How to protect old tins

Updated February 21, 2017

Before mass production of cardboard and plastic storage containers, people stored perishable items, such as coffee, spices, candy, tobacco and talcum powder, in painted and labelled tin containers. These tin containers, commonly referred to as “old tins,” “vintage tins” or “antique tins,” have become extremely collectable. In addition, people continue to use old tins for storage of perishable items sealed in plastic bags and nonperishable items. The most common damage that old tins suffer is surface etching, design or label cracking and peeling, and metal corrosion from moisture.

Take any suspected antique tins of value to an antique/vintage tin specialist before cleaning or storing as some tins have labels or other markings that with removal would decrease value. If you own valuable tins, follow any instructions given to you by the specialist for preserving the tins.

Clean any old tins that don't require special cleaning or preservation as the dirt, oil and/or bacteria on the tins can cause damage to the paint and metal over time. Mix a mild dish detergent with warm water, and then swish a soft microfiber cloth in the water to make the cloth soapy. Squeeze out as much excess water as possible, and then gently wash the tins. Wipe off any soap residue with a damp microfiber cloth.

Dry your tins inside and outside--sides, bottoms, lids and latches--with dry, soft cloths. Wrap a single layer of cloth over the head of a small, flat-headed screwdriver, and rub the cloth into any seams or joint pieces to absorb as much moisture as possible as the seams can corrode quickly if not dried completely.

Set your old tins aside in a room with a dehumidifier turned on to absorb any moisture remaining on the tins from cleaning.

Store or show your tins in rooms that don’t normally experience fluctuations in temperature or moisture levels. Keep your tins out of kitchens and bathrooms as these rooms experience rapid changes in temperature and moisture as well as increased moisture that can break down painted/printed tin designs and corrode metal. In addition, store or show your tins in shaded rooms as sunlight can crack or peel paint. As with drying washed tins, use dehumidifiers to keep moisture levels low.


Never use harsh or abrasive cleaners or scrubbing pads to clean your old tins as doing so can damage printed areas on your tins as well as etch the metal.

Things You'll Need

  • Water
  • Mild soap
  • Microfiber cloths
  • Flathead screwdriver
  • Dehumidifier
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About the Author

Based in Southern Pennsylvania, Irene A. Blake has been writing on a wide range of topics for over a decade. Her work has appeared in projects by The National Network for Artist Placement, the-phone-book Limited and GateHouse Media. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Shippensburg University.