Vintage Toolbox Tips

A vintage restoration guide, telling how to repair your vintage objects, by Planet Vintage Girl founder, Laura Gaither

As the owner of Planet Vintage Girl™, I thought I’d share some of the contents of my restoration tool kit for those who want to learn how to restore vintage furniture. Vintage and retro furniture and accessories have unique qualities that makes restoring them different from traditional, older antiques. The use of man-made materials – such as vinyl, chrome, plastics, fiberglass and formica – create cleaning and restoration challenges.

Below I’ve listed some of the products that I have found useful for cleaning and restoring vintage furniture and accessories over the last 20 years. So why am I sharing these tricks of the trade? For environmental reasons; rather than toss something out that is old and dirty, try giving it a clean and save it from the landfill! A little elbow grease and knowhow can transform many items, giving them new life. Use the least invasive products first. Classic cleaning agents, such as vinegar, lemon juice, and baking soda are all excellent methods to remove initial grime and dirt. I always use gentle, environmentally friendly cleaners before using a product that contains harsher chemicals. This is not only more beneficial to the environment, but also protects my skin from strong cleaning agents. Plus when I run out, I can buy refills or recycle the PET 2 containers in my household recycling – a real plus! If these methods do not work, then test other chemical products first to ensure they do not damage the finish.

Plastic and vinyl products are very easy to scuff, chip, discolor, crack or scratch, so they get ugly before they wear out. Once plastic products are damaged, it can be difficult to repair or to return plastic to its original state. Severe damage is irreparable. Keep this in mind before buying damaged plastic. I have found automotive and household products helpful for restoring items that have experienced light damage. Armorall and Brasso, for example, are useful to remove light scuffs and nourish dried out plastic finishes. Car wax can bring out shine in old plastics, as well.

General Supplies

  • Straight pins
  • Q-tips and Cotton balls
  • Cotton & lint free rags
  • ToothpicksPaper towels
  • Dental picks
  • Steel wool (especially extra fine 0000)
  • Safety razors
  • Old toothbrushes
  • Old iron (to remove wax)
  • Old hair cutting clippers (to remove fuzzies or balling on acrylics)
  • Coloured markers (Prismacolor professional markers work best)
  • Black permanent markers
  • Clear finger nail polish
  • Old electric knives for cutting upholstery foam
  • Microfiber lint free E-cloth for glass
  • Various size bottle brushes

Cleaning Supplies

  • Vinegar (white and apple cider)
  • Lemon juice
  • Ecover Multi-surface cleaner
  • Ecover surface spray
  • Murphy’s Oil Soap
  • Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap
  • Windex (great for shinning chrome)
  • Rubbing alcohol to remove permanent marker
  • 409 or Fantastic cleaning spray
  • Comet or Ajax cream cleaner
  • Comet or Ajax powder cleaner (very abrasive, will scratch plastic surfaces so use care)
  • Goo Gone (some furniture polish will also remove sticky residues)
  • Fingernail polish remover
  • BoraxClorox Bleach Pen
  • Vaseline
  • OxiClean stain remover
  • Bicarbonate of Soda
  • Foaming upholstery cleaner (can get from automotive shop)
  • Olive oil (for woods that will come in touch with foods. While mineral oil won’t go rancid, I still prefer to use an edible natural product instead of a petroleum based product)

Metal Cleaners

  • Stovax Black Grate Polish to reblack cast iron
  • WD40 -works a treat on “moisturizing” cast iron and tin canisters
  • Quick-Glo Chrome cleaner and polish
  • Wright’s Silver Cream
  • Wenol Metal cleaner
  • Simichrome Metal Polish
  • Lacquer remover
  • Olive oil -great for cleaning stainless steel

Great on Wood

  • Briwax furniture wax. Comes in multiple shades
  • Minwax Wood stain markers
  • Teak Oil (great for furniture, but DO NOT USE for the inside of salad bowls or trays or any item that might come into contact with food)
  • Shoe polish -all colours
  • Howard’s RestorAFinish (great for very light damage like water stains, but not a substitution for refinishing)
  • Howard’s Feed N Wax (simply amazing)
  • Howard’s upholstery & wood cleaner
  • Zenith Tibet Almond Stick Scratch Remover Wax (simply amazing)
Howard's Feed-N-Wax is a useful vintage restoration tool

Great on Plastic

  • Ajax cream cleaner
  • T-cut scratch remover
  • Brasso (surprisingly unexceptional on brass, but can buff out light scuffs & scratches on plastic)
  • Armorall spray or wipes, various shine options
  • Remember, as always, test, test, test before applying!