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How to re-silver a mirror

Posted by Mark Godsell-Fletcher on

Re-Ssilver a mirrorImperfections such as grey marks and discolouration can add a huge amount of character to an old mirror but a mirror that has been completely worn out is no use to anyone. It is the backing of a mirror that makes it reflective and it is this silver backing that will eventually show your mirror’s true age. When the back of a mirror becomes damaged it can completely ruin the look of it in which case it might be worth having it re-silvered – especially if it’s particularly old or holds great sentimental value. Before beginning the re-silvering process it’s worth considering whether or not the time, effort and money that you’ll have to spend will be worthwhile. If your mirror is an antique or has been in your family for years then the expense is definitely worth it but if it’s just a general mirror that sits in the bathroom for example then you’ll probably be better off buying a new one. Once you’ve determined that your mirror is worth the cost of re-silvering it’s really important to follow these steps carefully.
  1. Before you buy any of the supplies needed for re-silvering it’s essential to inspect the glass of your mirror for any damage. Even if it’s only the slightest scratch or chip, after re-silvering you’ll still be able to see the damage and it might even become more obvious. If the silvering of your mirror is damaged then imperfections of the glass itself might not be obvious so it’s important to inspect it in a variety of light conditions to ensure you won’t be wasting your time and money on re-silvering.
  2. If your mirror holds strong sentimental value or has a high monetary value then it’s best to take it to a professional to avoid any accidental and irreparable damage. If your mirror is something that can easily be replaced though then it’s more than feasible to complete the project at home. If you decide to go for the D.I.Y approach then you need to invest in a complete re-silvering kit, which won’t be cheap but will contain everything you’ll need to do as good a job.
  3. On the back of the mirror there will be a dull, painted surface which needs to be removed. This isn’t the silver that you will be re-silvering and is purely a protective layer, which is used to prevent any damage to the layer of silver once it’s been applied. A special stripper for this purpose should be included in your kit but if not, they’re pretty easy to get hold of at D.I.Y stores.
  4. After the painted backing has been removed you should look in your kit for some nitric acid, which can be used to remove the silver. When using this make sure you follow the manufacturer’s guidelines exactly in order to prevent any kind of irritation from the acid occurring.
  5. Once the silver has been removed the glass will need to be completely cleaned and polished using purified water to remove any smudges and fingerprints before the re-silvering process.
  6. For the re-silvering you’ll need someone or something to hold the glass in place. Once it has been fixed in place use the silver nitrate from your kit and combine it with any other chemicals that are specified on the instructions; once you’ve got the mixture right you need to add it to a spray bottle and spray it all over the glass. Because silver is reluctant to stick to the glass, the mixture of other chemicals help with the bonding process – be aware that the mixture will appear clear and will only turn silver as it dries.
  7. Once the silver coating has dried, use the copper paint from your re-silvering kit to paint over it. The copper coating acts as the first layer of protection to prevent the silver from becoming damaged over time.
  8. Finally, once the copper coating has dried you will need to repaint it with another paint that’s provided in your kit. It is this layer that will create the dull backing to your mirror; make sure you follow the instructions when applying it and as soon as it’s dry your mirror will be safe to hang and should look as good as new.
With these tips you’ll be able to re-silver any mirror you come across and it really is money and time well spent when you see an old, dishevelled piece completely transformed into something to be marvelled.    

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