Cleaning Pressed Steel Toys

Cleaning pressed steel toys such as Tonka, Wyandotte and others can often be a challenge if there is rust involved. Since the toys worth cleaning are generally older toys they are going to have rust and dirt imbedded in the paint. Depending on just how far you intend to go with the cleaning or restoration depends on the cleaner or solution you will use.

If the toy is in fairly good condition with good paint and very little rust the option would be to use a mild soap and water solution to remove the dirt and grime. This will allow you to then make a further judgment on whether or not more work is needed. There are times when a good cleaning job with a mild dish washing liquid and warm water will accomplish cleaning the toy without further cleaning or damage to the surface. There are some toys rare enough to have some paint lose and some minor rust on the surface and not restored.

There are times when a toy or parts of a toy need to be cleaned and stripped of the paint and the years of rust that have accumulated on it. There are only a few options for cleaning this toy. One would be sand or bead blasting which not everyone had access to or the funds to invest in professional bead and sand blasting services. The best option for cleaning this toy is with a acid solution. This will clean not only the dirt and grime but also remove the rust and paint from the surfaces.

Years ago we always used Oxacylic acid to clean old beer cans for our collections. A nasty smelling and dangerous chemical we purchased from the local pharmacy. A couple of table spoons in per gallon of hot water would remove any rust from the old steel cans in a few minutes. Using this acid requires constant monitoring to insure you don't allow the paint to also be removed or faded by the acid. We learned the hard way not to place any aluminum cans in this solution as it would turn the bare metal yellow at the least and if left in the solution too long would disolve the cans.

Now to clean the old paint and rust from steel toys I use a safer type of chemical called Muriactic acid, used in cleaning brick, concrete, and stone around homes. Also used in the water mixture of swimming pools if you can believe that. Although a safer chemical to use there are still some safety procedures you need to follow if you use this chemical.

It can be bought at Lowes, Home depot and even your local hardware in gallon containers. I always use a large plastic tote with a lid when cleaning larger toys and auto parts and smaller ones for smaller parts. Make sure you have safety glasses, old work clothes you don't mind getting stains on and a good pair of rubber gloves. I use the same ones my wife uses in the house for washing dishes. Fumes are a problem with this acid so make sure you use in an open area.

A good solution mixture is about 20 gallon of water per gallon of acid. Make sure you are not standing over the container when pouring in the acid. The fumes are extremely bad. Depending on the condition of the toy or auto part I want cleaned I usually leave the part in the solution at least 24 hours and up to 48 hours on some toys and parts. Make sure the part or toy you are cleaning is steel and not pot metal or aluminum as the acid will dissolve these metals. Use a magnet on all parts of the toy to make sure it is all steel. Some people will take the toy out of the solution and spray with high pressure water first. I find the best way to insure I am going to stop the action of the solution in the crack and seams is to place the toy in a solution of hot water and a mild dish detergent for up to an hour and then spray the toy off. Once you start painting it makes it hard to back up and re-strip the piece again.

If you are going to leave the part or toy without primer or paint for a few days then the best option would be to use a hair dryer to make sure the piece is completely dry in the seams and cracks. Rust will start almost immediately on bare metal and drying with a towel or rag with not get the water out of the metal. At times if I am to busy I will leave the piece out in the sun to dry out throughout the day but remember rust will come back almost immediately if the metal is not reated with primer or paint..


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