How to Clean Antique Clock Works

Written by brian adler
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How to Clean Antique Clock Works
Antique Clock (hora est image by Josef F Stuefer from

Antique clocks are mechanical clocks. Dating from the early 1900s and before, they contain a works, or movement, that consists of a set of interlocking wheels and gears. The individual parts of an antique clock works must move freely in order for the clock to keep accurate time. Over time, grease and grime collect on these gears, gradually slowing or stopping their movement. Cleaning an antique clock works requires the preparation and use of a special cleaning solution.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Screwdriver
  • Soft cloths
  • Cotton swabs
  • Can of compressed air
  • 113gr oleic acid
  • 227gr acetone
  • 354ml ammonium hydroxide solution, 26 degree Baume
  • 1 gallon water

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  1. 1

    Open the back of the antique clock to expose the clock movement. All clocks do not open in the same fashion. Some have tabs, while others have screws that must be removed with a screwdriver.

  2. 2

    Inspect the antique clock works for any materials that might be clogging the gears. Use the soft cloths to wipe away globs of grease, dried lubricant, and visible accumulations of lint. Use cotton swabs to extract these unwanted materials from hard to reach portions of the clock works. Do not force cloths or cotton swabs into tight spots, or between delicate parts of the works.

  3. 3

    Use a can of compressed air to blow dust and grime out of the most difficult to reach parts of the antique clock works. These cans are also used to clean out computers. They come equipped with a long, thin nozzle that permits blasts of air to be directed into tight spots.

  4. 4

    Make an antique clock works cleaning solution by mixing together the oleic acid, acetone, and ammonium hydroxide. 26 Baume is a specific measurement of the strength of the ammonium hydroxide. Ammonium hydroxide solutions are available from commercial dealers. Add this mixture to a gallon of water.

  5. 5

    Moisten a soft cloth or cotton swab with the antique clock works cleaning solution. Use the cloth or swab to rub away stuck on grime. Do not flood the works with clock cleaning solution. Rub gently to avoid causing damage to delicate old parts.

  6. 6

    Permit the clock works to dry. Close up the back of the antique clock, using a screwdriver if necessary.

Tips and warnings

  • Ideally, antique clock works should be cleaned by taking apart the entire movement and cleaning each part individually. Antique clock movements can be extremely difficult to put back together properly. For a thorough cleaning, bring the antique clock movement to a professional clockmaker or clock restorer.
  • Oleic Acid is not always easy to find. Murphy's Oil Soap can be used as a substitute, as it is essentially the same.
  • Do not clean parts too vigorously. Rubbing too hard can remove the patina. Patina is a natural discolouration of metal that is caused by age and exposure to the air. With antique clocks, loss of patina can equal a loss of value.

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