Cleaning pewter with vinegar, flour and salt creates an effective paste that will scrub away rust without scratching its delicate surface.
Satin pewter with its matte patina does not require polishing and requires only an annual wash to maintain. To restore its sheen, use light abrasives such as powdered Bristol brick or fine-grade steel wool (0000) with patience and perseverance.
Table of Contents
As soon as a piece of pewter arrives at its new home, its first task should be cleaning. For best results, hand washing it in warm, soapy water using a soft cloth or sponge is ideal. Doing this regularly will keep it looking gleaming – otherwise, dinginess and tarnish could quickly surface!
This method is also the easiest way to clean pewter items that have been polished, such as Hagerty or Brasso polishes designed specifically for polishing pewter items. Once every year should be enough time to perform this step. When polishing more often we suggest using Hagerty or Brasso gentle metal polish. When using commercial products it’s important to follow their directions closely and only apply them on polished or satin pewter, not darkened pewter that has oxidized.
If your pewter has darkened or become oxidized, it is advised to consult a professional prior to attempting restoration on your own. Oxidation can eat through pewter and leave holes behind – for this reason it is often better to have these pieces professionally restored instead of trying yourself.
Dependent upon the severity of the oxidation, you may be able to restore it with patience and mild abrasives. Regular kitchen scouring powder mixed with some kerosene works wonders on light oxidation while fine emery paper or 4-zero steel wool may be required to get rid of dark corrosion that has built up over time on pewter pieces.
Once pewter has been treated with an abrasive, it should be washed carefully with hot, soapy water to eliminate any remaining dirt or grime. Finally, to restore the bright sheen of its surface it is often recommended that it be dry-buffed using a soft dry cloth.
Matte pewter can be polished using a simple mixture of household ingredients to restore its luster, such as applying a paste made of decomposed limestone (rottenstone) and linseed oil onto its surface. However, after applying such a polish it must be dried off with a soft cloth in order to prevent water spots forming on its surface.
Polishing pewter items regularly is key if you want them to look their best, and should be completed at least annually, but more frequently if possible. The process takes only minutes: ensure your piece is dry before using a soft cloth to wipe down its surfaces.
Regular dusting of your piece can also help protect it against any tarnish or oxidation forming; simply use a soft duster or microfibre cloth.
To polish a pewter item, start by mixing one cup of vinegar with slightly less than one cup of flour (for optimal results, boil linseed oil first). Apply this paste directly onto the surface of your item while rubbing in circles until about half an hour has passed, when rinse thoroughly and then dry using a soft cloth towel.
If the item has become severely oxidized, more vigorous rubbing may be required. An ordinary kitchen scouring powder moistened with some kerosene is often effective. Other mild abrasives like powdered Bristol brick (standard for steel knife scouring), fine emery paper and 4-zero steel wool may also work effectively. In case of stubborn stains or spots, apply mineral oil first before lightly scrubbing using fine-grade steel wool (0000).
Satin finish pewter doesn’t need to be polished regularly – simply clean as required depending on its frequency of use. Darkened pewter pieces likely represent antique pieces or have been treated with darkening agents and should never be polished as this could damage its surface and reduce its aesthetic appeal.
If you have a very valuable or sentimental item of pewter to clean, or are cleaning with it yourself for sentimental value, it would be prudent to seek expert assistance in order to avoid serious oxidation that might eat through its metal structure and leave holes behind or worse still, cause corrosion that is irreparable without professional assistance.
As well as keeping your pewter clean, it is also necessary to disinfect it on occasion if it will come into contact with food. A mixture of vinegar and flour or commercial pewter polish should suffice. Before any disinfection process takes place, first wash the piece under warm soapy water to remove any grime that has built up – this will prevent your piece from becoming dull or brittle over time.
Apply paste with a sponge or rag to your pewter item’s surface, and rinse thoroughly afterwards so all traces of paste have been eliminated – this will keep it clean and free of residue that could leave stains or discolorations over time. As Buyatankard suggests, for best results move your sponge or rag in one straight motion as opposed to wiping it in circles as this may abrade its surface further.
Additionally, vinegar and flour, you can clean polished pewter with linseed oil and rottenstone for more traditional cleaning results. However, this method may require patience as you rub the pewter to avoid scratching it; use of a soft cloth may be helpful here to ensure no scratches occur when rubbing.
Boiling pewter in lye solution can also help disinfect it and ensure its preservation, with half-cup of lye per quart of water needed. Be careful if using aluminum kettles – aluminum will quickly disintegrate when exposed to acidic solutions! The boiling process should last only around thirty minutes while frequent checks should ensure lye does not penetrate too deeply beneath its surface of your item.
Once your pewter is clean, it is recommended that it be given one more rinse in warm soapy water before drying it to ensure it remains as spotlessly clean as possible before use. Fine steel wool may be used occasionally to lightly buff its surface in order to restore it back to new, although this should only be done periodically to avoid damaging its integrity.
Although pewter doesn’t rust like iron or tarnish like silver, its surface can become dark and dull over time. While some collectors prefer its antique corrosion look, others want something with more shine. Cleaning and polishing pewter is relatively simple but must be completed carefully to prevent scratching or damaging the metal.
General cleaning with toothpaste can be an efficient and safe way to remove discoloration from pewter surfaces without risk of permanent damage. Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive brushes as these could scratch the surface permanently and should always be tested first on a small area before applying across an item’s entirety.
Rinsing pewter with warm water and mild dish soap usually does the trick to restore its original beauty, though in more serious cases additional treatment may be required to bring out its finest qualities. A proprietary metal polish designed specifically for pewter may be available at most hardware stores (MET-ALL silver and pewter cleaner and Mash’s pewter polish come to mind) or homemade remedies can also be made using linseed oil and rottenstone powdered limestone (found at gardening departments of most hardware stores).
As soon as pewter has been polished or treated with any cleaner or polishing paste, it must be completely dried before being stored away or handled again. Otherwise, moisture could lead to the formation of rust or green patina films and could even eat into its surface — particularly when handling dishes and chargers with frequent heavy handling.
If you come across a piece of pewter that has become severely corroded, it’s wise to seek professional advice before trying to restore it yourself. Serious oxidation can eat through metal items like sadware and weaken or break them completely. In such instances, professional restoration companies use dilute nitric acid solution applied directly onto corroded areas to safely and effectively eliminate oxidation – this method also works well when used on coins with lost their original luster or at risk of becoming brittleness.