How to Clean Bakelite

bakelite

John asked: What is the best way to clean Bakelite and restore its original shine?

Bakelite is a hard, durable plastic used in many vintage or antique pieces such as telephones. It features a very thin, high gloss glaze which will quickly dissolve in the face of harsh cleansers, so great care should be taken when cleaning this otherwise durable material. The following steps will help you clean and polish your bakelite to a beautiful shine.

You Will Need:

Steps to Clean the Bakelite:

  1. First, use a clean cloth to wipe away any loose dirt or debris.
  2. Apply a small amount of liquid metal polish onto a second clean cloth.
  3. Wipe the bakelite down, using the cloth to apply the polish with a scrubbing motion. The metal polish will be slightly abrasive, lending a hand in the cleaning process of stuck on residue.
  4. Allow the polish to sit and dry to a film.
  5. Buff away the film to remove dirt and residue and reveal the shine.
  6. Repeat as needed. Bakelite covered in years of dirt and grime may require more than one treatment.

Additional Tips and Advice

  • If the finish is dull or destroyed, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to restore. You can go over it with a high speed cloth buffing wheel that’s loaded with a polish designed for the job. Once buffed, apply a liquid metal polish to bring back some of the shine.
  • If you find your cloth turning brown or yellow as you buff, don’t worry. It’s a natural part of the cleaning process and will not harm the piece.
  • If your bakelite has metal pieces on it, don’t worry about getting the metal polish on these parts. It will clean those spots as well.

Comments

  1. Mel says:

    Thanks very much for this; quite helpful!

  2. Papacol says:

    This totally ruined my Bakelite radio! It came out dull and not shiny at all!
    Thanks for ruining my radio that I wanted to bring back to its former glory!

  3. Allan says:

    Just one question for clarification: I understand that the so-called Bakelite telephones we had here in Australia, were not true Bakelite, but another thermosetting plastic. Do these instructions apply to both types? Also, do we need to take precautions against exposing and wetting the wood-flour that was used as a filler in some of these items?

  4. Nick says:

    Thanks for the advice… I’ve used metal polish on a couple of Bakelite lamps and it has worked a treat. I’ve also found that a water-based fine cutting compound (a superfine grade cutting car polish) gives an almost gloss finish.

  5. AJ says:

    To restore the finish, you wrote to buff it “loaded with a polish designed for the job”????
    Could you elaborate WHAT that polish might be????
    That was my entire point of checking this on here!
    I simply want to restore the shine on some old Bakelite switchplates, which are clean, but currently have the appearance of old Hershey chocolate.

  6. Melanie says:

    AJ,
    Bakelite is a type of plastic, so a polish made for plastics should work. There are a variety of plastic polishes, so pick the one that best applies to your item.
    Source: Wikipedia – Bakelite

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