The joy of having a glass collection goes beyond sheer visual admiration. For those who own antique glass, there is also the profoundly meaningful sense of restoring and preserving heirloom pieces for future generations. Each item of antique glass serves as a tangible emblem of an era—a way of life that has long since passed into the annals of history.
Many types of antique glass that are cherished today as art glass (e.g., carnival glass, uranium glass, milk glass) didn’t start out as collector’s items. Instead, these pieces were intended for the common man and woman’s everyday use; wear and tear was therefore part of the job description. Additionally, some types of glass that are popular today (notably carnival and depression glass) were manufactured very inexpensively owing to the economic conditions of their time. This resulted in quality control that was weak at best, making these pieces more prone to scratches, chips, and other damage. If you’re actively collecting these types of glass, you’ll therefore find the following scratch removal techniques useful.
How To Remove Scratches From Glass: A Word Of Caution
Scratch removal is a delicate operation. If you’re inexperienced, it’s important to be aware that you may do further damage to your glass owing to the abrasive nature of many scratch removers. As such, any very old or very valuable pieces of glass you own should absolutely be taken to a professional glass restorer, not buffed at home. Furthermore, any piece of glass that has applied enamel, gilding, or coatings should be taken to a professional. If you’re unsure how a piece of glass was made, consult an expert before attempting to restore it.
Professional glass restoration can be costly, so use your own best judgement when deciding whether or not it’s worthwhile to pay to have a piece of glass professionally restored. A flawed, low-value piece is usually best buffed at home and can make an excellent ‘practice piece’ if you’re looking to learn how to remove scratches from glass.
If you have never attempted to buff the scratches out of a piece of glass before, we recommend that you try the methods below on a piece of ‘junk glass’ before working on the piece you wish to restore. This will give you the opportunity to learn how much pressure needs to be applied and how powerful each abrasive is.
Finally, remember to clean your glass before you attempt to buff it. If there are dirt particles on the glass’s surface when you polish it, those particles might cause additional fine scratches. Clean your glass by hand using an undyed, non-abrasive cloth, a bit of gentle dish soap, and lukewarm water. Never use a dishwasher to clean antique glass.
How To Remove Scratches From Glass With Light Abrasives
Generally, the ‘go to’ scratch removers for glass are Aluminium Oxide and Diamond paste. Both of these pastes are excellent options for removing deep or fine scratches, and when used correctly, they can restore a ‘like new’ finish to your glass.
When choosing a paste, consider the depth of the scratch or scratches you will be removing: A deep scratch will require a coarse paste (10 or 6.5 microns), whereas a light scratch may be removed with a fine paste. Use the finest grade of paste that will suffice to get the job done; this will limit the amount of glass lost during buffing. (Note that if you start with a coarse paste, you will need a fine one later to smooth the finish, so it’s best to purchase a few grades in this instance. A very fine paste, such as a 1 micron paste, is ideal for restoring sheen.)
Aluminium Oxide paste typically comes premixed with water and packaged in a syringe, making it easy to directly apply along scratch lines. Diamond paste, on the other hand, will need to be applied to a piece of leather, a felt bob, or a wooden peg (leather or wood are best when working with a very fine paste as they are less absorbent) and then mounted to a drill. Start polishing with a speed of about 1,500 RPM and increase slowly as needed. While this method is more complex, it also allows for greater control. It’s therefore ideal for very small or delicate pieces of glass, such as glass jewelry.
If your glass has just a few light marks on it and you don’t want to bother with the mess and hassle of paste, you may also use a rubber silicone polisher. Once again, it’s a good idea to invest in a few different grades and sizes of polisher (wheel and knife edge polishers are better for large scratches while cylinder and bullet polishers will allow you to do spot work). Place the polisher on a mandrel attached to a Dremel or similar rotary hand drill. Do not exceed 7,000 – 10,000 RPM when polishing and work very carefully as this method can easily remove a significant amount of material.
As a final note, when polishing glass, remember that it’s better to avoid light ‘household’ abrasives like toothpaste and bicarbonate soda. Not only are these abrasives too light to effect any real change, they may react poorly with your antique glass, dulling its sheen.
Once you’re done polishing your glass, remember to store it carefully: Glass pieces should be packed securely in bubble wrap and foam when they are not being displayed in order to prevent damage from occurring. With proper care and storage, your glass collection will remain radiant for decades to come—a passion to be cherished, shared, and enjoyed with those dear to you.