If you are fortunate enough to have an antique chain mesh purse, chances are it may need to cleaning.
As a collector of these rare chain mesh purses, I know how they can become dull, tarnished, and look like something which should be thrown away. But, if you know their worth, trashing them is like grinding gold down a garbage disposal. Even if these, rare, historical accessories are displayed within a glass case, they still take on tarnish and lose their original luster after a few months. I have a remedy which will keep your treasures shining and beautiful, without fear of damage or using harsh chemicals to clean them.
A good old fashioned way of cleaning: Vinegar and baking soda.
Clean away tarnish, grime, dirt, and oxidation without scratching your treasures. (This was my grandma’s tip, and it is a safe, natural, combination that really works.) It makes metals, gemstones, and other embellishments sparkle. I also use it to clean faucets, tubs, bathroom tile and even add a bit in my laundry to remove stains and odors.
To use for cleaning, make a paste of the baking soda by adding a little water. Mix to match the consistency and texture of toothpaste. Using a soft toothbrush, scrub area to be cleaned with the baking soda paste. Dip toothbrush in vinegar and scrub area, again. The vinegar will cause the baking soda mixture to foam. Dip the toothbrush into the vinegar as often as needed to keep the mixture foaming. Rinse the area being cleaned and check to see if it might need a second application. Usually, one application of this process will work beautifully, but sometimes a second application may be necessary, if the area being cleaned is heavily soiled.
Removing corrosion requires extra caution. Many antique purse metal frames do not have silver content, and may show signs of corrosion. This is particularly evident in purses made with a copper or brass base. Many antique purses were made from brass, then were silver plated. Over the years, the thin layer of silver tarnishes and turns black. Removing the tarnish may leave the brassy tones showing through the surface. If these purses were stored improperly or subject to moisture, evidence of corrosion could be substantial. Rust and verdigris (a green rust, common with copper) on chain mail purses is unsightly, smells bad, and is potentially hazardous. If green verdigris is visible, handle cautiously, as it is highly toxic. When cleaning corrosion from anything, you should wear a face mask to prevent breathing in the dust, or at least dampen the area with water to prevent the dust from becoming airborne.
• First, scrub item or area affected with the vinegar and baking soda solution with a soft brush. The solution will also neutralize the corrosion and prevent further corrosion.
• Second, scrape any remaining corrosion away using fine steel wool, or tip of a blade if corrosion is in a tight spot. If you use a blade, scrape lightly, being careful to scrape only the area affected.
• Next, scrub area with the vinegar and baking soda solution, again, and rinse.
Dry thoroughly with soft cloth.
Finish item by polishing with a silver polish, or lightly rub a tiny amount of orange oil (furniture oil also works well) over area cleaned. Wipe off any excess oil. This will put a thin moisture proof barrier between the metal and air, which will help prevent more tarnishing and corrosion.
Corroded chain mail or chain mesh purses are a bit more tricky to clean. If there is a lot of rust or verdigris on the mesh body, it would be simpler to just throw the chain mail mesh into a rock tumbler. However, I don’t have that luxury, and I imagine that would make a lot of noise, anyway. I use one of those battery operated, huge cleaning brushes, which looks like a toothbrush on steroids. You can purchase one at the grocery or drug store in the cleaning isle. I also like to use a baking soda toothpaste, for this project.
• First, soak the chain mesh in a glass dish with hot water, a squirt of dish soap, and dissolved baking soda. Soak for at least 10 minutes.
• Second, scrub the chain mesh, using the baking soda toothpaste and brush. Chain mail mesh is usually pretty tough, so don’t be too afraid to scrub vigorously. Rinse in warm water.
• Next, pile the chain mail in the palm of your hand. Add a few drops of dish soap and a dime-sized squirt of baking soda toothpaste on top. Now, kneed the chain mail mesh vigorously in the palm of your hand, rubbing the links against each other. Get rough. SCRUB! Rinse and repeat as necessary.
• When you get the chain mail as clean as you can get it, dip in vinegar and rinse. Dry with a soft cloth.
Re-link any chain mail which may have separated. It is better for weak links to detach during a cleaning so you will not have to worry about any weak spots, later. Your chain mail should be squeaky clean and sparkle, unless it was heavily corroded and damaged. Unfortunately, if the chain mail mesh is heavily damaged by the corrosion, the only thing you can do is enamel it with a coat of rust proof paint. Even then, an antique chain mail mesh purse is very rare and valuable. During the Victorian era, it was not uncommon for widows to have their chain mail mesh bags painted with black lacquer or enamel to signify mourning. So, if you must resort to painting your antique chain mail mesh purse, black would be the color to use.