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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cleaning up Copper

Our little house here in northern Indiana was built in the 1920s. This is both a good thing and a not so good thing, as those of you who live in older homes will know! One good thing is that some of the trim and fittings and fixtures, though old now and showing their age, were quite nice when originally installed and worth fixing rather than replacing. The three heating and a/c vents in the living room and dining room are a case in point.

Here's what they have been looking like since we bought the home a few years ago:

Actually this is better than what it looked like
since this photo was taken after I scraped off
most of the loose paint!
My husband and I have been trying to figure out what to do since they looked so bad and can't just be ignored -- they are very visible in the rooms and about 14 inches square. I did some online research to see if we could replace them, but couldn't find anything in this size and shape.  So we decided to see what we could do to remove the peeling paint and clean up the copper ourselves.

First I used a paint scraper and gently removed all the peeling and loose paint pieces. Then my husband finished that part of the project, boldly removing all the rest of the paint with a scraper. He was very somewhat careful to keep scratches to a minimum, but we weren't too worried about it because we knew there'd be several steps after the old-paint-removal step.

This is after scraping off the paint and before the cleaning step.
Second, we mixed up a solution of equal parts plain table salt and distilled white vinegar (2 tblsps. of each was enough for this project). We applied the somewhat runny paste with an old toothbrush, gently scrubbing most of the tarnish and stains off, finishing by wiping the copper clean with a rag.

The third and final step was to apply copper polish we bought at the grocery store, to remove the last bits of tarnish and shine up the metal!

Here's what it looks like now after the final step of applying copper polish.
The white metal flap will be painted glossy black.
I think it looks amazing and am excited to repeat the process with the two remaining registers. My husband will complete the renovation by repairing the louver behind the register and painting the metal flap with black enamel. I am so happy we found a way to re-use this small part of this old house!

[Post updated with photo above -- after the flap was painted and the whole thing was attached back into the wall & baseboard.]

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