How to Restore Pewter

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How to Restore Pewter

The metal alloy known as pewter is a combination of tin and one other metal, typically copper or antimony. Pewter was not only a common alloy used in housewares such as cups and plates, particularly during the 18th and 19th centuries, but is also one of the oldest; the earliest piece of pewter ever found dates to Egypt in 1450 BCE.

As such, many people possess collectables and antique pieces made of pewter, many of which need a bit of restoration to return them to their original beauty. The methods used to restore pewter are pretty basic; however, the type of pewter an individual wants to restore and the degree of oxidation or patina on the piece dictates the exact method to use.

Recognise the Types of Pewter

The definition of pewter is pretty broad. It is any metal alloy that is approximately 85 to 99 per cent tin along with copper, antimony, bismuth, or lead, making up the rest of its mass. That is why it is no surprise that different types of pewter exist, each of which requires a slightly different cleaning method. The table below describes these three major types of pewter as well as how to recognise them.

Type of Pewter

Description

Polished pewter

Recognised by its shiny finish

Most common type of pewter

Satin pewter

Rougher, grainy appearance

Lacks the shine of polished pewter

Oxidised pewter

Darker look reminiscent of antiques

Usually used to add depth to a piece, often appearing alongside polished or satin pewter

Recognising which type of pewter one owns is the key to properly restoring the pewter as well as maintaining it after restoration. This is especially important with oxidised pewter, which, if cleaned improperly, loses its trademark dark finish, devaluing or ruining the piece rather than restoring it.

Ways to Restore Pewter

Pewter was such a common metal in the 18th and 19th centuries that finding antiques made in the metal is relatively easy. The most common items made of pewter were housewares such as pewter plates and mugs as well as decorative items like candlesticks and figurines. When restoring these old items, the method one uses depends not only on the type of pewter present, but also on its condition. There are three major options: soap and water, metal polish, or professional pewter restoration.

Using Soap and Water

The easiest way to restore pewter is also the most universal. All types of pewter can be hand cleaned using the soap and water method. Like cleaning many other metals and metal alloys, adding approximately one teaspoon of mild dish soap to 4 litres of hot water yields the best results. Using a soft sponge allows the user to gently work away dust, dirt, and debris from the outside of the pewter piece without the risk of scratching its surface. The abrasive side of the sponge is also acceptable to use on satin pewter. Once done scrubbing, the user must rinse the pewter in clean water (distilled water works best), and then allow the item to air dry.

Using Metal Polish

If an initial cleaning with soap and water fails to do the trick, the next step is using a more harsh method to restore pewter such as metal polish. However, one should only use metal polish on polished and satin pewter, never oxidised pewter, as it takes away its dark look. As the Pewter Society points out, it is also important to only use light proprietary metal polish, not silver polish on pewter. To avoid this, read the label prior to applying metal polish to pewter.

The metal cleaning method varies according to the brand of polish used. However, most metal polish comes in the form of paste which the user applies to the surface of the pewter and then buffs off with a soft rag or sponge.

Professional Pewter Restoration

In some extreme cases, such as with very old pewter pieces, neither the soap and water method or metal polish method is enough to restore pewter. In these instances, and especially when the pewter is valuable or important to the owner, it is best to seek professional help rather than continue with at-home cleaning methods. A professional restorer has the ability to use more caustic substances and cleaning methods safely whilst preserving the integrity of the pewter piece.

How to Buy Pewter and Pewter Cleaning Products on eBay

eBay offers users a treasure trove of pewter collectables and antiques as well as a variety of cleaning products they can use to restore them. Using eBay is simple and buyers have the option of searching for individual pewter pieces or huge lots of items like pewter plates.

Pewter is an ancient metal alloy traditionally used in the construction of a variety of everyday household items as well as special, decorative pieces. An individual who has pewter pieces which need restoration has the option of doing so in one of three ways: soap and water, metal polish, or professional restoration. Knowing what kind of pewter one owns is the key to deciding which option is best.

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