Cleaning Trivets

Disclaimer: This information is offered with NO liability or responsibility on the part of PITCA.

The following information is either from our personal experience, gleaned from various conversations and meetings, or from reliable Internet sources. It's emphasized  that heating a trivet can remove existing Enamel or loosen glitter. Also, vigorous cleaning techniques used on Cast Iron can scratch Brass. The preservation of patina is also a consideration when dealing with antique metalware. Be sure to read through the entire article first before proceeding.

Cleaning, Polishing and/or Seasoning Cast Iron Trivets

Method #1: Glorifying Antique Polish The citrus and beeswax formula in this polish is designed for wood but it's also great for polishing and protecting the decorative cast iron you display. Just clean a trivet, apply polish, let sit for about 15 minutes, then wipe off and buff the to a beautiful shine. It's especially useful for cast iron trivets with enamel or japanning, finishes that could bake off if seasoned in a hot oven. Jim Ellwood (Trivets & Stands) recommends this polish and Lynn Rosack (The Expanded A-Z Guide To Collecting Trivets) also uses and loves it. WARNING: not to be used on cast iron used for cooking.

Method #2: Lower Heat You’ll notice a slight odor while the trivet bakes; open a window during this process.

1: Wash the trivet well in warm soapy water.
2: Scrub until the trivet is free of rust, using Bon Ami powder & a steel brush, steel wool or Brillo Pad.
3: Dry the trivet with paper towels.
4: Coat the trivet with vegetable oil and let sit for 15 minutes while you ...
5: Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
6: After 15 minutes, carefully wipe off all the oil with paper towels.
7: Bake the trivet on a rack in the oven for 1 hour.
8: Allow to cool on a baking rack.

Method #3: High Heat with Flaxseed Oil. From trivet collector Lynn Rosack: "I've never used this method, just recently having found this article; but the next time I have a trivet to season I'm going to try it and compare results with Method #1."

Cleaning & Polishing Brass Trivets

Wash the trivet well in warm soapy water. Clean until the trivet is free of dirt and grime, using a soft dental toothbrush, nylon brush or soft sponge. Dry the trivet with a cloth towel. Following the directions on the product, polish with a brass polish. There are special considerations when working with brass:

  • Brass is a soft metal and easily scratched. Don’t use cast iron techniques on Brass!
  • If your brass trivet has been lacquered, DO NOT POLISH as this will lift some of that coating.
  • It’s your call whether to polish the back of an antique brass trivet. You’ll notice that most have not been polished on the reverse through time, leaving that side with a dark, verdigris finish.
  • Oils from the human hand can hasten the return of tarnish on brass, so you may want to handle these trivets wearing gloves.

Use Caution With Bronze!

1. Advice from Antiques Roadshow:

“Wash your Bronzes! A finish is usually put on bronzes by an artist or at a foundry to give the metal a darker patina or to shade the metal to accentuate its three-dimensionality. Sometimes bronze is even coated with gold. That's why it's best to avoid polishing bronzes. Doing so is like vigorously scrubbing the surface of a masterpiece painting. In both cases, you're removing a layer of the piece that the artist intended to be there."

“Such damage diminishes both the integrity of your piece and its value. Ernest recently sold a bronze fountain by the American sculptor Harriet Whitney Frishmuth that had a value that would have dropped by $50,000 if the sellers had rubbed the patina off. Ernest and his co-workers simply washed the piece, which is recommended because bronzes don't corrode in water as do many other metals."

2. Advice from the Henry Ford Research Center:

“Historic cast bronze is usually 90% copper, 6% tin and 4% zinc. It has been widely used since antiquity for weapons, sculpture and decorative objects. Bronzes are traditionally patinated and usually appear anywhere from light green to dark brown. Patinas are sometimes described as any controlled corrosion that imparts an aesthetically pleasing color and/or texture to the artifact. Patinas may be applied with chemicals or may have accumulated over time naturally; in either case, owners should be aware of the potential value of these finishes.

"Stable or painted surfaces should be kept dust free. Vacuum-clean all stable artifacts regularly, using the nozzle attachment with a brush. A bristle brush or a toothbrush may help to raise dust from crevices."

Plated Finishes

  • If the plated finish is chipped, clean carefully so you don't further flake off the finish.
  • Nickel-plated: Clean using the Brass technique. Follow with a product designed for Stainless Steel or Silver, like Flitz Liquid Polish.
  • Brass-plated: Clean using the Brass technique. Follow with a polish designed for Brass.
  • Copper-plated: Clean using the Brass technique, following with a commercial Copper polish. Warning: Techniques such as lemon juice or vinegar mixed with salt, flour and/or baking soda can often be too harsh, leaving the metal with an unattractive orange hue.

Horseshoe Plaque Trivets

  • Follow Trivet Methods #1 or #2 for cast iron unless traces of enamel or glitter remain (could be lost in heating process).
  • Avoid stripping and re-painting unless to correct a previous grotesque paint job.
  • Broken cast iron can't be welded. Necessary repairs can be attempted with Loctite Epoxy Adhesive which often works.