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Caring for Petroliana
by Bob Brooke

 

Metal is the main material in most, but not all, petroliana items. Whether you have old gas pumps, oil cans, or gas station signs, water is a serious threat to any petroliana collection. Due to an oxidization process, rust forms on moist metal objects after a matter of days., so it’s important to make sure that the items in your collection are clean and protected.

Cleaning Light Rust
You should be careful when purchasing items that they don’t have too much rust damage. In fact, you want to buy items in the best condition possible. But even pristine items can be damaged over time. So it’s vitally important not to store your petroliana collection in your unheated garage or basement. Make sure wherever you display it is free from humidity. If there’s even a slight chance of dampness, rust will form faster than you can imagine.

To clean light rust from your metal items, you’ll need some common materials—steel wool, a wire brush, some fine sandpaper, or a crumpled ball of aluminum foil. You can use these to brush away small rust stains with ease. Carefully rub the surface with some pressure to effectively clear away the rust. Since the paint surface of metal petroliana objects is one of their most important characteristics, you’ll want to be very careful.

You may also want to try using vinegar or lemon juice and salt. Either of these materials work well for removing rust as their acidic properties help to dissolve the stain. White vinegar, or acetic acid, and lemon juice, or citric acid, are both weak acids, which loosen the rust.

If you decide to use lemon juice, pour a tablespoon of it on the rust. Apply about a half teaspoon of table salt and then apply another tablespoon of lemon juice on the salt. Make sure you use enough of both to thoroughly coat the rust stain. Or you can substitute the vinegar for the lemon juice, but the method is the same.

Next, wipe off the lemon juice or vinegar with a clean cloth. Make sure you use a clean cloth so no other contaminants get onto the stain. Thoroughly rinse the stain afterwards and scrub vigorously to remove any remaining rust. Then wash the piece or thoroughly wipe off the treated area with a clean wet cloth. It's very important to clean the surface with water after the rust has dissolved. If any vinegar or lemon juice is left on the tinware the acidity could damage the metal.

A third way to clean rust stains from items in your collection is to make a paste by mixing equal parts baking soda and water. Start by mixing 1 tablespoon of baking soda and 1 tablespoon of water with a spoon in a small bowl. Combine more if necessary. It's important to make sure the paste is thick enough to adhere to the rust.

Apply the paste with a clean, wet rag. Using the rag, apply the paste and allow it stick to the rusted surface for a few hours or longer. Be sure to give the mixture enough time to set on the rust.

Protecting Your Pieces
After you’ve cleaned the rust and let the piece dry thoroughly, you should give it a coat of Minwax paste wax. Some collectors use an automotive paste wax like Raindance. Apply either in a small, circular motion, using a lighter touch to begin and gradually becoming more aggressive as you go. Let the wax dry, then wipe it off with a clean, soft cloth.

You can also wipe your items with Armor-All. Be sure to spray the Armor-All on a clean, soft cloth, then wipe the piece. Do not spray it directly on it
.

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