How to Restore an Antique Phone

Updated April 17, 2017

Restore an old rotary phone to its original glory with a little patience and time. Restoring an old wooden wall phone or candlestick phone, however, remains a complicated process best left to a professional phone restoration expert. Very old phones have value to collectors, and attempting a first-time restoration on such a piece may reduce an antique phone's worth. While converting an antique phone to work with today's phone lines remains a challenge, cleaning and polishing a vintage phone makes a good restoration project for a novice phone collector. Phones from the 1950s through the 1970s are easily disassembled. Grab a screwdriver, study the phone's construction and dive in.

Remove the phone's exterior shell. Due to the variety of phone manufacturers over the years, no standard method for disassembling a phone exists. Study the phone's construction and gently remove the exterior from the guts. Place the exterior shell and receiver in one area and the guts of the phone into another to keep things sorted.

Look for any metal tags on the phone in order to discover the original manufacturer and, hopefully, date of the phone. Sketch the parts of the phone or look up the manufacturer and approximate date of the phone for online diagrams of the phone's inner workings. The Antique Telephone Collector's Association, for example, offers plenty of resources for finding technical information on your old phone.

Divide the phone's inner parts into three of the large containers, including one for the dial, one for the ringer assembly and another for the network block. Label pieces where necessary. Fill the last container with dish soap and warm water and soak the parts. Only soak three to five parts at a time in order to keep better track of the pieces. Allow pieces to dry completely.

Clean metal parts with an appropriate metal cleaner. Use a brass cleaner, for instance, for all brass parts and so forth. Rubbing alcohol, vinegar and all-purpose cleaners also work well on these inner metal parts. Canned air and electrical contact cleaners are other options for cleaning dial gears. Clean the inside of the phone's base, the bottom of the base and the cords.

Clean the phone's exterior shell and hand receiver shell with a damp rag and dish soap. Toothpicks and cotton swabs work well for digging dirt from crevices and tight spots. Beyond a damp rag, how you clean your vintage phone depends on the shell's material. Bakelite, for instance, loses its finish with ammonia. Plastic tolerates other solutions, but read the cleaning solution's manufacturer's instructions. When in doubt, stick with the gentle dish soap.

Polish your old phone. Products like Magnolia Glayzit, Brasso and Novus #2 are frequently used by professional phone restoration shops. Buff the phone by hand with a clean rag. Reassemble the phone and admire your work. If you choose to hire a professional to convert the old phone into a modern working model, your cleaning efforts will save money and help speed the process along.


Some professional phone restorers rub out old scratches with a fine sandpaper. If you choose to sand scratches, apply as little pressure as possible or risk making a small scratch huge.


Avoid using alcohol or ammonia to clean a Bakelite phone. Bakelite has a finish which, once removed, never returns despite your best efforts.

Things You'll Need

  • Paper and pencil
  • Computer with Internet access
  • Large work table
  • Screwdrivers, both Phillips and flathead in a variety of sizes
  • Four large plastic containers
  • Permanent marker and small adhesive labels
  • Gentle dish soap
  • Metal cleaner or all-purpose cleaner (optional)
  • Canned air cleaner (optional)
  • Electrical contact cleaner (optional)
  • Vinegar (optional)
  • Clean rags
  • Toothpicks and cotton swabs
  • Sandpaper (optional)
  • Polish designed for material on phone's exterior
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About the Author

Jennifer Marlowe is a seasoned journalist with experience since 1994. As a former reporter and columnist, she has written for a variety of publications including "The Cleveland Plain Dealer," "Sew Simple Magazine," "Northern Ohio Live," "Ohio Game & Fish" and "The Country's Best Log Homes." Marlowe holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Akron.