Cleaning -- and un-holying -- my mirrors
May 21, 2009 8:53 AM   Subscribe

A couple of my mirrors at home have stubborn, sticky stains from drips of a resin-y oil. How can I shift them?

The oil in question particularly resin-y, as I think it was some kind of holy oil -- I inherited these mirrors from a prior tenant of this apartment, and I was told she was fairly religious and so she anointed them by tracing a small cross at the top of each mirror with this mystery oil. (Tangent: I do not cast dispersion on the wisdom of this; that's her lookout, and so be it. I mention this only so you know what kind of oil we're talking about.)

I've asked elsewhere about this, and was advised to use dishwashing detergent to help cut the grease, and that helped -- but I think the oil just had a particularly sticky and stubborn resin in it, which is proving resistant to that.

Any other advice? I'm just not sure how harsh I can get without damaging the finish on the mirror, so if anyone has a guideline (i.e., "do NOT use turpentine, but diluted turpentine would work") I'm all ears. Thanks.
posted by EmpressCallipygos to Home & Garden (18 answers total)
 
My first stop would be acetone, which is most readily available as nail polish remover.
posted by alms at 8:56 AM on May 21, 2009


I'd try Goo-Gone first.
posted by desuetude at 9:03 AM on May 21, 2009


If it's on the glass part of the mirror, you can scrape it off with a razor or the like.
posted by exogenous at 9:14 AM on May 21, 2009


Use WD-40 to remove the residue and then use alcohol to remove the WD-40.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 9:22 AM on May 21, 2009


Most nail polish removers are not acetone these days - check the label to make sure. I would try rubbing alcohol first, though.
posted by O9scar at 9:25 AM on May 21, 2009


I would try ice and peanut butter, as these are probably in your house already.

If you hold ice to it, maybe it'll freeze to be hard enough to crumble or scrape off. I know this works to get candle wax off candlesticks and furniture.

Peanut butter is oily but solid, and the oil might mix with the resinous stuff, to make it easier to wipe off. I know this works to get price stickers off things, and chewing gum out of hair.
posted by Houstonian at 9:28 AM on May 21, 2009


Have you tried a strong ammonia solution? Cuts grease!
posted by wrnealis at 9:33 AM on May 21, 2009


Seconding WD-40 followed by alcohol.

Goo-gone may work well too, but it's a lot more risky to work with as it tends to melt plastic, rubber, and who knows what else. Also gives off terrible fumes. Not to knock it too much, I love the stuff and use it frequently to clean road tar and stuff like that...
posted by wfrgms at 10:20 AM on May 21, 2009


Have you considered that it is the power of the holy spirit keeping it attached to your mirror? In that case, you may need a priest or a stick of burning sage. I've heard that the spirits can leave a very stubborn residue.

But, I'd be worried if there was a frame around the mirror that acetone might damage that if it dripped down. But, I'd go at it with a razor blade (carefully) and some nail polish remover. I don't think you're going to damage the glass. Though a blade could conceivably scratch it so go gently.
posted by amanda at 10:22 AM on May 21, 2009


I'd try a Magic Eraser on the glass part.
posted by yarrow at 10:25 AM on May 21, 2009


Similar to peanut butter as mentioned above, a little bit of vegetable oil may do the trick. I don't think it really matters what kind you use. Once you get the resin off you can just wipe off the oil and clean up whatever's left with soap and water.
posted by benign at 10:39 AM on May 21, 2009


Goo-gone may work well too, but it's a lot more risky to work with as it tends to melt plastic, rubber, and who knows what else. Also gives off terrible fumes. Not to knock it too much, I love the stuff and use it frequently to clean road tar and stuff like that...

Are we talking about the same stuff? Goo-Gone is citrus-oil based.
posted by desuetude at 1:16 PM on May 21, 2009


Those of you suggesting scraping at it -- wouldn't that scratch the glass itself? That's one of the things I'm worried about -- what methods would actually damage the mirror itself?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:14 PM on May 21, 2009


Those of you suggesting scraping at it -- wouldn't that scratch the glass itself? That's one of the things I'm worried about -- what methods would actually damage the mirror itself?

When I got paint splatters on the bathroom mirror after painting the bathroom (prep? what's that?), I used an old credit card. That got most of it, and a plastic ice scraper made for my car windshield got the rest. No scratches either.
posted by dogmom at 7:05 PM on May 21, 2009


Glass is quite hard - harder than a razor blade. Also, when you scrape you're putting pressure along the whole blade, not at any one point. There are no sharp corners to "dig in" to the glass. I use this technique to clean my glass-surfaced desk all the time.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:23 PM on May 21, 2009


I've got a BS in pharmacy, so I have some degree of education regarding organic chemistry. I've also been a wanna-be gearhead for years, and was recently shifted from strictly welding to the maintenance department of a metal fabrication plant here in Seattle. I use organic solvents of one sort or another on an almost daily basis.

One consideration is what you have on hand vs. what you are willing to go out and buy. Obviously I'd try what's on hand first. Here is what I would try based on solvent strength, from "weakest" to strongest. Thankfully with glass you don't really have to worry about staining the glass, as I assume you are not going to put hydrofluoric acid on it...

1. Water. Probably won't work on an old organic stain.

2. Commercial cleaners: Simple Green, and various citrus-based cleaners. They work surprisingly well.

3. Alcohols. Denatured alcohol. Maybe you have some already?

5. WD-40. Wired did a recent write-up of the "secret" formula, it's mostly alkanes, with decane predominating. It might work.

6. Brake cleaner. Now into the serious stuff. These days, usually composed of heptane, acetone, or toluene. Does not smell good but will not hurt your glass either. You will want ventilation.

7. Auto starting fluid. Mostly ether, but "cut" with heptane, so as to dissuade use as a meth lab solvent. Extremely volatile, but an excellent solvent. Do not use around open flame, and you must have good ventilation

8. Xylene. Sold as "Goof-off", this stuff is outstanding. It smells bad, is highly flammable, but also highly effective.

9. Contact cleaner. Back in the day, you could get the really effective solvents, the short-chain halogenated hydrocarbons, aka Freons, some of which were sold as liquid solvents. But as most of us know, they killed the ozone layer, and are no longer available. Contact cleaner is still sold, and the stuff I use at work is mostly 1-bromopropane, which must be OK under Kyoto. Evaporates very fast, but is non-flammable, and has low odor.

10. If none of the above work, probably the last resort I can think of that is commercially available at retail would be oven cleaner. This is all based on sodium hydroxide and various surfactants.

So the long answer to your short question would be this: I'd go to Radio Shack, Fry's, or maybe even an office supply place like Staples and buy a can of contact cleaner.
posted by Tube at 11:33 PM on May 21, 2009


You may already be aware of this, but the only concern you need have is over things that can either chemically etch or physically scratch the glass (glass is very inert and very hard, so you'd have to go out of your way to do either one) The "finish" of the mirror is actually on the back of the mirror.
posted by JFitzpatrick at 2:26 PM on May 22, 2009


Are we talking about the same stuff? Goo-Gone is citrus-oil based.

Sorry, I was thinking of Goof-off. I use it to clean bicycle parts and it's wonderful, but smelly and you have to be careful when using it as it tends to react badly to some plastics and the like. (It'll also wipe the painted logos clean off vintage Schwinn bicycles, I discovered, to my horror...)

I've used "Goo-Gone" too, but found it not as effective as WD-40 in removing gunk. I know some heads to use it to clean their bongs though...
posted by wfrgms at 9:10 PM on May 24, 2009


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