Help Dial Cleaning

Maz

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Hi guys, I'm slowly learning and improving my skills to service and repair watches and getting good results. One area I've yet to tackle is how to clean up a dial. I don't want to get in re-luming/re-lacquering etc. just yet, just a basic clean of dust and dirt to improve the look of the dial.

I've seen a few videos where is suggested to immerse the dial in boiling water for a few mins before dabbing with a cotton bud but wasn't sure if this would lead to adding more damage.

I've also seen a few of the watch tool sites selling Class & Dial Cleaning Pens and Cleaning Swabs and wondered if anyone had used them with any success?

So my question is in two parts, firstly what chemical/liquid should I be using that will at least be able to remove some of the dirt without causing more damage, will water suffice or should i use Isopropyl Alcohol or is there something else better suited?

Secondly, what tool should i use to remove the dirt, I've seen Rodico being used which seems to work to remove the initial layer of dust and grim but what should i use along with the chemical/liquid mentioned above, cotton buds, baby wipes, cleaning swabs or something else?

Any guidance is appreciated, thanks in advance.
 

musicguy

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I've seen a few videos where is suggested to immerse the dial in boiling water
This is something I would recommend not to do. I would be afraid
of creating more cracks in the dial.

So my question is in two parts, firstly what chemical/liquid
If it's not a metal dial
I have used both toilet bowl cleaners and denture cleaning tablets.

It seems that many people like the tablets or they use their
cleaning machines..

Both ways they come out clean and shiny. Not much
needed to do by hand.


Rob
 
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gmorse

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Hi Maz,

There's no universal cleaning method for all types of dials. For older enamelled dials on a copper or gold substrate, a denture cleaning solution works very well in removing surface grime and reducing the appearance of hairline cracks. The caveat with this method is to ensure that there are no markings on the dial which have been applied, (painted or printed), after the final enamel layer has been fired; signatures for retailers sometimes fall into this category, and can vanish before you know it.

However, this treatment would damage a painted or transfer printed dial, so something much gentler is needed here. A cotton bud moistened with lighter fluid or isopropyl alcohol and tested on an inconspicuous part of the dial is a good place to start, (maybe on the back), using the bud with a rolling action to see if anything more than dirt comes off on it.

Boiling any type of dial strikes me as a hazardous method, for the dial if not for the operator!

Regards,

Graham
 
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glenhead

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In my opinion, this is a simple one.

If the the dial is porcelain with fired-in numbers, I use spit and a microfiber cloth that came with a pair of glasses. Nothing more. If there are cracks or crazing or whatever they stay as they are. If it's a customer's watch I make sure the customer understands I will not do anything to the dial other than remove surface dirt or smudges.

If the dial is porcelain with painted-on numbers, I use the same technique but am a lot more gentle and avoid the paint as much as possible.

If it is anything else, I don't touch it with anything other than a pristine dry camel-hair brush. Of course there are limited exceptions to that rule that are exercised only if the dial is otherwise in excellent condition:
  • If there are someone else's fingerprints, I carefully clean them away with the microfiber cloth. I've tried Rodico and find it isn't as effective as a dry cloth.
  • If there are stuck-on dust particles I'll try Rodico first, and when that doesn't work I use a fingernail inside a finger cot.
  • If there are flecks of luminous paste or whatever I'll use the blade of an X-Acto knife to remove the bulk of it without touching the dial's surface, then use a fingernail inside a finger cot.
  • If the customer insists on having the lume replaced I use an X-Acto knife to clean off the old lume. That's done only in the mid-afternoon after the caffeine jitters are completely gone and before I get tired.
If the lacquer is oxidized and/or crazed I don't touch it, period.

This seemingly-excessive care comes from damaging a couple of dials well over ten years ago. Since then "I don't do dials". Learning to mess with dials is one of the things I'm going to teach myself after I retire next year, along with electroplating. I have a large assortment of sacrificial lambs to learn with. Until then, won't touch them, nope nope nope.

Glen
 
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Maz

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Thanks guys, all very useful tips.

I only really want to remove surface dirt and not mess around too much with it or change the look too much.

This will mainly be used on 1960's - 1980's dials.

With regards to using a cotton bud moistened with lighter fluid or isopropyl alcohol, wouldn't the cotton bud introduce particles that could stick to the dial, wouldn't a polyurethane foam headed swab be more suitable?
 

darrahg

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Here are some options I use when cleaning a dial that is not attached to a movement and it has not been altered with such items like a transfer or surface painting.

I clean with Windex sprayed on to a paper towel. Dab with Rodico if you see any fibers from the towel (I generally don't have a problem with stray fibers).
A mild liquid soapy solution (Dawn) can be used but must be sure the dial is dried thoroughly after.
I occasionally use hydrogen peroxide as a soak if a dial has dirty hairline cracks.
Alcohol and lighter fluid can also be used as a surface wipe but do not recommend a swab as it leaves too many stray fibers behind.
I dab with Rodico if a dial is attached to a movement and not too dirty. You would have to be the judge on dirtiness.
 
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John Runciman

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This will mainly be used on 1960's - 1980's dials.

With regards to using a cotton bud moistened with lighter fluid or isopropyl alcohol, wouldn't the cotton bud introduce particles that could stick to the dial, wouldn't a polyurethane foam headed swab be more suitable?
The problem is the dials are printed painted with something. They're usually very very thin and they really do not take kindly to just about anything including being touched. As we don't know necessarily exactly what every single dial is made of etc. that means any fluids chemicals etc. may have an undesirable effect. Unlike the watch parts you may be able to replace replacing dials can be a challenge if there damaged.

If you're really curious about the effect and what can be used for cleaning a dial see if you can get some scrap ones off of eBay and try on those. Try something that you don't care about the see how successful you are.
 

Paul_S

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I'd second the wariness about cleaning vintage metal wristwatch dials. You see a lot of "wow!" videos online, but I suspect people don't upload their "uh oh!" videos with all their mistakes.

A lot can go wrong with the variation in materials and manufacturing methods. On some watch dials, for example, the dial text was printed on top of the lacquer finish. (This was common on old Russian watches.) Putting one of those in boiling water would be disastrous. I once dabbed Rodico on an old 70s Seiko dial and it lifted up a dime-sized paint chip.

A major problem people don't anticipate is creating an uneven texture. Rubbing on a dial with an eraser, putty, q-tip, etc, might not remove any unsightly elements, but it will made the rubbed area rougher or shinier (depending), so it will stand out even worse than before when it hits the light. If someone can clean the whole dial but avoids touching the printed text, the gloss differences would make the clean dial look off.

But there's no harm in experimenting with some old scrap dials to see how it all goes. I've polished some scrap silver dials to make blank mirror-polished and brushed dials, which make for fun conversation pieces.
 

Ethan Lipsig

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My experience with dial cleaning generally has been unsatisfactory except for enamel dial cleaning. However, sometimes it works, such as when my jeweler did wonders on a painted Touchon dial with a wicked home-brew of hydrogen peroxide and potassium cyanide (don't try it at home). See https://mb.nawcc.org/threads/dial-miracle.116656/?highlight=cyanide+dial+jeweler. The problem is that sometimes it ruins the dial. My jeweler has has ruined at least one of my dials trying to clean it.
 
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