Cleaning Openers

Mark Benbow: Do you have any suggestions on cleaning "old" (i.e. 1930s-1950s) churchkeys that have some rust and corrosion? I know his site is about corkscrews, but I hoped the metal was the same so the same thing would work on both.

Don: Here's an excerpt from Just for Openers by Donald A. Bull and John R. Stanley:

Many collectors consider cleaning openers a sin and do not even attempt to clean their openers. For the ones who wish to clean openers here are several methods.

1. Prepare a solution of oxalic acid (can collectors use this) using about 3 tablespoons of crystals for 2 pints of water. I also use a narrow lidded glass container so the opener will not lay flat in the bottom of the jar. The oxalic acid can be purchased at your local drug store (they may have to special order) and the cost is about $6 for 16 ounces.

2. Depending upon the condition I will soak an opener in the solution from 30 minutes to 4 hours (for one with a lot of rust).

3. At the end of the soaking time, remove the opener from the solution using an old ice pick or awl (unless opener has no key ring hole then you need to pour acid into another container and remove opener). Thoroughly rinsing skin if acid contacts.

4. I then scrub the opener with a soapy “SOS” pad. I dry the opener thoroughly with paper towels. If the opener has a moving part I will add some machine oil.


  • Do not try to clean any openers with enameling using the acid solution.
  • If an opener is pitted, I use a Dremel (small electric drill). The Dremel is used by jewelers and anyone needing a small drill but it can leave brush marks. The wire brush attachment is very handy for cleaning pitted openers. You cannot remove the pit marks but the discoloration can be cleaned off.
  • An alternative to the Dremel is using a regular drill with a “copper” wire brush.
  • Cleaning openers with “celluloid” parts is very tough. Use warm soapy water to clean the celluloid part. A soapy SOS or just a piece of fine steel wool is used to clean the metal opener. Celluloid is very tough because if the lettering is worn, you are just plain out of luck.
  • Enameled Openers present a real challenge because any rubbing of the enamel will take it right off., soaking the opener for about 12-15 hours.”

More about the book Just for Openers

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