The Lieutenant’s tips on cleaning a period helmet!
(many thanks to @n17r4ms for the help)
* This is purely advisory. I shall not be held responsible for any mess-up; I already have a hard time coping with mine, eh?
This is the process I use for any helmet entering my collection. The above pictures depict the most ‘spectacular’ result but alas not all types of rust will allow such a thorough cleaning. Note how this says ‘cleaning’, not ‘restoring’; the objective is to stop the progress of any damage on the helmet, not to make it brand new, which would remove the historical aspect of it. Moreover, once rust has attacked the helmet, the damage cannot be entirely repaired.
- No acid of any sort! Many like to use oxalic acid on their historical helmets. Just as the name indicates it, it’s a very corrosive product. Using it implies extreme mastery and on helmets such as Adrian ones, it will most likely be a disaster. It might remove the original paint, etc.
- First of all you can wipe the helmet with a dry cloth, metal and leather parts. Assess the damage. Some types of rust cannot be removed when they are too deep into the metal.
- Use steel wool to remove surface rust. It must be fine 000 or lower steel wool as not to damage the viable parts. You need to rub it thoroughly onto the rust zone until you see it reducing. If its aspect did not change after a while, give up; the rust is too deep. Proceed to the next zone. – Always cover your airways when using steel wool and preferrably use it outdoors.
- If the rust is hard to remove, you may want to spray it with WD40 or another rust-loosening product before trying steel wool. Let the product work on the rust for about fifteen minutes.
- Once you are done with the rust, mix warm water with washing-up liquid and use it all over the helmet to remove dirt and grime. For leather parts, be mindful and use very little liquid.
- If, like shown in the pictures above, the leather seems to have mold on it (unnatural colour like grey or white), use methylated spirit to kill the infectious agent.
- Water can be harmful to metal and leather. Make sure to dry it thoroughly. Afterwards, protect the metal with an appropriate product, like preservation wax or protective oil (like WD40). If using oil, make sure to wipe the ‘old’ oil away and replace it with new at least once a year.
- If the leather is very dry or was cleaned with water, use colourless leather dubbin in mindful amounts to restore both the leather quality and its original colour.
Here you go! It’s ready to last another century!