Cleaning - Polishing
Bakelite and Catalin
FIRST LET'S HAVE AN UNDERSTANDING, I AM NOT EXPERT IN PLASTICS and I AM AWARE THAT CATALIN and BAKELITE are TRADE NAMES. HOWEVER, THEY HAVE BECOME (more of less) GENERIC TERMS OVER THE YEARS. I ALSO WANT TO POINT OUT THAT CATALIN IS OFTEN REFERRED TO BY MANY DEALERS AS BAKELITE.
The colorful jewelry that dealers (and most books on the subject) refer to as Bakelite is really Catalin. Bakelite is very common in the use of electrical devises, handles for kitchen cookware, radio cabinets, ashtrays and thousands of other products. It's always opaque, usually black or brown and not a material to get all that excited about. The colorful material used in costume jewelry, radio cabinets and lot of other colorful objects is Catalin. Objects made of Catalin is translucent and often marbled with one or more other colors. It has a different luster than does Bakelite and can be polished to a glass like shine. Objects such as radio cabinets and other large items were not commonly made of Catalin and those that were are highly prized.
I HOPE (in simple terms below) TO EXPLAIN THE DIFFERENCE IN THESE TWO PLASTIC'S and HOW TO TREAT THEM WHEN CLEANING AND POLISHING.
Catalin is a hard plastic that can be cleaned and polished without fear of damage like Bakelite. You can wash and clean it with any good household cleaner such as ammonia, "409" etc. After it is clean & dry you can sand and polish Catalin as you would a fine piece of hardwood as Catalin consist of the same material all the way through. I would not recommend sanding it unless it is badly scratched and scuffed unless you plan on spending a great deal of time with it. If you do take on this task you must have the proper sanding materials on hand such as the "Micro-Mesh" sanding system. With wood you only have to go down to about 600 grit but with Catalin that's about where you would start and end with 6000 grit or higher.
After cleaning and (if necessary sanding) , I use a polish called "Blue Magic" it's a metal polish and you can usually find it in auto parts stores or I can supply it if you can't find it locally. It works great on all Bakelite, Catalin and other plastics.
The original "Alabaster" (marbleized white) Catalin color will have oxidized to "Butterscotch" or yellow in color, so if you sand and polish enough you will bring back this original color but it will not stay, it will revert back to "Butterscotch" in time. Some of the other colors will have also iodized as well, for example a green color may actually be blue once cleaned and polished or blue may oxidized to green. I once had a dark yellow case that became lavender after cleaning and polishing.
Bakelite is another matter, Catalin is a thermoset resin that is cold poured into moulds and baked at a low temperature and hand finished when cured. Bakelite although it consists of the same raw materials but has a filler of sawdust, asbestos or other fibrous material. When manufactured, it is heated and injected into steel molds at high temperature and great pressure. This process results in the high gloss finish that collects on the outer surface of the Bakelite case. This finish however is very thin and can be dissolved with alkali and ammoniated cleaners. It can also be rubbed away with polishing, so care must be taken to preserve the finish as once it is gone it cannot be restored to it's original gloss. If the case is waxy and greasy you can clean it with paint thinner or cigarette lighter fluid. DON'T USE ALCOHOL!
I first clean Bakelite with a non alkali, non ammoniated cleaner like "Earth Wise" dishwashing liquid, it's a biodegradable with no alkali's or ammonia. After it is cleaned I use a product called "Magnolia Glayzit" is a polish originally designed to polish Bakelite telephones, I can also supply this product.
If a Bakelite finish is hopelessly dulled or has been completely destroyed, the only remaining hope is to go over it with a high speed cloth buffing wheel loaded with a polish designed to use with a cloth buffing wheel. BEFORE USING A HIGH SPEED BUFFING WHEEL, BE SURE THE MATERIAL IS BAKELITE, CATALIN, UREA or PLASKON! Some radio cabinets are made of other soft plastics which WILL MELT when buffed with a high speed buffing wheel! If you don't know for sure what type of plastic you have, test first on an inside area where any damage will not show. The high speed buffing will bring back some of the luster but never to it's original gloss. After buffing, use "Magnolia Glayzit". NEVER USE SANDPAPER ON BAKELITE!