Why Laser Cleaning Is the Safest Choice for Restoring Metal with Material Integrity

Jan 28, 2018

Restoring metal artifacts, architectural hardware, and tools is a deceptively tricky part of any restoration project. For all of their solidity compared to wood and fabrics, they are vulnerable to chemical corrosion and physical damage. Instead of using traditional cleaning and restoration methods, more and more people are turning to laser cleaning for preservation and safer restoration. If you are in the middle of a restoration project or are considering the best methods for metal restoration, add laser cleaning to the top of your procedure.

laser cleaning

What are the advantages of using laser cleaning for your restoration projects?

Laser cleaning protects the surface of your parts and materials. Restoration is all about the details. Whether you need corrosive substances removed from tiny crevices in tools or your need layers of material stripped from a surface without damaging the underlying materials, traditional methods do not get the job done. Most stripping procedures involve using friction and rough surfaces to scratch off residue, and even the most finely controlled devices lead to some risk of damage. Chemical cleaning can be just as risky because of any potential reactions. It also leaves behind solvent and chemical residue that can be hazardous to any fragile materials and goods and future users in proximity to the surface. It also creates high amounts of chemical waste. Using a laser, on the other hand, will leave you with a perfectly clean surface with only the contaminants or unwanted layers removed.

The process will not leave any portion of the part uncleaned. Every artifact from metal art to tools and hardware have a lot of grooves and sharp corners that can collect the debris, lubricant and organic build-up from years of exposure, and it always accumulates in the hardest to reach places. However, our cleanLASER CL-1000’s beam can strip any surface the light touches, even if it is beyond the reach of traditional cleaning tools.

Laser cleaning reduces hazardous conditions for workers or visitors in the area. Industrial and commercial restoration projects can be dangerous. The binding agents and construction materials approved for widespread usage even thirty years ago are now considered toxic, especially if small bits of the contaminants are released into the air. Instead of restoring surfaces with grinding and sanding, which can be dangerous for the person operating the tools and can even lead to a project slow-down if the dust and debris are too much of a health hazard, laser cleaning works without contaminating the air. It also reduces noise pollution, so other aspects of restoration can continue in the area.

You can drastically reduce the risk of restoration error. Depending on the exact nature of your project, you might be restoring a one-of-a-kind setting, tool, or part. While chemicals can be carefully selected for limited reactions and minimal surface damage, that is dependent on knowing exactly what materials make up the components; the wrong chemicals can etch away fine details and weaken the material before you have a chance to stop the procedure. Laser cleaning, however, does not interact with the underlying inorganic surface even with direct exposure. If you are conserving historic metal components, choosing a cleaning procedure with no potential chemical reactions, no abrasion, and no moisture or contamination is always the safest choice for the final product.

How does laser stripping protect the underlying surface (the substrate)?

The radiation an industrial cleaning laser emits can be modified to match the surface material at hand. The laser operator will clean the top layer by hitting it with short pulses of light that target only organic materials. These materials can include anything from paint to rubber to algae because only these contaminants absorb the light. The laser leaves the inorganic substrate untouched because the light reflects the laser without causing any strain or damage.

Laser cleaning also is not an ‘all or nothing’ cleaning procedure like the use of abrasives and chemical cleaners. Because the laser works layer by layer and the penetration of the beam can be finely controlled, you can customize the level of cleaning you want. If you want a top layer of paint removed, and only the top layer, our specialists can get the job done. If you are restoring a historical building or antiques, the laser can even strip away paint and debris layer by layer until you are left with the original paint job. For even older metalworks, such as bronze statues, architectural hardware, and metal tools, laser cleaning can gently remove oxide, even if it is partially caused by inorganic materials, in order to preserve the remaining material.

When should you turn to laser cleaning for your restoration projects?

Restoring historic artifacts and metal hardware should always start with a laser cleaning to maintain the structural integrity of the artifact without the risk of damage. However, it is particularly advantageous if:

You are working with previously restored materials. Laser cleaning technology, while not an entirely new procedure, is only recently commercially available for many projects and industries. This means that previously restored metal artifacts were treated according to the traditional chemical or physically abrasive procedures of the time and that damage cannot be undone. It also might not be measurable until your restoration is complete. If you suspect the materials you are handling have previously been restored or cleaned, then the underlying substrate may have been weakened. Use a laser to protect what remains of the substrate’s surface so you can preserve all the detail remaining, especially in the small corners and ornate patterns that may have been stressed and subjected to additional cleaning methods.

You and your clients know little about the materials you are working with. Archaeologists and historic preservationists are finding more and more about what we do not know. Even metalworking from the past has remained a mystery largely when no one has been able to find a record of the materials used or the procedure followed. If you are restoring artifacts that have not been fully documented or there is not a known chemical makeup to help to decide the right chemical wash, use laser cleaning to avoid the uncertainty.

The substrate has more than one moment in history. Restoring and showing historical artifacts is not just a recent trend, and what happens to an artifact through history is part of the artifact’s history, too. Laser cleaning lets you reveal the artifact layer by layer instead of just returning it to as much of its original condition as remains. Laser cleaning lets you design the presentation of artifacts be cleaning the materials in an organized array of depths so it can display the effects of different decades or even eras.

No matter what your restoration project entails, laser cleaning gives you the most control. You can rely on the tool to restore metal without damage, and you can control the depth of the cleaning along the way. You can also do this without putting the site and any onsite workers at risk of exposure to dangerous contaminants. To get started specifying your restoration project and laying out the details of what you have in mind for your artifacts, Contact TLC Metal. We have 75 years of professional craftsmanship and experience to apply to your restorations and getting you the results you need.