How to Clean Stained Glass after Soldering: 5 Tips

Creating a stained glass project is no easy feat, and the soldering process at the end can be stressful to get right. Cleaning the glass is one of the most important steps to ensure that the solder attaches correctly and any patinas can be applied. There are many ways to clean the glass well, and others that should be avoided. 

There are many tips and tricks for achieving an excellent cleaning after the soldering process, and order tends to be important to get the best results. For more specific information on what to do, keep reading here.

Use a Flux Residue Remover with a Gentle Scrub

One of the best possible ways to clean stained glass after the soldering process is complete is by applying a specially-made flux residue remover. Flux is an essential part of soldering to get a great hold and solder, but can quickly become frustrating to deal with. Any excess that has seeped onto the glass may present issues for proper cleaning using other methods.

Using a flux residue remover removes the oily substance from the glass and helps prevent discoloration and oxidation over time. Most flux removers should be used once before and once after applying any patina, but it is a beneficial cleaner at any stage of the process.

Although there are a few different flux removers around, and some are likely available at a local hobby store, many companies and people swear by CJ’s Flux Remover. If you are creating lots of projects, you can also find it available in larger sizes. Specifically look for ones that are non-toxic and water-soluble. The non-toxicity will allow the flux remover to be used on the glass multiple times without the worry of damaging it. Water solubility is essential for cleaning off the flux remover at the end.

How to Clean With a Flux Remover

The oils from extra flux seeping out can damage the stained glass finish and are generally unsightly, so removing it is always a good idea. Depending on the specific flux residue remover you choose, the general cleaning process for glass is as follows:

  1. Place flux remover on the glass
  2. Wipe glass with a damp cloth or sponge
  3. Rinse glass with warm water
  4. Wipe dry

If you are looking to clean the entire piece, solder and all, then scrubbing with a soft brush is also a good idea. This helps too if any of the flux does not come off quickly with the damp sponge. 

Once the flux remover has been lightly scrubbed into the glass and solder joints, wiping it away should be a simple process. Do not worry too much about getting all of it outside of the joints between the solder and glass, as the next step of rinsing out with warm water will help dislodge anything stuck there. 

One of the main benefits of using a flux remover is that it neutralizes the acid in the flux. This means that even if there is a bit of residual flux left over, it will not cause oxidation or unsightly spots.

After the initial wiping of the glass, grab a bucket or other container of warm water and liberally pour it over the stained glass piece. This should help reveal any additional flux and flux remover and hopefully pull it out in the open. Feel free to repeat this step a few times until the water is clear and the glass looks great; there should be no oil streaks or marks at the end. 

After wiping the glass dry again, check the piece carefully to see if it requires more cleaning. If your flux remover is non-toxic (as most are), it can be applied multiple times to the same piece without damaging the integrity for a proper deep clean.

Non-Ammonia Based Window Cleaner Is Great For Preparing To Clean

As might be expected, using a window cleaner on your stained glass is a great option for cleaning it after soldering is done. While any window cleaner will technically work, there are some crucial recommendations for the best longevity of your stained glass. Non-ammonia-based window cleaners work best, as ammonia-based cleaners can weaken the solder joints of a piece. 

Specifically, the acid in ammonia can eat through solder and weaken the piece, so an acid-based cleaner is best avoided. While it is possible to use them and be fine, there is little reason to risk it. Instead, if you need to clean off extra solder or flux, turn to the first tip and use a specific flux cleaner that will not weaken the structure.

While using an ammonia-based window cleaner such as Windex is unlikely to have adverse effects unless it is allowed to sit for a long while, it is best to avoid any possible issues. Still, if it is all you have, a quick use with a small amount is likely acceptable. If you choose to use an ammonia or acid-based cleaner, consider diluting it with water first to reduce the acidity. It may take a bit more effort and elbow grease to get a proper clean, but it is worth it.

Window cleaner is best used to remove streaks or general grime built up on stained glass during or prior to soldering. Simply apply it like you would any other glass and wipe it gently with a soft cloth. Combining this with other cleaning tips is a sure way to get a streak-free clean.

Other household cleaners like baking soda or powdered cleansers are also highly usable for cleaning stained glass, assuming they are not too powerful. Follow the same advice above for window cleaners and avoid acid-based products so as not to damage the window. If you choose to use a powdered product, combining it with water and creating a sort of paste for getting into small areas is a good idea. 

Choosing to use a q-tip or small bit of tissue is a great idea for cleaning old stained glass that has accumulated significant grime on the solder joints or for a first general cleaning. It also allowed the amount of cleaner to be easily controlled so you can be sure that you are not harming the glass.

Even professional stained glass creators often turn to household products for their window cleaning, so do not feel pressured to buy specific items. Gomm Stained Glass is a professional company that produces custom designs, and they have published a short list of some of the chemicals they use for cleaning and general stained glass maintenance. Even dish soap can be used!

Use Gentle Materials and Multiple Passes

Whatever cleaning chemicals or techniques you choose to touch up stained glass after the soldering process, it is essential to stay consistently gentle and patient throughout. Applying a light touch both in effort and materials is a good idea to maintain the stained glass piece’s quality. As a general guide:

  • Use soft clothes
  • Do not scrape or pick at stains
  • Choose gentle cleaners
  • Use multiple passes

Using Soft Cloth or Rags

Especially when transitioning from soldering, which requires a bit of a heavier touch, to cleaning glass, it can be a big transition to remember how fragile the material is. Err on the side of caution and avoid applying too much pressure across the board; otherwise, the glass may crack or shatter and ruin your hard work.

Using soft cloths or rags is a basic choice that can help avoid creating tiny scratches across the glass. This is most important and noticeable with smaller pieces of stained glass that are likely to get a lot of eyes on them.

Even slightly abrasive fabrics can cause micro-scratches on the stained glass, either altering its color or affecting its opaqueness. While it is a small deal, it is good practice to always default to soft clothes.

Scraping At Stains on Glass

If some solder has dried on a part of the glass or another material has become stuck, it can be easy to default to picking at it with a fingernail or thin blunt object. While this can work, it is also very easy for it to go wrong and break or crack the glass; instead, it is much better to try and find another method to get the object unstuck.

Try to remove the item through normal, gentle cleaning methods first. If, after multiple passes, the stain still is not rubbing off at all, then you can move on to using some additional force, but it is imperative always to tread carefully. Use a soft grip and gentle hands before defaulting to scraping over and over.

The exact way to get out tough stains will depend on the nature of what is on the glass. Some may also be removed by letting a cleaner soak into the glass for a few hours, for instance. Be wary of the material eating through solder too much and possibly damaging the piece if you choose to do this.

Choose Gentle Cleaners

Some of the other tips have briefly touched upon why acid-based cleaners should be avoided, but to emphasize it further, try to stay away from particularly harsh chemicals. Stained glass and solder are often vulnerable to weakening from unexpected places, and accidentally damaging a piece in the final cleaning stages due to using the wrong cleaner is never fun. 

Additionally, many cleaners can be somewhat toxic and harmful for your health. Choosing to use natural cleaners instead requires less setup, and you can be more confident that you are making the best decisions. When looking at cleaners, select ones that are:

  • Acid-free
  • Low-toxicity
  • Natural

While not always the case, most cleaners that fall into these categories are much less harsh than others. 

Source: Cumberland Stained Glass

Use Multiple Passes

Cleaning over multiple passes and attempts is time-consuming and often something that people want to avoid, but it is almost necessary to achieve truly clean stained-glass. Reminding yourself that another pass will be done will help keep your pressure and touch gentle, as you will need less pressure on some of the spots that are tougher to get out. 

Using multiple passes with drying in-between will also let you take stock of how the cleaning process is going and notice spots that may have been hidden before. It can be viewed as taking a second (or even third) closer look at the piece to ensure it has come out exactly as you wanted it to. 

Do Not Scrub Patinas with Abrasive Materials

Cleaning before applying a patina to solder ensures that the patina sticks and has the desired effect. While the general tips here are sure to help toward that goal, there are some specific things to keep in mind when cleaning to apply a patina as well.

Cleaning the glass and solder with a flux remover and warm, soapy water is a great start. If there is a significant amount of flux left on the piece or dirty solder, consider using a soft brush to help with scrubbing. If you choose to use a brush, do it only on the solder. Using any type of brush, especially those that may be slightly harder, on stained glass can scratch it and reduce the quality.

Once it has been cleaned through standard methods, dry the stained glass and solder thoroughly with a clean, soft cloth. This step is also vital; a wet solder will make the patina have a difficult time attaching even if it is spotless. Part of the cleaning and drying process for patinas is ensuring that no other chemicals are present when you begin, as these can ruin or alter the patina’s color. 

As the solder and glass are thoroughly cleaned and dried, the patina process can now begin. Follow the specific instructions likely provided with your patina for application, but be wary of leaving the patina on for a long time. Most patinas do not intensify in color by sitting for longer, so it is best not to let them sit. A patina allowed to seep onto the stained glass itself can cause damage to the glass and be a tough, if not impossible, stain to clean. 

Instead, when applying a patina to the cleaned stained glass, do so evenly. Rinse the patina with water upon completion and then let it sit, but only after the excess has been removed.

For additional information on applying patinas after you have cleaned the surface, look here

Finish Cleaning With a Wax or Glass Finish

After you are happy with your stained glass project’s cleanliness and finish, it is best to finish it off with a nice wax or glass finisher to preserve the look. Otherwise, as time takes its toll, colors are likely to get muddled and yellow.

There are many finishes available that each will result in a slightly different looking end product. When looking at waxes and finishes, consider how you want the piece to be displayed or examined. Distinct finishes will buff and shine the solder and glass, while others will provide a more matte looking option that reflects less light. 

Nowadays, most finishes come in a liquid form that is easy to apply as you would a finish on any other craft project. Carnuba wax is a popular choice that is available from a variety of brands and different application methods. It is a particularly hard finish that will help the piece be slightly more durable while bringing out the colors of the stained glass.

Regardless of what finish is applied, it will eventually wear down with time. If you have an old piece of stained glass that you are restoring and cleaning, you will likely notice that reapplying a good finish will make the piece shine in a new way. Do not be afraid of doing so if you notice dullness or yellowing begin.

Applying a final finish may also reveal some areas of the glass where the flux was not fully cleaned off. This is mostly noticeable due to a reaction to the flux’s acidity, which can cause a powdery substance to appear. If so, clean the area with an acid-reducing mixture and reapply the finish. The application of a finish can be explored more here.

Recap

Cleaning stained glass after soldering is one of the most critical steps to take when finalizing a piece. Many different methods are viable and used by professionals, so it is not complicated after taking some basic steps. 

Stick with soft clothes and natural cleaners for cleaning the glass. Use a flux remover or neutralizer as the first step of cleaning the area around the solder, as flux is a particularly oily substance that will disturb the rest of the finish. Use common household cleaners or window cleaners that are either ammonia-free or diluted with water for the rest of the cleaning, and stay gentle and patient. 

Finishing with a patina and wax is a great way to make the piece look excellent and highlight any areas that require additional cleaning. 

Alexander Berk

A bit about myself: I am a certified international welding engineer (IWE) who worked in different welding projects for TIG, MIG, MAG, and Resistance Spot welding. Most recently as a Process Engineer for Laser and TIG welding processes. To address some of the questions I frequently got asked or was wondering myself during my job, I started this blog. It has become a bit of a pet project, as I want to learn more about the details about welding. I sincerely hope it will help you to improve your welding results as much as it did improve mine.

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