Written by Dale Richardson - Updated: June 23, 2023
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Rust may be rustic - but not when it’s eating your bathroom mirror. Here’s why it happens and how you can deal with the problem.
A mirror rusts when its metal parts are exposed to too much moisture. Metal brackets and chrome trimmings are vulnerable but “mirror rot” also occurs. This is when moisture slips in between the glass and the reflective metal and the metal rusts.
There are several ways to prevent your bathroom mirror from rusting. There are also options to consider if your mirror is already rotting.
Read Next: How to fix a buzzing bathroom mirror.
Chrome is often added to a mirror’s edges and brackets to protect it from rust. So why is your chrome turning rusty? This is usually because something damaged the chrome and allowed the moisture to sneak in. Perhaps the mirror got scratched during a recent house move. After a lot of showers, the moisture in the air penetrates the scratch and rust begins to nibble and spread. Another common problem is de-silvering. Also known as “mirror rot,” the condition is easy to diagnose. Your mirror is getting these unsightly dark blots behind the glass. It interferes with the mirror’s aesthetics and ability to reflect. What’s causing this? Mirrors are specifically sealed so that moisture cannot get in between the glass and reflective metal plate. But ammonia can damage this sealing finish. Most cleaning products contain ammonia and when homeowners use it to clean their mirrors, they are unwittingly removing the sealing that blocks moisture and rust. Once the moisture slips in between the two layers, it gets trapped and causes the metal to oxidize (rust).
This old rusty door handle has chrome paint
Step 1: Clean the surface. Chrome tends to collect stuff like soap scum, hair spray, and even toothpaste. Wipe these off with a clean cloth.
Step 2: Get a commercial chrome cleaner or use things in the home like vinegar, cola, lemon or lime juice.
Step 3: Follow the commercial product’s instructions. If you are using a homemade solution, let the cola or vinegar sit on the chrome for a couple of minutes. Carefully scrub with a sponge, pat dry, and repeat until all the rust is removed.
Step 4: The chrome needs to be sealed to stop moisture from restarting the rusting process again. Some commercial chrome polishes double as a sealant. You can also apply car wax to the chrome to seal the cracks.
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The bad news is that you are probably better off replacing the mirror. Fixing a mirror with this type of damage usually calls for replacing the reflective plate, glass, and sealants. Needless to say, this is not an easy DIY job and when done by a professional company, the price can get hairy. If you are worried that your mirror might rot, then there are a few things you can do to keep it looking great.
Let’s quickly recap the problem. Manufacturers are aware that bathroom mirrors run a higher risk than other household mirrors of developing rust. After all, most bathrooms include showers that steam the mirror repeatedly. For this reason, bathroom mirrors are treated with sealants to block moisture from getting in between the glass and reflective plate.
Ammonia weakens and strips the sealants away. Presto. The moisture has found a way to get into your mirror and make some rust.
You can also manage moisture in the bathroom by installing a bathroom extractor fan .
If you have the time and dedication to tackle this DIY, then give it a go. Maybe you love restoring old mirrors for a hobby or you just want to fix the bathroom mirror because you love working with your hands. Whatever your reason for wanting to fix mirror rot yourself, you do have several options to help you succeed.
The main benefit of a desilvering repair kit is that it most likely already contains all the things that you need to fix your mirror. Each one also comes with detailed instructions to guide you. Try to get the best kit that you can. A botched mirror looks even worse.
You can find reflective paints at most hobby stores. Once again, purchase the most quality product that you can - you’ll see the results when you are finished.
The hard part is to separate the glass and the plate. But once you manage to do that, clean the metal plate thoroughly and make sure that all the rust is removed. Take your time with this - if a speck of rust remains behind, it could “infect” the mirror again in the future with another rust breakout.
Apply at least two coats of the paint on the metal plate. But wait for the first one to dry before you apply the second coat. You can also just touch-up the affected area by removing the rust but not the entire silvering. Then simply paint that area with a few coats.
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