How to clean bakelite

How To Clean A Plastic or Bakelite Antique Radio

This is a question we get asked all the time. We understand. Perhaps you have found a radio and want to bring it back to life, like we do. Is it dusty? Is there some tarnish? What about the finish? What are safe products to use? Here we will try to answer these questions and tell you what we do at Retro Radio Farm.
How to clean bakelite

First, you should remove the back and electronics from the radio, so that you can clean the case. We do this so we can immerse the case in water and get it wet. Water and elbow grease do not hurt plastic, so we use these liberally.

How to clean bakelite

How to clean bakelite

Remove any extra knobs or features to wash separately.

How to clean bakelite

The most important advice we can give is to be gentle. The products we generally work with are made of plastic. Plastic can NOT be cleaned with any strong product that might hurt the finish. We like to use plain old dish soap, a well-worn soft brush, and a sponge. Anything stronger than dish soap and you will likely damage the finish of the plastic beyond repair.

Cracks? A cigarette burn? Yep, we get those too. We leave them alone. There is nothing to be done except enjoy the radio as a treasure that has lived a full and varied life. Look upon these imperfections as what they are, a testament to the piece for lasting so many years. Besides anyone will tell you that marks, scratches, and patina are the hallmarks of a true antique and are to be valued as part of the aesthetic; not polished away and eliminated as though they never happened.

How to clean bakelite

How to clean bakelite

You risk electrocution if you do not take the electronics out of the case before you wash it. So, please be safe and remove the radio from the case before you attempt to wash the case.

How to clean bakelite

An old toothbrush is great for cleaning the grillwork of the speakers.

How to clean bakelite

We like to use a soft gauge toothbrush.

How to clean bakelite

The knobs often require a bit more scrubbing. The knobs can also take a stronger brush than the soft brush pictured above or the old soft toothbrush. We like to use a stiff brush found easily at any hardware store. Wire brushes can work but be careful, test the brush on the back of the knob first. Make sure the brush is not creating unsightly gouges in the plastic. You want to remove the dirt from the crevices of the knob, not create new crevices that attract dirt.

Let the case dry and wipe away excess moisture. Replace the electronics and there, you have just expertly cleaned an antique radio.

You have saved a piece of history. So, give yourself a little pat on the back and enjoy!

After i have done the cleaning and its dull i simply make sure its dust free using a vaccuum cleaner then lacquer it using gloss lacquer .
Using a spray can and one coat will give a brilliant luster . 2 coats or more will make more shine .
Using spray equipment and canned lacquer will give a high gloss .

After the chosen lacquer has dried wax it with car wax .
You will never have to mess with it or rubbing stuff on it again .

Bakelite had a finish in the first place . If for any reason you or anyone wants the lacquer removed simply wipe it off with lacquer thiner .

I have done some toasters that have a bakelite base and quite a few bakelite knobs with a can of Deft gloss lacquer also .

Another old post.


Seems all in this thread agree to clean bakelite with dish detergent. Dirty cases need soaking night (remove speaker if required and spray label with lacquer to save it).

I see that phosphate is removed from all detergents now and replaced with bio degradable detergents. Are those safe with bakelite?


Seems Glayzit is the way to go. How long does this polish last?

Is Glayzit a one time thing or does it require re-application every so often (like when car wax or shoe polish is used)?

A true polish has grit to ‘cut’ a surface to a gloss. Be careful not to use too coarse of a polish. Try the least agressive first, otherwise you will create more work for yourself, getting the larger scratches back out.

A coating like Glayzit makes it’s own shine, over a clean surface.

I see this is an old post originally.. One note, when people clean the cabinets and see the brown stuff coming off, doesn’t mean that is nicotine. It is the bakelite oxidation (?) that is coming off. It could be a little if it was in a smokers home, but I’ve cleaned cabinets from non smoker owners that still have the brown coming off.

KB3BEL General

Radio is the theatre for the mind; television is the theatre for the mindless.

KB3BEL General

Radio is the theatre for the mind; television is the theatre for the mindless.

On bakelites & plastics, I’ve had the best results with this procedure:

1) Soak, & clean in dish detergent/water, brush, rinse & dry.

2) Dupont “Polishing” compound( at Auto stores, comes in a “tin” like paste wax) with damp clean rag & Elbow Grease, remove all residue with clean damp cloth.

3) #2 Novus polish with medium rubbing, let dry & wipe off.

4) Meguiar’s “PlastX” headlight lens polish & cleaner. A blue paste, use very little & polish till “Squeaky clean” sound This is the MOST Important step in achieving the best Shine & Reflection in your cabinet or knobs.

5) Optional, a light coat of a Good car paste wax to “seal” your efforts from the elements longer. If not, than later just a light dusting & another light go over with Meguiar’s PlastX, if needed. 2 yrs of doing this procedure & I haven’t had to do the last part of this step yet. A Great Product.

Try It, Before you “knock-it”

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Test your flea market finds for authenticity

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How to clean bakelite

Curious about a flea market find? It could be Bakelite, a synthetic compound developed in 1907 by Leo Baekeland, a Belgian-American chemist. Widely considered the first synthetic plastic, Bakelite items are a hot commodity today among collectors of vintage jewelry and mechanical parts.

With plenty of reproductions on the market, it’s wise to learn various methods to identify Bakelite rather than finding out afterward that you have made a costly mistake. There are many ways to test valuable Bakelite pieces, and several of them require using only your senses. Until you get very comfortable identifying Bakelite, however, it’s good to employ more than one of these tests.

Some people who are well-versed in Bakelite identification recommend the hot water test as the standard when it comes to accurately identifying this form of plastic. In this method, the piece of plastic is placed under very hot running tap water. The heat from the water releases the formaldehyde-like scent of Bakelite. This test works well with bangle bracelets that are made entirely of Bakelite and is a very good way to confirm a piece once you get it home. But while this has proven an effective method of at-home testing, most consumers trying to verify vintage items don’t have access to hot water when making buying decisions in the middle of a flea market.

How to clean bakelite

You may need to employ more than one test to rule out a false positive (or negative) result. Use all your senses in concert to help you determine whether or not an object you are examining is Bakelite. A word of caution: avoid using the “hot pin” test, where a pin or needle warmed by a heat source is pressed into the plastic item. Some older plastics like celluloid are very flammable, and a hot pin can be dangerous to not only the plastic but to you as well.

Tapping Items Together

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Nick Young / Getty Images

One way to start learning about Bakelite identification is listening for the familiar “clunk” when two pieces you know to be Bakelite are tapped together. This very distinctive sound is often heard when two or more bangles made of this popular plastic are worn at the same time.

Try gently tapping two pieces of another type of plastic together, and compare the sound to two pieces of true Bakelite the next time you’re out shopping where this type of plastic is on display. You’ll need to do other tests to confirm, but this is a good starting point.

Identifying by Weight

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Jay B. Siegel / Chic Antiques

Consider the weight of a piece of plastic jewelry. Bakelite feels heavier when compared to some other types of plastics, like celluloid.

Hold another type of plastic you have identified in one hand, and a piece you know to be Bakelite of approximately the same size in the other. You will often notice the heavier feel of Bakelite. Again, more testing will be required to confirm, but this is another good test to know when out shopping in the field.

The Smell Test

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Jay B. Siegel / Chic Antiques

Rub the item in question vigorously with your thumb until you feel the plastic heat up. Then, before it cools, take a whiff. A distinct chemical odor similar to formaldehyde will linger with most genuine Bakelite. This often takes a bit of practice, but it works well for many people while out shopping.

With pieces like the clip shown here, the wood may be damaged and discolored if it gets wet. If wood is present, it’s best to stick to other methods of testing only the Bakelite portion of the piece—avoid immersing it in hot water.

Using Simichrome Polish

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Jay B. Siegel / Chic Antiques

Simichrome Polish is a non-abrasive cream formulated to clean metals. You can also use it to test Bakelite for authenticity, and this is the preferred method for many plastics collectors (although others prefer the hot water test mentioned above).

To test with Simichrome, sparingly apply a dab of the cream to a soft cloth and gently rub a small spot on the inside or back of the item being tested. If it is Bakelite, the cloth should turn yellow with ease (although the color may vary from light to dark). If a piece is lacquered, it may test negative. Black Bakelite pieces often fail this test as well. Following up with the hot water test when you get home is an option to consider.

Bakelite testing pads are also an alternative to carrying a tube of Simichrome polish with you when you shop. These easy-to-stow pads provide a similar result to Simichrome or the 409 method mentioned below, and have proven to be quite reliable.

Using Formula 409 Cleaner

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Jay B. Siegel / Chic Antiques

Scrubbing Bubbles was once the standard cleaner to use for Bakelite testing, but Formula 409 is now recommended instead. To use, dampen a cotton swab with 409 and rub it gently on the inside of the item being tested. If it is Bakelite, the swab will turn yellow.

If a piece is lacquered, it may test negative with 409. Black Bakelite pieces often fail this test as well. Use the other tests above, especially the hot water test, to confirm authenticity if a piece you strongly suspect to be Bakelite fails with 409.

Inspect the Piece Closely

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Jay B. Siegel / Chic Antiques

Look for wear like scratches and patina that new pieces of plastic don’t normally exhibit. Also, look for tiny chips on the edges of carvings. Examine the piece with a jeweler’s loupe or another type of magnifier, if needed. Generally, an old piece of Bakelite will exhibit some minor scratching and wear, even if it is in excellent condition by a collector’s standards and may be quite valuable.

Also, keep in mind that Bakelite will not have mold seams that can be present in other types of plastic jewelry. With some practice, you’ll learn to use all your senses to correctly identify Bakelite.

Retro Homewares for Collectors and Decorators

Cleaning Bakelite Canisters to Remove Stains with creamy cleanser works to get those lovely old canisters out of the cupboard and on show again.

I have been fortunate enough to find some lovely old Bakelite canisters on my bargain hunting excursions and I admit that I have resold some of them for a profit.

The profit was not made because the person selling it did not know that it was an old canister… the profit was made because the person selling it thought that it was stained and could not be cleaned up… WRONG.

I am not an expert in cleaning Bakelite but I do know how to get it clean… and I will share my method.

On-line I have read that you can use car polish… but that it can take several applications… but it was not clear if the polish would take off really bad discoloration/stains… and some sites tell you not to use a scourer…

Cleaning Bakelite Canisters:

I did not have any car polish to hand and I had almost nothing to lose… so I used good old ‘creamy cleanser‘ with a cheap green ‘kitchen scourer‘ and a little elbow grease and off came all those ‘stains’. I then polished the canister with a little vegetable oil and paper towel to give a little sheen.

The results speak for themselves. All the canisters below started out with lots of surface marks/stains and were cleaned up by me.

If you are interested in Vintage Australian Plastics read my article entitled Bakelite Canisters and Bessemer Plates.

Cleaning Old, but More Modern Plastics For dirtier items, add a bit of mild dish soap to a damp cloth and gently rub the plastic. If it appears that the item can be put in water, place it in warm, sudsy water made using gentle dish soap. Scrub any grooves and difficult to clean areas with a soft toothbrush.

Additionally, can Bakelite be repaired? “Advanced bakelite repairs It is possible to repair broken bakelite in a way that is very hard to detect. The first thing is to make solid joints and if you are lucky, you can piece the bits together and glue them in place with superglue (cyanoacrylate).

Also asked, how do you restore an old radio?

Follow these general steps to restore your radio:

  1. Do not power on your radio.
  2. Find a service manual.
  3. Replace all electrolytic and paper capacitors with new ones of similar value and same or better voltage rating.
  4. Examine closely and replace anything that looks damaged, such as burned up resistors.

Can you paint Bakelite?

Re: Paint for bakelite cases You can get a good finish with these if you put sufficient work in. As with all acrylic spray paint, the safety margin between too little (orange peel effect) and too much (runs and sags) is very small. The finish needs rubbing down with wet and dry then finishing with T-Cut.

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It only took a split second to ruin all of my Bakelite* handled spoons. In a moment of utter stupidity I dropped them in a sink full of hot, soapy water. And THIS is what happened. WAH!

How to clean bakelite

They’re now almost entirely oxidized. Fortunately for you, my slip of sanity will work for your benefit. Because now I have to restore them. And I’m going to try most of the suggested remedies I’ve found on the web to see what really works. I’ll even try some solutions that I’ve never seen mentioned anywhere but work pretty well.

The most popular solution on the web seems to be

Simichrome. This German metal polish has earned a reputation on eBay as the defining tester for true Bakelite. A dab of this pink polish turns brownish-yellow when rubbed on Catalin/Bakelite. That’s because it removes the brownish-yellow oxidation. I happen to have a tube on hand because it’s my favorite silver polish.

How to clean bakelite

I had to use a pretty big blob of Simichrome–about three times as much as I’d use on a piece of silver. I used a swatch of old bath towel and had to rub fairly hard. I should have worn gloves because Simichrome is a skin and eye irritant. The finished result is a glossy shine and a strong chemical smell which has dissipated by the next day. The spoon looks great. Yet I’m just a bit hesitant about using Simichrome on eating utensils. I wouldn’t have a problem using it on jewelry or other Bakelite objects.

Next I tried plain old canola oil. I’ve never read about this cleaning solution anywhere, but I’ve been using it for years to shine up my Catalin pieces.

How to clean bakelite

A dab of Canola oil on a paper towel combined with some rubbing will take all the oxidation off a piece that isn’t too bad to start with. The two spoons in the photo above were equally oxidized before I rubbed out the top spoon with oil. It doesn’t take any more elbow grease than Simichrome, but it’s non-toxic. And edible. It leaves a nice shine when buffed and no nasty smell.

So if cooking oil works, what about beeswax? I had a jar of Clapham’s Beeswax Polish so I gave it a try.

How to clean bakelite

Initially it seems to remove the oxidation quickly and it has a lovely lavender smell. But the results wear off as soon as the polish dries. The finished pieces ended up looking almost as bad as before I started. I’ll save the Clapham’s polish for furniture.

My final experiment of the evening was with peanut butter. Yes, peanut butter. I saw it suggested as a plastic polish on YouTube.

How to clean bakelite

Oddly enough, just like cooking oil it works on oxidation that isn’t too severe. It took pretty big blob. It was messier than anything else so far and left the spoon handle smelling like peanut butter. It also made me want to get out a box of crackers and forget the whole experiment.

I’ve got more remedies to try, but I’ll save them for Part Two. In the meantime, keep your Catalin/Bakelite out of hot water! And let me know if you’ve got a cleaning suggestion. I still have a pile of oxidized spoons to restore.

*Yes, everyone calls this old plastic Bakelite nowadays. It’s actually Catalin, another thermoset phenolic formaldehyde resin.


  • 1 Preparing the mags
  • 2 Deciding the method you want to use
    • 2.1 Wet Sandpaper + Clear coat
    • 2.2 Epoxy + Clear Coat
    • 2.3 Epoxy

So you want to restore some Bakelite mags that you got one the cheap. I wanted to as well and found a couple different methods that seemed to work well.

Preparing the mags

First thing you want to before you start is to clean the mags. Get all the loose dirt and grease off them. If there is just light dirt I recommend using a washcloth and some hand soap. If you have anything more stubborn then that you can use a very soft scrubby pad with soap, but make sure you dont use a lot of force. Your not trying to remove the surface, just get it clean of dirt and debris. If you have oil or cosmoline you might want to use your favorite methods for removing that. If just a light layer I find that hosing the mag down in contact cleaner works really well.

Now is also a good time to clean the insides of the mags out. I purchased a set of these brushed to clean my suppressors and the larger ones worked great getting inside the mag. I didn’t use soap or water, just ran the brush through several times till junk stopping coming out. How far you clean it is up to you. Once you have the mag cleaned to your satisfaction make sure you let them completely dry afterwards.

  • Brushes
  • Cloth Mop – Can be used to wipe down the insides after scrubbing it with the brushes. If you have something like a 12 Gauge mop and a pistol cleaning rod that would work as well.

Deciding the method you want to use

Wet Sandpaper + Clear coat

The most popular method seems to be the wet sanding + clear coat. This works very well, it removes all but the deepest of the blemishes and in some cases can make them look almost new but seems to have the downside of changing the color of the mag. To get started make sure you prepare the mags as stated above. Get yourself some 800 grit wet sandpaper and start by going over the mag. Make sure you use to keep the sandpaper wet in the process. I like folding it in small 2×2 squares which lets you get into the smaller areas. Using wet sandpaper has two benefits. First it keeps down on dust. You don’t want to go breathing in the dust that comes off these mags. Bakelite isn’t something that’s very good for you. It also acts like a lube for the sandpaper since its such a fine grip it will get clogged up very fast.

After you are happy with the sanding and you get all the blems off the next step is clear coat. Since you got the mag very wet you will want to let it drop before adding any clear. Give it a solid 24 hours to make sure no moisture is present or you will have issues. Ask me how I know.

Once its completely dry I put a stick of wood in the mag so I can hold it and paint it all at once. If you find a better way of doing it then do that. I dislike hanging it as it blows around when you paint it but do whatever works for you. If you have never spray painted something before then make sure you read the directions, but for a TL;DL dont paint when its cold, high humidity, and don’t do heavy coats. Following the directions on the can is the best thing I can tell you.

When you are all said and done you should have something that looks like this. You can see its a nice uniform color. Its a might lighter color but an even color. The clear makes it clean and should hold up very well. For a item list see below.

  • 800 grit wet sandpaper
  • You could use a gloss or matte if you wanted a different finish then the Semi Gloss Clear Coat

Epoxy + Clear Coat

I decided to give Epoxy a shot and see how well that works. I figured bakelite mags (which aren’t really made of bakelite) is made from resin, so why wouldn’t more resin be a bad thing? This leaves the mag with a more natural looking finish but still having the clear coat finish. When doing this method you want to make sure you clean the mags as stated above and let it dry before proceeding. With this method instead of sanding that top layer off to make it look clean and crisp you are going to be adding a layer of resin to the mag in the same way you would apply stain to wood. What I did was add a few dabs of resin to the mag and used a lint free cloth or one of the blue shop towels to wipe the resin in. You wont need a lot of resin to do a mag so mix up just a couple of ounces for each mag you do. So start in one spot, add a few dabs of resin, wipe it on till that area as absorbed all the resin it will, then move on to the next spot. Work in little areas at a time and work the mag over. For this, like when I cleared it, I stuck a piece of wood in the mag to hold it while I did this. After you go over the mag, let it sit so the resin can cure. For directions and work time of the resin read the directions carefully, but you will have 15 ish mins before it starts to get too gummy which is plenty of time.

When using the resin make sure you mix it very well. Pour everything in one cup, mix for 1-2 mins, pout in another cup and mix for another 1-2 mins. I used a popsicle stick to mix and dab the resin on the mag. Directions will also tell you how long it takes the resin to fully cure. I let it sit for 24 hours.

After the resin has cured you might think the mag looks worse then it did before, but we are not done yet. We still need to wetsand to get all the little marks and to make the mag smooth as glass. For this I started using 800 grit wet sandpaper and lightly sanded the surface then moved on to some micromesh to really get it smooth. Dont apply a lot pressure as you will burn through the resin. its a very thin layer. Your just trying to dress the resin layer, not remove anything. Like before when you are done, let mag dry before spraying with clear.

Once fully dry hit the mag with some clear as stated above and enjoy. When you are all said and done you should have something that looks like this. You can see how much darker the mag is vs the previous method. While you could just clear coat it I feel the resin layer really seals the surface and loose fibers better then just clear. The color difference is very noticable when you have both methods side by side. For an items list see below.

  • 800 grit wet sandpaper
  • Semi Gloss Clear Coat (You could use a gloss or matte if you wanted a different finish)
  • Resin
  • Micromesh sanding pads


This method is much like the previous method only your not going to be adding a clear coat. So follow the above directions and skip the clear coat set, only difference with this one is I would skip the wet sandpaper and going straight to the micromesh. Spraying the clear will hide some of the imperfections but with the resin only method when your done your done. You could add more then one layer of resin if you wish to build it up which would look nice. The main idea behind this method is you get to keep the way the mag looks, but the resin seals the surface. When you get all said and done you should have something that looks like this. As you can see you can still see the fibers but this isn’t a method to fix, but more of a repair and keep original. For an items list see below.

Whichever method you choose is up to you and it will look better then what it looked before you started the process. You can see the fibers are exposed and the mag is in real need of attention.

Product Description

This is what we use on our telephones to keep them shiney and new.

Our Novus product works well on old telephones and radios.

Cleans and polishes Bakelite and paint on your old telephones.

Removes light scratches and leaves a nice shine.

Buying from us you are assured a fresh product because we have shipments monthly.

Novus#2 in the 8 oz size.

We have used this for years and highly reccomend it.

Beware of others selling old outdated products.

Product Reviews

Bakelite Polish

Posted by Phil on 29th Apr 2019

Great item to assist in restoring old telephones.

excelent product

Posted by Bob on 27th Apr 2015

works very good to clean up receiver on atique phone

I was amazed!

Posted by DD on 3rd Mar 2014

This Bakelite/Plastic polish worked wonders on my WE 302. There is a lot left, but I can use it on two other antique phones in the house.

Bakilite/Plastic Polish

Posted by Unknown on 25th Feb 2014

Perfect for polishing out fine scratches on your old phone. It will polish out any plastic. Great product.