There is within this note on acid etching a door panel some advice on safety.

If you decide to avoid the hydrofluoric acid method, you can use mild abrasives such as jeweller's rouge or pumice with water and a felt polishing head. Once you have ground the whole of the surface, you need to wash it very thoroughly in clean water. Then change the felt head and go to cerium oxide to provide the optical finish.

All the dilutions and solutions suggested here are with water.

This note assumes the glass has had any paint already removed. For a method of removing house paint see this tip.