How to clean vintage sifter
August 5, 2021 6:46 AM   Subscribe

I have a vintage sifter. It came from a hoarder relative's house and is quite dirty. I want to clean it and use it, assuming I can do so safely. How?

I'm not finding the exact one online. It's a lot like this one with a wooden handle and the outside is similarly decorated, but it has a turning mechanism like this one. I'm reading online to use soapy water and dry with a hair dryer, but I question whether that will really clean the inner part. It seems like a toothbrush wouldn't clean it very well because of the multiple parts and angles involved. Soaking it seems like a bad idea because of the wood. I'm worried about causing it to rust.

I've used some plain water and a paper towel to clean some of the outside, but there are stains that aren't coming off. I hesitate to use anything stronger because of the decoration.

So vintage fans of MetaFilter, what do I do?
posted by FencingGal to Home & Garden (8 answers total)
Best answer: Is the mess on the inside or the outside? Mostly on raw metal or actually on the painted portion? Is the outside painted or enamel? Cleaning procedures for painted items is wildly different for that of enameled items. Photos of the actual buddy would help assess.

For cleaning bare metal parts, Harbor freight sells cheap brass brush wheels; they're designed for rotary tools like dremel tools, but you can hook them onto a regular drill quite easily (you won't get the same range of motion with a bulky drill, but it's an option). Brass brushes are designed to clean metal parts because brass is a relatively soft metal. It should pull up all the cruft and leave the enamel behind if you don't apply too much pressure.

I wouldn't use this on painted material, but I would at least try it on enamel. I suggest testing this on an inconspicuous spot before doing any obvious parts.

Other dremel attachments might work really well here if it's paint not enamel; they make cotton polishing wheels that can give you a faster 'scrub' action without much abrasiveness. A baking soda slurry can sometimes be used on paint, but above advice on testing a small area first still applied. I worked at a pawn shop in high school and was tasked with cleaning up nicotine stained items with windex and a soft cloth; lighly spray the windex on, rub it around with your finger to evenly coat, let it sit, and then wipe up with a paper towel or microfiber.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:12 AM on August 5, 2021

Response by poster: The outside has some dried food (looks like batter) and stains. The inside has mostly what I think is stuck-on old flour and possibly dust. I don't know what the outside and inside are made of - like I don't know how to tell if something is enamel - but those look identical to what's shown in the first picture. The wood is painted.
posted by FencingGal at 7:20 AM on August 5, 2021

I'd start with soap and water and something soft, maybe an old toothbrush. Anything much tougher has a big chance of removing paint.
posted by SemiSalt at 7:31 AM on August 5, 2021

I would really want to be able to soak it...I wonder if there is some way to protect the wood but soak the metal (painter's tape, cling wrap, and rubber bands)?
posted by goingonit at 7:48 AM on August 5, 2021

Do you happen to know anyone who has access to a large enough sonic bath? (Usually people who work in research labs or machine/electronics shops or who work with jewelry.) Protecting the paint and the wood at the same time rules out most solvents. I'd be tempted to try a five minute sonic dip in slightly soapy water, then a rinse, followed by a very low temp heat gun / hair dryer / oven. There is a small but non-zero chance it will damage the paint or enamel, which you might be want to test on your least favorite corner. (I'm definitely not an expert on these materials or restoring such things.)
posted by eotvos at 7:58 AM on August 5, 2021

Best answer: Isn't the wood just the handle? Is there a reason you can't turn it on its side and soak the container part but not the handle? And then use a gentle cloth on the flat surface parts, inside and out, to wash it off, and a spray and soft brush to clean out the wire?
posted by stormyteal at 8:05 AM on August 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Regarding goingonit's idea - silicone tape might be worth considering for this.
posted by eotvos at 8:06 AM on August 5, 2021

Best answer: I would be less worried about soaking the wood, and more worried about soaking the metal tbh. The reason why the sifter is such a mess is probably because whoever owned it was taught to never, ever, ever get their sifter wet, as damp flour will set like concrete in the mesh. If it is vintage there is a strong chance that the mesh will rust if it gets wet and is not dried very promptly and extremely thoroughly.

Do you have a plate warming setting on your oven?

When using antique metal kitchen stuff, it is critical to make sure it is scrupulously, scrupulously dry, so popping it into the oven on the plate warming setting is the way to go after you wash and meticulously dry anything. You leave it in there for an hour or so. Great-grandmama would leave it in the oven overnight and take it out in the morning before she fired it up again. Of course hair driers work too, but the oven is less labour intensive, and more traditional.

In this case I would suggest that you start by baking your sifter on a setting low enough it won't harm the wood to make the dried out stuff on it as brittle as possible and then use a brush to remove as much of the dried batter and flour, before you consider going anywhere near water. You'll need the right kind of brush with an angle and a point and you'll need to make sure it is one stiff enough to disturb the flour but not damage the mesh. Finding and using the right brush is key. Look for the kind that is used for cleaning grout.

Then get some flour and put that through your sifter and see if putting fresh flour through will get older stuff to clear out.

Bang your sifter on a flat surface to shake as much stuff out of it as you can. That will remove some of it.

Once you have removed all the possible old cruddy flour and batter that you can without using water, I would assess if you really have to use water to go on. Your great-grandmama would not have used water, but you are probably more concerned with salmonella than she was. She was sifting the flour to get the weevils and the mouse droppings out more than because it made her pastry lighter.

If you have to use water, you have to. There is an even chance your sifter won't like it. Use boiling water, instead of soaking. Pour the boiling water through the sifter, or on it and then shake it, bang it and blot it right away to remove the droplets. The idea is that the hotter the water, the faster the metal will dry. Your sifter is not stainless steel. It's likely to be the kind of metal that even needs to be protected from a humid atmosphere. NEVER let it stand wet.

Once you have it cleaned and dried it, it will survive longer if you coat the non-mesh parts with a very fine layer of oil and rub it off again. Try a food grade mineral oil, although your great grandmother would likely have used a speck of lard. If there is exposed wood oil that too.
posted by Jane the Brown at 8:34 AM on August 5, 2021 [5 favorites]

« Older Need creative ideas for getting through extreme...   |   Last minute vacation in New Jersey! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.