How do I restore this antique wire laundry basket?
February 17, 2019 7:13 PM   Subscribe

My wife acquired this antique collapsible wire laundry basket years ago (pictured folded since it's a pain to open and close now). We finally have the space to use it as a display piece and I'd like to clean it up for her birthday this spring. It's in solid shape with just a few rust spots, but it's dirty and needs TLC. I'm starting from zero with furniture restoration but I'm ready to learn and I'm having a hard time googling a solution here. Is this just a matter of steel wool on the metal and some oil in the joints? Or should I use some kind of metal/rust cleaner? Any advice is much appreciated!
posted by Banky_Edwards to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think you'll be pleased with your results from steel wool and some oil in the joints. Since you're going to display it, I wouldn't worry much about rust coming back, but if you want to go all the way with this, get it sand-blasted and then spray-paint it.
posted by Rash at 8:28 PM on February 17, 2019

Looks galvanized to me, which would mean it was mild steel put in a bath with zinc salts in solution and a current was run through it which caused a layer of zinc metal to be deposited on it (or the wire it was made from), sort of like an old zinc battery run in reverse.

So I would use some variety of chemical like rustoleum to get rid of the rust and paint the bad spots with cold galvanizing paint, which contains zinc powder, unless the painted parts stand out too much from the rest, and in that case I wouldn't bother with the paint, but put some kind of clear lacquer on it to coat the formerly rusty areas and keep them from rusting again.
posted by jamjam at 10:03 PM on February 17, 2019

As you want it as a display piece, I'd go easy on it - the patina, all the aging and knocks and such, are half the 'look' of the thing. Going heavy-handed with steel wool, sandblasting & painting will take away all of that.

It doesn't look like there's too much actual rust there - just a bit where things are worn/have rubbed, and maybe some blooming of the (galvanised?) finish? I'd wipe it all down with a just-damp cloth, let it dry, gently deal with any actual rust spots using a plastic scouring pad (e.g. Scotchbrite - steel wool will gouge the surface), and wipe & dry again.

A very light oiling would look good & protect quite well, but will stay oily/sticky & gum up with dust (which then eventually absorbs moisture, leading to more corrosion). I'd give it a very light coat of wax - I use Restoration Wax to finish/protect radio chassis in similar condition, but carnauba wax also works just fine.
posted by Pinback at 10:12 PM on February 17, 2019 [7 favorites]

Thanks everyone, this is exactly what I needed to get started. If it goes well I'll come back with pictures of the finished product!
posted by Banky_Edwards at 5:33 AM on February 18, 2019

To prevent steel wool from gouging a surface that you're trying to use it to get rust off of, just soak your steel wool pad in oil. Lubricated steel wool still knocks off rust while only barely scratching up the underlying metal.
posted by flabdablet at 6:04 AM on February 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

Plastic Scotchbrite pads have got an abrasive grit embedded into the plastic filaments, and will scratch metal worse than oiled steel wool does.
posted by flabdablet at 6:05 AM on February 18, 2019

Sorry, I was meaning the typical green 3M/Scotch kitchen scouring pads. Where I am at least they're commonly referred to as "Scotchbrite" pads, and according to the local 3M reps (and from personal observation) they're plastic only.

(Well, apart from the detergent some are ompregnated with…)

But yeah, the graded 'Scotch-Brite™' finishing hand pads (e.g. 7447, 7448, 7440, etc) contain abrasive grits. Don't use them for that purpose.

The problem with using oiled steel wool is you then have to clean the oil off the surface if you want to protect it…
posted by Pinback at 11:51 AM on February 18, 2019

For surfaces that won't subsequently be exposed to anything approaching harsh conditions, the film of oil left behind after an oiled steel wool rubdown can often be all the protection they need. I would expect that to be the case for this piece, which appears to be quite heavily galvanized.

Wiping off as much of the oil film as a dry cloth can achieve should leave behind only trace amounts that I would expect to be compatible with a wax-based finish if you want to go that route for dust-avoidance reasons.
posted by flabdablet at 7:23 PM on February 18, 2019

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