How To Clean Antique Vintage Watches

If you want to know how to clean antique vintage watches, keep in mind that hand cleaning is the preferred method. Some jewelers and watch repair shops clean vintage watches with an ultrasonic cleaning method. But hand cleaning is a good, safe method.

All watches–antique, vintage, or otherwise–need to be cleaned periodically to stay in good working condition. Over time, the inside parts gather dust, debris and, sometimes, rust and corrosion. The smallest foreign particle can disrupt the functioning and accuracy of a watch. To keep your antique or vintage watch in good working order, gather the appropriate supplies and follow these instructions. With tips from freelancer Randall Frost, here is how to clean the watch yourself.


  • Watchmaker’s tools
  • Watchmaker’s brushes
  • Cleaning solution
  • Lint-free cloth
  • Pegwood pieces
  • Pithwood buttons
  • Bellows
  • Mainspring winder?
  1. Disassemble the watch. To start cleaning your antique vintage watch, disassemble the timepiece. Remove the case and the movement. Set the mainspring, balance, and pallets aside for a while. You will clean these parts last. Place all other watch parts in a commercial cleaning solution, purchased online or from a jewelry shop.
  2. Clean the bottom plate. Remove the bottom clock plate from the cleaning solution. Dry it with a lint-free cloth. Brush both sides of the plate surface with a soft watch brush. Clean out the jewel and pivot holes with pegwood, much sturdier and longer than a toothpick. Blow the clock plate with a bellows, which delivers pressurized air.
  3. Clean the balance. Remove the balance end-piece from the cleaning solution. Brush both sides with a watch brush. Clean the surface of the end stone with pegwood, and return it to its position on the bottom plate. Repeat the cleaning process with the bridges and cocks.
  4. Clean the motion works. Clean each wheel, and brush the teeth with a watch brush. Clean the pinion with pegwood. Carefully clean the pivots free of oil.
  5. Clean the screws and keyless parts. After removing them from the cleaning solution, brush the keyless parts with a watch brush. Clean the screws, minute and hour wheels, and cannon pinion the same way. Use pegwood to clean the holes.
  6. Clean the mainspring and barrel. Clean the clock barrel, cover, and arbor. Using a mainspring winder, return the mainspring to the inside of the barrel. Use pegwood to press the spring into place, then snap on the cover.
  7. Clean the wheel train, wheels, and escapement. Dip the escape wheel and pallets into the cleaning solution. Quickly remove the pallets and brush them with a watch brush. Clean the pallets and stones with pithwood buttons. Clean the escape wheel, using pithwood on the teeth. Remove the balance spring from the balance, dip both pieces in cleaning solution, and dry them with a lint-free cloth.
  8. Enjoy your antique vintage watch. Your antique vintage watch is clean and ready to go again. With periodic hand cleaning, your vintage timepiece should continue to work properly, for years of accurate time-keeping.
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