How do I re-chrome or replate my metal bath hardware? Palm Springs Stephan’s experience

Pink sink from historichouseparts.com
A while back a reader sent me a question about how to re-chrome some of her bathroom hardware. I asked Palm Springs Stephan if he could help – as he has experience in this issue with vintage cars – and very recently, with re-chroming sink legs that I found for him at my local restore. Here is what it takes to rechrome. Thank you again, Stephan!
From the way the question is worded, it sounds as though the renovator wants to rechrome cabinet hardware specifically. While that can certainly be done, rechroming anything is usually an expensive process. For that reason, I would first encourage her to be very diligent in looking for replacement parts of similar design. Lowes, Home Depot, and many of the kitchen/bath hardware specialty stores are becoming attuned to the emerging Mid-Century Modern renovation market, so it may be easier and far less expensive to simply buy new parts that have a MCM look and feel.
If, however, she really wants to rechrome the pieces she already has, begin by looking in the yellow pages under “Plating” and/or “Metal Plating.” She lives in a suburb of St Louis, and I find numerous metal-plating companies in the area when using Google. Take the parts around to several of them to get a number of estimates. Parts made with steel or brass as the substrate (the metal under the chrome) are easier and less expensive to strip and re-plate than is zinc. Cabinet hinges usually have a steel or brass substrate, but handles and door pulls are often zinc, which sometimes reacts negatively to the acids used to remove the old chrome. Existing pitting on a zinc substrate, for example, can actually become worse if the technician is not extremely careful. One way to find out which company is good and which is less so would be to contact a local antique or classic auto club for their recommendation. Interior auto trim is almost always zinc based, so auto nuts really know who is who when it comes to replating in your area.
Replating a small number of pieces, as opposed to hundreds at a time, is a time-consuming and labor-intensive process when done correctly, so the cost is usually correspondingly high. The parts must be disassembled and immersed in a series of acid washes that removes all of the old chrome and its supporting layers. The items are then suspended in a chemical bath that has a weak electric current flowing through it, causing one or more layers of transitional metals to adhere, usually brass and/or nickel. This process can take anywhere from several hours to a couple of days. The same process is then repeated using a chromium bath. The parts must then be hand-polished individually on a polishing wheel and inspected for flaws.
Expect the overall cost of replating to be in excess of ten times the cost of simply buying a new-made replacement part. A cabinet pull knob that might be replaced with one of similar design for $4 may cost as much as $40 to replate. Also expect a minimum charge of $50 to $75, and ask about additional fees for hazardous waste disposal, EPA and OSHA compliance, etc, all of which together can be as much as 15-20% of the base estimate.
Good luck!

  1. Erin says:

    I know this is an old article, but that sink!!! I need that sink in my life. I see it’s labeled ‘Crane’. Anyone have the model name or know the source of the photo? Thanks.

  2. linoleummy says:

    A plating & polishing house that I brought a Hall-Mack hideaway soap/ toothbrush holder for an estimate only had bad news. The chrome was gone from inside the recess so the brass substrate was showing through. They told me that it takes special equipment to chrome into a recess that deep and no one in town had it. A couple other places said the same thing.
    The 26×37″ medicine cabinet frame that I thought was stainless and hoped they could polish turned out to be chromed. They polished a spot on the back edge to where you could see the substrate. The price to replate it was $260.

  3. karmi_woolfe says:

    Thank you, Stephan, for the replating information. I still think it would be worth it for a few pieces that just cannot be found or replaced. You did make it sound like plating hundreds of pieces at a time might be more economical, so I couldn’t help but get an image of a bunch of us retro-lovers — hoodads and thingymajigs in hand — flocking outside of a centrally located US plating company going for that group discount! FIELD TRIP!!!

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