Monday, January 5, 2009

Cast Iron Mantles: Maintenance and Restoration tips

Over the weekend we had the good fortune to acquire a gorgeous cast iron fireplace mantle. However when we got it , it didn't look very promising. This mantle has sat in squalor for years and had suffered the loss of its top. This would normally be a 'dealbreaker" for most people, but since we never throw anything away we have a couple of spare tops we recovered from a basement of a house we owned several years ago.

It also was severely yellowed from 120 years of smoking, and latex paint or something had been splattered all over it. To many this might have looked like a candidate for the scrap heap. the first thing we did was clean the mantle. I like to use scrubbing bubbles as it gets the dirt off but doesn't affect the enamel paint finish.

Then to get the "smoke" off it and we hoped the white paint I began the second phase of cleaning by using a product called "Hopes Solid Surface Cleaner and Polish" you can find this at Home Depot and it is a cleaner used for corian counters and it is perfect for Cast Iron Mantle cleaning as it is ever so slightly abrasive and will remove the yellowing caused by smoking and it also removed the white paint. This was accomplished using a Kitchen scrubber with the sponge on one side and the green scrubber on the other. Do not use steel wool as it is too abrasive and may harm the underlying finish.

Once we cleaned the mantle we then used a product called "Hope's Counter Top Polish" this is used to polish Formica but works great on mantles , just apply it and wipe it off and then buff with a car chamois. You can in a pinch use car wax.

Now we were lucky with this mantle the paint came off and it did not require restoration. While not perfect its is better than a total repaint which would have eliminated the 'authenticity' of the mantle.
Unfortunately many mantles have several coats of paint. Sometimes you can carefully peel the paint off to expose the original finish. Other times it isn't possible especially when painted with enamel. For those occasions remember I do faux painting and we can restore you mantle to a period finish like the example below. . We can often do this on site so mantle removal is not required for more details contact us.


Anonymous said...

Great post. We have 3 of these fireplaces in our home. All had 100 years of paint on them (or so it seemed). I painstakingly tried to remove the paint layers carefully but ended up having to completely remove the materials and faux paint them. Its amazing how everyone who walks in now sees the fireplace first and comments on it. They have no idea it is faux painted till I tell them. I felt so guilty faux painting it but it looks much better than the off white color it was painted when we bought the place. Please people, dont paint fireplaces or origional woodwork ;-)

Paul Wilham said...

I agree. If you think about the era, people didnt have TV or internet and people enterained, literally around the fireplace. It was the 'focal point" of the home and a gorgeous mantle was a 'status symbol" among class concious Victorians.

I think because they are so common in Cincinnati, people dont realize just how valuable they are.