Re-Silvering Old Mirrors
A mirror, in its most basic form, is a piece of glass with a silver backing that is protect by paint. The silver is not paint. It is a very thin layer of pure elemental silver that is formed by a chemical reaction that occurs directly on the surface of the glass.
If the silver has tarnished over time and the the glass itself is unique or has sentimental value, you may want to re-silver it. This page outlines some of the points to consider when thinking about re-silvering a mirror.
We have a list of companies that can re-silver your old mirror for you -- see our new Referral Service.
Important notes about re-silvering an old mirror
- Before you re-silver the glass, you must remove it from its frame. Removing the glass from its frame can sometimes damage the glass or the frame.
- A fresh layer of silver will accentuate scratches in a glass more than dull, old silver.
- The mirroring process, although not difficult to learn, takes practice. You will want to practice several times before attempting the process on a keepsake.
- Antique mirrors are in high demand. You may want to consider preserving the original silver as “antiqued” or explore our information about how to further antique your mirror.
- You will need a space large enough to support the glass while you strip, clean and re-silver it. Silvering is a very wet process.
Repairing scratches in the silver
In the photo above we re-silvered the scratch on the left and then painted it with "mirror repair" silver paint. We painted the scratch on the right with the same silver paint without re-silvering it. Both scratches are still visible.
If you can feel the scratch with your fingernail, you can not remove it by hand. Machine polishing will distort the glass and hence the reflection.
Re-silvering one section of a mirror
It is sometimes possible to re-silver a small section on an otherwise perfect mirror, but the repair will not be perfect. You will always have a visible black line between the old silver and the new. This process is trial and error and is not suitable for every mirror.
- For this process you will need a Mini Silver Kit and extra fine pumice
- Polish the area with a paste of distilled water and pumice to smooth the edges.
- Follow our Mini Silver Kit Instructions to clean, tin and silver the scratch. You can always add a second layer of silver on top of the first layer.
- Protect the new silver with Black Mirror Backing Paint (included in the Kit) or silver "mirror repair" paint.
How to re-silver an old mirror
To re-silver an old mirror properly, you must remove it from its frame, strip it down to plain glass and clean the old glass very, very thoroughly.
- Use Multi-Strip and a plastic scraper to remove the backing paint.
- Use Mirror Remover and cotton balls to dissolve the silver and copper (if your silver has a copper backing).
- Use our Sheet Glass Mirroring Kit to re-silver the glass. You may need to build a large mirroring bench to accommodate your glass.
- See our video on silvering flat glass.
A possible alternative to re-silvering
The alternative to re-silvering your old glass is to remove all of the silver and paint and then buy a new mirror cut to size and place it behind the old glass in the same frame. The old glass and the new mirror must be perfectly clean before you put them together.
This trick does not work if:
- The frame is not strong enough to support the extra weight and extra thickness of the additional glass.
- The glass has a design engraved into it. The back of the design will be reflected by the mirror behind it.
- The trick does work if your mirror only has beveled edges. The back of the bevel is flat so it will not create a double reflection.
Tips on cleaning an old mirror
- Clean the mirror face by spraying glass cleaner on an old towel or T-shirt and then wiping the glass. Water is the enemy of mirrors. Do not spray the cleaner directly on the glass.
- Never use a dust cloth or vacuum to remove the dust from the back of an old mirror. Leave it dusty. The integrity of the silver depends on the integrity of the backing paint. Suction and friction can loosen the backing paint and expose the silver to further corrosion.