Tread lightly when cleaning metal or any buttons! Do not immerse metal buttons in water or other liquids. When sorting metals for cleaning my approach is to separate the buttons by quality. It’s a no brainer. Generally, collectors of quality metal buttons prefer the natural patina related to use and age. The Swiss Army, Royal Navy, US Army and US Air Force buttons from Kae’s previous blog, should all receive a light buffing with a 100% cotton T-shirt rag dampened with a gentle cleaner. Using 100% cotton T-shirt rags serves two purposes. First, they absorb the cleaner and are gentle on the surface of the button. Second, by cutting the T-shirt into rags my husband cannot retrieve it from the garbage and argue that it is still a good shirt! My favorite cleaners are Protek multi-purpose cleaner & degreaser and Johnson’s multi-surface cleaner. Both are bio-degradable and quite gentle.
Generally, it is not a good idea to polish or rub a moist cloth on lacquered, tinted or painted metal buttons. A light once over with a soft brush (I use a new makeup brush) helps get these buttons “clean”.
Sometimes a lovely metal button which looks good on the front has a corroded or rusted shank. A Dremmel tool with a very fine buffing tip may be used to rub the corrosion or rust from the shank. Be careful not to bend the shank or rub a hole in the back of the button. I follow this with a wipe down with a cotton rag moistened with a gentle cleaner to further polish the now cleaned shank.
I use this same process for most of the metal buttons I clean except for the goners. You know what a goner is, right? Well, in case you don’t, a goner is a button that is so far gone it’s almost not worth saving. Many buttons become rusty or corroded when exposed to too much humidity or extreme variations in temperature. Metal buttons are often damaged by residing in airtight containers with other buttons that are breaking down or oxidizing, especially metalized plastics. I use Flitz pre cleaner and follow with Flitz metal polish for the goner buttons. Follow the directions on the containers. Keep in mind, this method most certainly will remove the patina from a button and make it shinier. It may also permanently damage the button. A semi-soft brush (a worn-out tooth brush) works well to remove metal polish that sometimes gets stuck in the crevices of the button you are cleaning.
For all buttons that I clean, especially metal ones, I put them on a tray lined with a soft cloth and leave them for about a week to make sure there are no ill effects to the cleaning. Take a look at the difference in the Goner buttons before and after cleaning. Most are good. One is still a goner.
Happy Cleaning, Liz