Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Great Staffordshire Leaf Bleach

Today's essay is a "before" and "after" story.

As you may recall from an earlier post, Dear Reader, this past Boxing Day Boy and I bestirred ourselves for an annual post-Christmas visit to a large (and admittedly rather dismal) antiques groupe shoppe across the river in pursuit of sale-priced vintage Christmas ornaments and any other flotsam and jetsam we might serendipitously find at suitably bargain-basement prices.

Our little leaf-shape dish
in its "as found" discolored state

While in said shoppe, in addition to finding a well-priced box of vintage ornaments, Boy spied and bought an early nineteenth-century green feather-edge creamware leaf-shape dish similar to several already in our collection at Darlington House.

One uses common hydrogen peroxide,
readily and inexpensively found at any drug store

As was shared in the earlier essay, the "new" creamware dish that Boy found was dirty and discolored, almost brown.  He ultimately decided to buy it, after a little dithering, because he suspected the dish would benefit from a hydrogen peroxide bath to restore it to its original intended whitness.  As readers of this blog may know, hydrogen peroxide is the preferred medium for benignly removing discolorations from china.  One must never use chlorine bleach for such purpose, Dear Reader, as it is far too harsh and can irreparably damage the china.

Don't you find Boy's rendition of a
skull and crossbones suitably frightening?

One must fully submerge the discolored piece in hydrogen peroxide (full strength, right out of the bottle) in a covered plastic container for a minimum of twenty-four hours, and up to a week or more, in order to allow the liquid sufficient time to extract the discoloration out of the body of the piece.

One week later, the peroxide has absorbed
much of the leaf's discoloration

If the piece is rather discolored, as our little leaf dish was, it will turn the clear liquid yellow, as can be observed in the preceding photograph.

After its bath, the china is then
heated in a warmed electric oven

Once the piece has been soaked, place it for ten minutes in an electric oven (but not a gas oven, as that supposedly can lead to an explosion) that has been pre-heated to two hundred degrees Fahrenheit (and not higher).  Warming the piece at that temperature and length of time will bring the remaining discoloration to the surface of the piece in the form of tiny brown crystals.  Once the piece has cooled to room temperature, you can easily wash away the crystals with soapy water and a soft brush.

Our little leaf-shape dish, now white as snow

If the piece of china one is seeking to clean is particularly discolored—as was the case with our little dish—it may require repeating the soaking/heating/washing process several times before the china's discoloration entirely vanishes.

See!  The little leaf dish in the foreground is
now as white as its companions in our collection

So, Dear Reader, when you are out and about at yard sales or antiques malls and come across a piece of pretty, albeit discolored or crazed, bit of china, do not reject it out of hand.  For, with but a little bit of planning and effort, you can usually restore it to its original "as new" condition.


Of course this doesn't apply to all pieces of discolored or crazed china one finds, Dear Reader.  No, some of it (or much of it) may be too far gone or simply not of a quality worth the effort to attempt to clean it.  But out-of-the-way places can yield special finds, such as the leaf dish that Boy found on Boxing Day, on which such an investment of time and effort is indeed well spent.

All photographs by Boy Fenwick

47 comments:

  1. Hello Reggie:
    How amazing and intriguing all of this is and what splendid results. We have not until now heard of this method of 'cleaning' pieces of china which are discoloured and will, subject to obtaining the hydrogen peroxide, certainly give it a try.

    And by the way, we think the leaf dish(es) most attractive indeed.

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    1. Jane and Lance Hattat: Thank you, if you were to try this method for removing stain to your china, I believe you will be pleased with the results. It can be a slow process, though -- our little dish took three soaks/heating/washings sessions to fully remove the discoloration, with the soaking sessions lasting anywhere between several days to a week at a time. However, the end result was worth the patience and the minor expenditure on hydrogen peroxide, I think.

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  2. ah! I have bleached old china before but the oven-heating trick is a new one to me. Excellent tip. I shall have to try this on something not too valuable first.

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    1. Hello Lynne: The oven heating takes this to a whole new level. The results can be quite astonishing!

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  3. An incredibly useful post! Question: will this bleaching strategy work for ironstone pieces?

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    1. I believe it will also work on ironstone, too.

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  4. At first I didn't think the before picture was too bad, just a shadow, but in your after pictures I can see the remarkable difference. I have some similarly stained/darkened pieces, and I'll remember this trick the next time I dig them out.

    I wonder if it works on tea? A lot of people here like the look of a cracquelure finish deepened by tea, but I find it dingy and unappetizing, not to mention it distracts from the beauty of the glaze.
    --Road to Parnassus

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    1. Parnassas, this little trick should be a jiffy at removing tea stains, I would believe.

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  5. Amazing transformation! Even though I grew up with parents who liked antiques, I've never heard of this. What does one do if one has only a gas oven?

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    1. One polls one's friends and finds a like-minded soul with an electric oven, and makes a party of it!

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  6. Thank you for this fine tutorial. Now, I must think of an antique-loving friend who will lend me the use of an electric oven. I wonder if warm sunshine would have the same effect as the oven?

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    1. T&CM: Hot sunshine is, indeed, a substitute for an electric oven, but I find it is not as efficient as a warm oven, since it is impossible to regulate the passage of clouds I find!

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  7. Thank you Reggie for this most excellent tip!
    I shall remember this, I do hope, when such treasures appear that I might otherwise pass on.

    "What Would Reggie Do" file must be created!

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  8. Thank you for sharing, Reggie. I'm sure I'll be using your tips in my feature porcelain hunting:)
    Would you be so kind to share how to restore crazed porcelain?

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    1. Hello Irina: I am afraid that crazed porcelain may be beyond redemption, as the surface has been compromised. However, I have been successful at removing the discoloration in crazing using this method -- one just can't use the piece afterwards without the discoloration returning to it. Perhaps some of my other readers may have a suggestion for you?

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    2. That is what I though, crazing cannot be restored :( I guess I misunderstood this paragraph: "when you are (...) come across a piece of pretty, albeit discolored or crazed, bit of china, do not reject it out of hand. For, with but a little bit of planning and effort, you can usually restore it to its original "as new" condition."

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  9. How interesting, and useful. I am curious too as to whether it works on ironstone. I have a rather lovely service that has discoloured, and in its present state is rather unappetising. I will have to give it a go.

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    1. I understand this process works well for ironstone, too, although I haven't yet attempted to do so -- it is on my list of "to do" projects, as I have a number of ironstone platters that would likely benefit from it.

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  10. This is a great hint. I had heard of using peroxide, but had not heard of the extra heating step. I wonder if the drying cycle of the dishwasher could take the place of an electric oven?

    Bonnie (google insists on calling me unknown)

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    1. Hello Bonnie,
      Absent an electric oven (or toaster oven for that matter), I would suspect the heated drying cycle of a dishwasher would work admirably. Howeverm one shoud not -- as a matter of course -- put a "fine" piece of antque china through the full dishwashing cycle, but only through the heated drying part of it for this exercise, I believe. RD

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    2. Thanks Reggie!
      I forgot about the toaster oven and it is staring me in the face as I type!
      I remember when my mother put gold trimmed china through a full wash cycle. It took the gold trim off and left an odd electric blue color behind. To save face she told everyone she preferred them that way!

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    3. Bonnie: MD had a similar line when explaining why some of her china was bereft of its iglding. You and I know better, don't we!

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  11. Hello Reggie, I have used something called 40 volume peroxide which can be gotten at beauty and barber supply shops and is apparently used for bleaching hair. It's stronger and works quicker than the household variety. Use gloves when handling the product. Saturate paper toweling, wrap the object in the toweling, encase the whole shebang into a plastic garbage bag and then place into the oven heated at 200 degrees. Leave it alone to work its magic, overnight or for several hours during the day if you're nervous about leaving such a bundle in the oven unattended, and viola! Stains are gone! I have used this method numerous times over the years and am always amazed at the transformation. I think I've probably just pre-heated the oven and then turned it off after placing the item inside which also works.

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    1. Hello Roy,
      Thank you for your comment and suggested alternative method. I have read that some think the strength of the peroxide you use is too caustic for particularly delicate china. But if you find it a good solution (no pun intended!) then so be it. I would think it shoud be fine for a strong vitrious china, such as ironstone.

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  12. Wow! What a transformation! I have a very old set of dishes with several cups and saucers that are too brown to bring out for company, and so they sit at the bottom of the stack. You've inspired me to experiment with the worst culprits.

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    1. Numerous pieces of discolored china can be placed in the same bath -- assuming the container they are held in is large enough to hold them and one has sufficient hydrogen peroxide to fully submerge them. Fortunately large bottles of HP can be purchased for around a dollar or so at discount drug stores, so one needn't break the bank to engage in this process.

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  13. Oh dahhling I recall the post when Boy & you found this new treasure for your collection. Loved the update & more important the great instructional... looks gorgeous!

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  14. My parents were avid collectors of antique china and porcelain and I remember the hydrogen peroxide baths. They never used the oven but that may be simply because they always had gas ovens. Instead they put the pieces in warm sunshine, which was abundant in central Texas.

    I'd been waiting for a couple of sunny days to tackle a few pieces of discolored china, but now I shall try the oven.

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    1. A hot, sunny window ledge is an alternative to an oven, I understand. However, when I first tried this, I found the oven to be more efficient, as the windowsill I first tried was neither sunny-enough or hot-enough to be of much use for the task at hand...

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  15. Carn't chat, must dash to buy some hydrogen peroxide,love the plates.

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  16. This is amazing and such a helpful thing to know. Thank you, Reggie!

    Elizabeth

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  17. So Reggie - The potential explosion you mentioned - Is that supposed to be due to the intense heat that can be found directly over the pilot light, and a bad thing for delicate china, or would it be a result of the oxygen given off by the peroxide as it reacts ? I never saw it in the comments but increased oxygen plus flammable materials like natural gas often lead to explosions, particularly if the (dangerous) 40% concentration is used. Thanks for the idea. I have several pieces I will try it on, including my grandmother's favorite platter.
    Best -
    - Mike

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    1. Reggie admits he is not a chemist, and is not sure why an exposion is feared. He read that it was so elsewhere, and thus passed this warning tidbit along to his readers...

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  18. Reggie, these leaf dishes are quite lovely. Let Boy know that I am amazed at the transformation he accomplished. Why not put these out for St Patrick's Day with some treats?

    xoxo
    Karena
    Art by Karena

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  19. This is an awesome tip!
    Thanks Reggies!

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  20. Well now I know! Thanks for the tip. As a dish whore who hoards dishes and can't ever seem to have enough plates, I've certainly passed up a few yellowed pieces. Can't wait to try this little science experiment. Glad you mentioned the gas stove. I would have blown up the house as my new Wolf is all gas! Your three little dishes are great. You need a 4th one though!
    Thanks for your comment on my squirrel post. Would love to see your squirrel under glass! ~Delores

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  21. It seems that I never have time to read others' blogs, Reggie. And I miss that. I'm pleased to be the forty-first commenter on this post though. Do you think that you and Boy might consider doing this for my little teeth?

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  22. Franklin John KakiesMarch 20, 2012 at 4:30 AM

    Mr. Darling, tell Mr. Fenwick that there are a lovely pair of platters with the same sort of green tinted feathered edge on dear old 1stDibs at

    http://www.1stdibs.com/furniture_item_detail.php?id=559552

    And they require no peroxide dip! (Just a dip into one's emergency china fund...)

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  23. Interesting. Someone referred me to this post after seeing the white porcelain door knob I stripped of it's many layers of paint. I think I'll give it try and report back.

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  24. Very pretty. The photos don't show it as being that discoloured to start with but guess you just can't see the difference from the photos.

    new homes for sale in Staffordshire

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  25. How interesting. Thanks for sharing this most useful tip.

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  26. Wow, lots of comments for a little dish. Thanks, though. Now I can help my 3 treasured Blue Willow salad plates. What do you use those cute dishes for?

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  27. Reggie,

    Have you tried this on any china that has gilt decoration?

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Please do comment! I welcome and encourage them, and enjoy the dialogue.

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