Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Mirror Mirror... (Aging Tutorial)

 Photo via HomeIdeasMag.com

 I’ve long loved the look of old mirrors, that effect of random pitting and flaking of the silvering, which shows little glimpses of the backing material. While I could always find actual antique mirrors for my purposes, they’re often A) rather expensive and B) hit and miss to be able to find just the right size/shape/weathering level for a particular project. I knew that there had to be a way of recreating this look and, after a bit of researching, I discovered that there’s actually two main techniques:

This involves using mirror effect spray paint and vinegar to create a sort of mercury glass look on plain clear glass. While this tutorial doesn’t explore this, I think that this might be interesting to try on a blue or other coloured transparent glass thrift store find (keeping my eye out for a red bowl amid the Holiday sales) to create a coloured mercury glass look.


This is the option that you’ll need to use if you want to age an existing mirror. It is messy and dangerous. As in, SERIOUSLY-SERIOUSLY hazardous without proper precautions. Really. Not. Remotely. Kidding.

Guess which option this post is about?
In the words of Tina Turner, “We don’t never do nothing niiiiice and easssssy…” (Actually…we do. Nice and easy would be preferable. In fact, it is actually the path of choice for us most of the time, but we just couldn’t resist the rare opportunity to use a Tina Turner quote. We also have decided to use the royal “we” for this paragraph. We will stop now.)

-Glass mirror (with frame and/or board backing removed and set aside to be reattached later)
-Paint stripper (I used the spray kind, but there are also paste options)
-Muriatic acid (Even with a large mirror, you do not need much, so buy the smallest bottle possible)
-Plastic paint scraper
-Distilled water
-Several cotton rags, a few dampened with distilled water
-a roll of paper towels
-Sturdy drop cloth
-Two spray bottles, one for distilled water and one for muriatic acid (The one that you will use for the muriatic acid will not be reusable). Also, test the bottle for muriatic acid with water first to determine spray pattern. Spritzing on scrap brown paper like a cardboard box or grocery bag is a good way to see the spray pattern. Does it spray a mist or droplets? Is this the spatter pattern you want to make on the mirror? If not, find another bottle/nozzle that does create the look that you’re seeking.
-Sufficient newspapers to cover the dropcloth at least 5 layers thick for each chemical application
-Acid resistant gloves (I doubled up and wore another pair of gloves underneath)
-Protective goggles
-Respiratory mask for use with acids (dust masks are not effective against chemical mist/fumes)
-Clothing that will shield against splatters
-Hairband to secure long hair
-Optional but highly recommended: Another individual within earshot who knows what chemicals you are working with and has the number for poison control
Before you begin:
  1. This project MUST-MUST-MUST be done in a VERY well-ventilated area…ideally outdoors. This is NOT a kitchen table project. Personally, I wouldn’t even do it in a basement or a garage unless the garage door was wide open. Make sure that all work surfaces are well protected. Keep kids and pets or even prone-to-do-stupid-things adults away from your work area until all chemicals are cleared.
  2. Take a quick moment to Google “muriatic acid” including what it can do to human flesh and particularly what it can do if inhaled. Now take another look at what you are using to protect yourself and objects from contact when using this chemical. Re-assess whether your precautions are sufficient in light of the really horrifying descriptions/pictures your web search yielded. Also know what to do in case of emergency. Muriatic/hydrochloric acid is not to be trifled with.
  3. Know what you plan to do with the rags, paper, excess acid, etc. when you’re done with it. What are the hazardous materials disposal processes in your community?
After protecting yourself and your work surface, lay the mirror face-down on the layers of newspapers. Spray or apply your paint stripper with a brush, following product directions. Depending on the stripper, paint should start to lift in 5 to 15 minutes. You’ll notice wrinkling and puckering of the paint, which indicates that it is lifting. Gently wipe the stripped paint away to reveal the silvering underneath. For difficult to remove paint areas, you can use the plastic paint scraper, being careful not to scrape the silvering off. Often it is better to just apply a bit more paint stripper to these areas and patiently wait for the paint to lift, rather than scraping harder and risking scratch lines on the silvering.
Once all of the protective paint has been removed, use your bottle of water to spritz the back of the mirror and wipe all paint stripper residue off with the paper towels. Ensure that no paint/paint stripper has seeped around the edges of the mirror and onto the front. If it has, clean those areas before the gunk has dried. This is also a good time to replace the soiled newspapers with clean and dry ones, in preparation for the next step. Allow the newly de-nuded mirror to dry.
Very carefully pour a small amount of the muriatic acid into the spray bottle that you have designated for this purpose, making certain not to be in the path of any fumes that may rise from pouring. When I opened my acid bottle, there was a foil seal at the opening. Rather than completely removing the seal, I poked two holes across from one another (like a colon- : ) . This allowed ventilation, so that when I poured from the “bottom” hole, the acid didn’t glug or slosh. Pour slowly and steadily to eliminate the possibility for spills.
Use the spray bottle to apply the acid to the areas that you would like to age. Any of the silvering that the acid touches will be lifted, so apply sparingly at first. Remember, you can always remove more (but not add) to the silvering. Let the acid sit for a minute or two, then using the dampened cotton rags, blot the liquid beads. Just blot. Don’t move the rag in circles, lines, or drag the rag in any way. This will smear the acid and muddle the spray pattern. Once all of the acid has been completely soaked up into the rag, allow the glass to air dry. After the glass is dry, use the water bottle to spritz the areas where the acid had been sprayed, allow the water to sit for a minute or two, then blot again (with unused rag) to remove acid residue and allow to air dry. (If there are water spots on the silvered side of the mirror after the second blotting, rinse mirror with a stream of water and gently wipe dry). Properly store/dispose of remaining acid and materials (newspapers, rags, gloves, etc) that it came in contact with, per your local hazardous materials requirements.
Once the mirror is dry and free of acid, you’ll need to apply to the back of mirror whatever you plan to have show through the gaps in the silvering that you have created. The traditional choice would be black paint to mimic a naturally aged mirror. Another option might be a contrasting metallic paint or leaf, such as copper or gold. Protect the paint and exposed silvering with cardboard or veneer cut to fit and reattach frame.

For the piece above, I used a small 5" mirror from the dollar store. These work well, and at their inexpensive price, they're good for experimentation before moving on to bigger mirrors.

After aging the mirror tile, I backed it with black paper and adhered it to a circle of pine using Liquid Nails. The black paper peeps through in the areas where the acid removed the silvering. I painted the wood mounting for the mirror black and added a simple sawtooth hanger on the back. Using epoxy, I added a ring of erratically shaped blued steel tacks to the rim of the wood to make this little accent mirror a bit more eerie and forlorn.

Since I knew that wasn't going to go through this aging process frequently,  I treated several mirror tiles at once to have a supply stash to work from. I'm certain that they'll be popping up in more elaborate works to come.


  1. This is a hilarious write up of a very cool (and dangerous) process. I don't think I'll be trying it any time soon myself, but I love the look you achieved!

  2. Thank you so much! The acid method is quite an undertaking, but if you'd like to achieve a similar effect, the first method that I mentioned may suffice your your needs.

  3. Thank you for your blog - this is a very interesting viewpoint to antiques :)

  4. Hola. Muy bien logrado pero puede lograrse el mismo efecto usando lejia o hipoclorito de sodio que no levanta los vapores del acido pero deben usar guantas igualmente para proteccion

  5. Perdon. Pero no se porque salio "vapores del cuerpo" jaja .Quise decir vapores del acido muriatico