Before and After: Painted Tin Thermometer

Over the holiday break, I took a $15 gamble on a vintage tin advertising thermometer. This is how I bought it.

BeforeWhy was it a gamble? That’s not dirt covering the graphics. Some helpful person in history decided to tape off the thermometer and spray paint everything else silver. After a few decades in the elements, the silver paint had degraded to a translucent fog. But, I could clearly make out all of the graphics and see that they appeared to be in excellent condition under the paint. No dents, no rust, no missing paint. Surely there had to be a way to get under that almost non-existent veil of paint. So I paid my $15 and headed off to the internet to find a solution.


If this were an older porcelain enamel sign the solution would be easy—paint stripper. The chemicals won’t harm the baked on porcelain and the layers of paint slick right off. But this sign isn’t old enough for that, instead it is just paint and removing paint from paint is a tricky business. After pouring over sign collector forums I started trying every homespun solution in the book. Just scrubbing it off? No. Vegetable oil? Fat chance. Goo Gone? Fail. Acetone? Nope. Paint thinner? Absolutely not. I even tried 3M Safest Stripper, a non-toxic paint remover. Nothing. There was only one last thing I hadn’t tried. Oven cleaner. That’s right, good old Easy Off. One person in one forum suggested this and swore by it. I was worried about it harming the graphics below, but what did I have to lose?



Clearly nothing. Within seconds of spraying the oven cleaner on the surface it immediately turned brown and the spray paint just wiped right off with a paper towel. Miraculous. I honestly couldn’t believe how easy it was. The only thing it didn’t remove was the latex paint spotted about. That took some scraping to get free.


The oven cleaner did leave a dull surface though. It’s hard to know if this was caused by the cleaner, the paint or it was simply weathered before it was painted silver. To correct this I buffed the entire thing out with Meguire’s Ultimate Compound, a rubbing compound you can find in the automotive care aisle. This glossed everything up and even removed the oxidation on the gauge that was never painted over. Then I followed this with some liquid car wax. That took a little elbow grease, but a small price to pay for the ease of removing the paint. And with that, Easy Off just earned its forever place in my arsenal of restoration products.

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  1. Victor
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    Wow, that’s remarkable! Though, I’m curious as to how it was only active on the spray paint and not the sign paint. I also find it interesting that it removed surface oxidation. I may be trying this in some things.

    • Austin
      Posted January 8, 2014 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

      It is pretty amazing, but I should point out that the oven cleaner didn’t remove the surface oxidation, that was the work of my trusty Meguire’s rubbing compound. I would also be very cautious with this technique and maybe try it in an inconspicuous area first. Although this piece was painted, it may have had heat cured paint which will be more resilient than other surfaces. It may also be worth noting that I used Easy Off Fume Free rather than conventional oven cleaner which might be more aggressive. Good luck and report back if you have success!

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