How To Clean Bakelite Radios

How to clean Bakelite radios involves a few basic pieces of cleaning equipment and elbow grease. Bakelite is a generic term used by general collectors to describe a group of plastics that include Catalin, Urea or Plaskon. Bakelite is actually a patented process that was used to make radios, telephones and even jewelry. Cleaning is different from restoration. If your radio has a dull finish or spots of paint or discoloration, cleaning is not going to make the radio look good. Restoration means you'll need to determine the actual plastic used to make your radio and research the sound restoration process to make it look wonderful again. 

  • soft cloth
  • plastic cleaner
  • paint brushes, various sizes
  • air blower
  • warm water
  • soft towel
  1. Set up cleaning equipment. Put down the towel on a flat surface, preferably outdoors, and make sure all the equipment is ready. Avoid direct sunlight, if possible, as it may discolor any thin plastic over the tuner or dials. 
  2. Clean off dust. The most important step in how to clean Bakelite radios involves getting rid of all the dust before starting work on any larger areas of dirt or grease. Take the clean, dry paint brushes and begin brushing out all cracks and crevices. Use tiny brushes to clean out the smallest cracks. Do not wet the brushes. Wet dust just smears and adds an extra element of grime to cleaning the Bakelite. 
  3. Clean any smudges. Once the dust is gone, wet a small, soft cloth and begin work on any dirt smudges. 
  4. Clean big dirt. After all the major smudges are removed from the radio, it's time to clean the major dirt from the Bakelite radio. Hopefully, the radio doesn't have a lot of heavy soil. Cleaning the dirt is easier if you can make an educated guess about what exactly caused the dirt. If the radio was used in a auto garage, then consider grease is part of the dirt. Always start cleaning in a small area that isn't immediately visible. If the plastic changes color with the washing, you'll want to make sure it cannot be immediately seen when viewing the radio. Don't assume that since the cleaning product worked on another radio, that all plastic will be cleaned the same way. Start with water and then move to a mild dish washing detergent before trying any extreme cleaning products. Go through the light wash at least two or three times before moving onto something else. 
  5. Clean knobs. The knobs should be dusted, but take a damp cloth and lightly wash the knobs. Avoid any sprayed metal-look covering since these usually discolor when exposed to any liquids. You may have to live with a natural looking radio. It's vintage and maybe shouldn't look like it came right off the store shelves.
  6. Polish case. If your radio has made it through all the cleaning processes, and you still want a shiny, like-new radio, try a plastics product. This requires a bit of risk. You must be sure that the product used to make the radio is Bakelite. Buy a test kit to confirm the material. Once the Bakelite confirmation is confirmed, use a plastic polish to make the hard plastic shine. Don't press too hard or use a scrub pad to polish. This will actually scratch the plastic even more. If the case isn't shiny, like new, then you'll need to restore the radio. Cleaning won't make it shine. 
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