Don’t Give Up On Copper Foiling Without Trying These Tricks

Stained Glass Copper Foil Tips

Oxidised Copper Foil

Oxidised stained glass copper foil
Oxidised stained glass copper foil before cleaning, centre. Shiny after clean around glass shapes

When stained glass copper foil oxidises it’s difficult to solder. What is the best thing to do when this happens? You might be surprised to learn that this simple vinegar and salt trick can help you.

Try the following on your oxidised stained glass copper foil and see the magic for yourself:

  • mix a quarter cup of white vinegar and a quarter teaspoon of table salt until the salt dissolves
  • dip the pieces of foiled glass into the mixture and swirl it around for about 30 seconds
  • rinse the pieces with water and dry them
  • that’s it! They are now ready to solder together

When Gail Koebke shared this with us she said ‘all the ugly oxidation was gone and I was left with bright shiny copper’. You can see this in the shiny shapes, above. She also added that, despite the foil being old, the above procedure didn’t stop it sticking.

If it works for old stained glass copper foil, it will work for new!

One note of caution; don’t get the vinegar/salt solution on any soldered work as it will turn it black. It might work as a black patina, though!

More Tips for Oxidised Stained Glass Copper Foil

  • Keep the foiled pieces in a sealed bag – a zip loc or a plastic bag to prevent air getting to it.
  • Mr Clean Magic Eraser has been recommended for cleaning foil. They’re cheap and don’t smell. Watch out though, they do shred easily.
  • Use fine steel wool and rub the foil until it shines copper again. Use a mask and wear gloves, it’s horrid stuff and makes lots of fine particles.
    Hoover or sweep up all those particles thoroughly before soldering – they get everywhere

Patina Discolouring On Panels

foiling-explainedQ: When I wash my finished piece of stained glass, dry it, and apply the black patina and wash again, a month later, there appears a whitish stain, like the solder is leaking, when I rub this away or re-polish it, most of the stain goes away. How can I prevent this from happening?

Milly’s reply:

There are a couple of options here. You can wash after soldering to neutralise the flux, scrubbing with a general purpose household soap (e.g. Dawn) with one of those green pan scrubbers until it froths up. Dry thoroughly with a paper or lint-free towel.

Or you can use Kwik Clean to clean off the flux. This is great for larger panels as you don’t have the problem of rinsing off.

Then use a polish to get rid of the invisible black dirt. Don’t ask me how, but it’s there! This can be done with either 1. a dedicated metal polish like Simichrome which comes in a tube. You might’ve seen it recommended elsewhere for stained glass use:

Or 2. you can use a standard car polish. Either way, you need to buff it repeatedly until no more black comes off. At this point it should look beautifully silver. If you want the finished work to remain silver, you’ve almost finished. Just wax it to give it a layer of protection against further oxidation, and you’re done.

If you want copper or black patina, now’s the time to apply it. Make sure you dry it off the excess with a paper towel as some glass is liable to staining. Let the patina dry.

Then wax the panel as above, leaving the wax to dry for a few minutes before buffing up.

If you’re using lead came, you need to polish it as shown on my site here: Polishing.

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54 thoughts on “Don’t Give Up On Copper Foiling Without Trying These Tricks”

  1. Milly
    Thanks for all the great tips.
    I have one to share that was shared to me by the owner of Salem stainedglass co.keep your foil in a baggie sealed and keep in the refrigerator I haven’t had any problems with my foil especially if there is high humidity in the area you are working in .
    Thank you Milly you are a blessing to all.Dawn Land

    Reply
  2. I’m just getting started in stained glass after receiving grandma’s supplies. One problem I am having is with the foil. There were a number of different sizes of copper foil rolls in her stash but the adhesive appears to be gone. Is there any way to salvage them?

    Reply
    • In a word Brenda, no 🙁 It’s best to throw them and start afresh. There’s nothing worse than foil coming off unbidden…

      Reply
  3. Beste Milly,
    Ik lees met interesse steeds u website-tips.
    Ik ben goudsmid en heb de volgende tip:
    Stained Glass Copper Foil Tips for Oxidised Stained Glass Copper Foil
    Problemen van oxidatie verhelpen

    Een mix van vinegar en salt, is een etsmiddel!
    Als het niet wordt geneutraliseerd, gaat de werking voor altijd (for ever) door.
    Het metaal(indit geval koper) zal verpulveren, erkomen gaten in.

    Etsmiddelen moet je altijd neutraliseren. Dat kan bijvoorbeeld met sodakorrels of amoniak(vloeistof). Amoniak is een vrij agressief middel voor de ademhaling. Dat stinkt erg met gevaarlijke damp.

    Onze voorkeur heeft SODA.
    Prettiger om te gebruiken is 1 literwater met een eetlepel sodakorrels. Goed roeren tot de soda is opgelost.
    In deze oplossing moet het stuk messing/koper worden afgespoeld en daarna weer in schoonwater naspoelen en goed drogen.
    Dan pas gaan solderen.

    In flux zit ook altijd een etsmiddel!!! en moet ook worden geneutraliseerd.
    Sorry, ik spreek slecht engels,
    Vriendelijke groet, Lize

    Reply
    • Thank you for the great tip, very helpful Lize!
      Translation from Dutch (Google Translate) I am a goldsmith and have the following tip:
      Stained Glass Copper Foil Tips for Oxidised Stained Glass Copper Foil
      Fix problems of oxidation

      A mix of vinegar and salt is an etchant!
      If it is not neutralized, it will continue to work forever.
      The metal (in this case copper) will pulverize and have holes.

      You should always neutralize etchants. This can be done, for example, with soda grains or ammonia (liquid). Ammonia is a fairly aggressive respiratory agent. That stinks a lot with dangerous vapor.

      Our preference is SODA.
      More convenient to use is 1 liter of water with a tablespoon of soda granules. Stir well until the soda has dissolved.
      In this solution, the brass / copper piece must be rinsed and then rinsed again in clean water and dried thoroughly.
      Then start soldering.

      Flux also always contains an etchant !!! and must also be neutralized.

      Reply
  4. I’ve heard of fixing glass phone fronts with a liquid from a dropper then remove excess with a razor blade. Have you heard of anything like this? I’m hoping to visibly removing a crack in a finished piece. 🥴

    Reply
    • If you search ‘glass glue capilliary action’ you’ll come up with some glues that go into really small cracks Barbara. It’s the same technology they use for repairing car windscreens.

      Reply
  5. Can you help with this? I have been teaching grandchildren to make sun catchers. After soldering the foiled pieces, the silver is getting a frosty appearance? What is this and how can I get rid of it? Is this oxidation?

    Reply
  6. Cael garraffo

    What is the best way to remove white oxidation from stained glass lamps
    that were made years ago?

    Reply
    • You can try mixing whiting with water and giving it a good scrub (being careful of the lovely lamp though!) Then polish and patina as normal.

      Reply
  7. We use this “trick” in my chemistry class all the time to “magically” polish pennies.
    The science behind this is that the salt, NaCl, dissociates, and is then free to react with the weak acetic acid. This forms chloro-acetic acid which is stronger (but still weak) acid. Strong enough to reduce the copper and brighten it right up!

    Reply
  8. Hi, I am from Cape Town in South Africa. My word I can’t find a store that sell the foil strips and the liquid leading.
    I am a beginner and want to do my kitchen cupboard with a few lines no major patterns.

    Reply
    • I’ve found a supplier in SA Christina, they’re called ‘Falling Moon’. They’re not in Cape Town but I’m sure they’ll deliver or know someone in CT who can help you.

      Reply
    • Christina, I live in Cape Town, Southern Suburbs and I go to Lead and Solder
      6a Saxon Park
      Glucose Way
      Bellville South
      Cape Town.

      Hope you get what you need.

      Adi

      Reply
  9. I have a project that has been in the making for 20 years. Most pieces have been foiled for a couple of years,. I’m now finishing it and almost ready to solder. My area is dusty. Do I need to wash each piece with your vinegar solution so the flux and solder stick? Im foiling the last few pieces with old foil. Its a big window so couldn’t do it all at once. Then we moved, …and more excuses. Will it all fall apart if I solder it now?

    Reply
    • Life happens Nancy! Things can be retrieved. Try wiping it off with a damp cloth to start with to remove the dust, then do a test to see if it will take the solder. If it does, you’re away.
      If not you need to do a bit more work to retrieve it, using the vinegar solution to freshen it up. Good luck. 2020 WILL be the year you get this done!

      Reply
  10. Thanks for this! Somehow I’ve never known you are supposed to solder soon after foiling. I also leave my foil out constantly. I guess Ive just gotten lucky, since nothing has oxidized. Regardless, I think I’ll bag it up now.

    Reply
  11. Hi, I was planning to re-purpose and old stained-glass lamp that had broken but have been my family for a very long time. I was planning to take the beautifully ornate molded leaves leaves and make them into individual Christmas ornaments for the family. The pieces heavily soldered and foiled. Is there an easy way to free the leave pieces?

    Reply
    • That sounds a lovely lamp Letizia. If the leaves are at the edge you’re in for an easier time. If not, start at the edge and work your way towards them. I’m assuming it’s made of copper foil.
      Before you start, cut an aluminium can into little strips with tin snips.
      You need to clean the solder seams so that you can melt them easier. Using gravity by tipping the lamp, run along bits of the seam, scraping the solder off as you go.
      When gaps appear in the seams, insert the strips of aluminium into them. Solder doesn’t stick to them so it helps with separating the pieces out. Keep going until you get to your leaf and remove it.
      Re-solder around the edge – I have a video on how to solder beaded edges here.
      I’d be very careful if it’s a precious family heirloom. I would start at an edge and if it was ruining everything I’d take it to someone who repairs stained glass rather than spoil it. Good luck!

      Reply
  12. Hi…I repaired a window…which is now with solder and lead….In front of the panel it soldered nicely…in the back of the panel…….the foil will not take the solder…….please help

    Reply
    • Have you made sure that the foil is scrupulously clean? Have you tried the tips above that are about cleaning the foil? As always, test a small area first to check it works. Good luck Alexandra.

      Reply
  13. Hi there! I applied a copper patina to my stained glass, but it turned copper-y, but with a lot of black. Any way for me to make it actually look like copper.

    Reply
  14. Not my top tip but Sharon’s – she emailed it to me so I thought I’d share it, Milly 🙂 I love the stock rotation idea!

    A tip for storing foil that I have done for years.
    Buy a 1 gallon paint can and lid at the hardware or home improvement store and put the unopened foil in the can and seal with the lid just as you would do with paint.
    I bought cans for each type and size of foil and labeled the cans. The cans store easily and the foil is protected from the element.
    If I add more foil to the cans I rotate the newest to the bottom and I always write the date I received the foil on the plastic wrapping.
    Most of my work is done with 7/32 copper backed EDCO foil. I like the look of copper patina on my finished pieces.

    Reply
  15. Hi Milly,
    I was told to use Odorless Mineral Sprits to bring the foiled glass pieces back to life. Just a little on a soft white cloth, rub softly as if I were polishing the piece, then with a clean dry soft cloth wipe clean.
    It works!
    What are your thoughts on using this product?

    Reply
    • That’s an interesting comment Judith, thanks. I got into a mess once with mineral spirit, trying to clean a piece, and have avoided ever since. Perhaps I put too much on… if it works for you, then it works! I’ll give it another try – perhaps with less mineral spirit than last time.
      Anyone else tried this? What did you find?

      Reply
  16. In your Blogs the words “polish” and “wax” are used. Polish you solder, patina and wax. Isn’t car polish and car wax the same?

    Can you give me some suggestions of what you use, as polish and wax.

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Polish contains an abrasive element that is meant to clean metal. Hence using it before the patina; to get the solder scrupulously clean. Some people don’t do this, they wash, then patina, then wax. Wax is for buffing up at the end. If you put an abrasive polish on after patina it will remove the patina.
      It is confusing Donna, for sure! I hope my explanation helps.

      Reply
        • They’re different Debi. Polish for cleaning and taking the solder back so it’s ready for patina to colour it and wax to protect it.

          Reply
          • I have seen you recommend this, and I want to try it… but then I read the polish has some wax in it too! I got Simichrome, which I saw you recommended. Would the wax that’s in the polish cause the patina not to work?? Thank you! 😊

          • The patina question is a complex one in truth Alison, as there are so many variables. If the Simichrome doesn’t work for you, then you can experiment with other polishes or try without polish. Some people recommend waxing before patina, then clean and a final wax after.
            One day I’m going to gather up all the patina ‘recipes’ and compile them for people to try!

  17. Thanks for the tip!
    To save money I mix a cup of dish soap and 2 tablespoons of baking soda into a large jug then fill up with water then splash some into a dishpan filled with hot water scrub with brush and the pieces come out shinny bright every time. Rinse well and you’re ready to polish or patina.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the tip Lynne, it’s a great idea, much appreciated by all. I love how everyone has their own methods, tried and tested in all these different studios across the world. It makes for a lovely thought 🙂

      Reply
  18. I have some copper foil that is about two years old and been In it’s package but I am wonder how to glue will work, haven’t tried it and I guess that would be my first step. Thanks for all your useful advice. I am away from my studio and can’t cut glass and am going thru withdrawals

    Reply
    • You’re right Joan, the glue is the important thing. Test it and see. It should be fine if it has been stored in an airtight package but you never can be sure unless you test.
      Get back to your studio at once! You obviously need stained glass 😉

      Reply
    • Yes, try it! As long as the back is still sticky it should be okay. You might want to test on a small piece first – I’m a great believer in testing.

      Reply
  19. After foiling a large panel if I’m not going to solder for a bit I cover it with a saran-type wrap until I get back to the piece. The wrap keeps the foil from oxidizing and the back of the piece is already protected as it lays on the workbench.

    Reply
    • Oh thanks for writing that tip Brandy. Funnily enough I’ve just answered an email asking that same question about a large panel… and I answered the same as you 🙂 Saves me adding it to the page, thanks.

      Reply
    • I was searching for this solution. I’m working on a large piece and there’s no way I can get everything foiled and soldered in a short amount of time. Do you think the back of the panel is protected enough if I’m working on plywood?

      Reply
      • You can use saran wrap (cling film) if you’re having to leave a large panel for a long time Debbie. Glad you found the copper foiling answers helpful.

        Reply
  20. I had a problem with the last piece I did with copper foil. I was very careful to make sure the edges of my glass were clean and dry before applying the foil and made sure to use my fids on all edges. But when I tinned the edges the foil peeled off the glass. What did I do wrong? How could I fix it?

    Reply
    • How annoying! Were you taking a while over the tinning? The foil will peel off if you stay too long in one area. The other thing you can do is to do beaded edges instead. They’re stronger as the solder ‘clings’ to the edge of the glass and helps hold it on. You can see my soldering beaded edges video here.

      Reply

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