Remove Silver Backing From a Mirror (To Clear Glass, Not an Antique Mirror Instructable)




From what I've gathered, most mirrors are layered in the following manner:
a) glass
b) a coat of silver
c) a coat of copper paint
d) a coat of base paint

*You will need the following materials:

1. Plastic scraper (plastic putty knife will work)
2. Steel Wool (Grade 0, 00, 000, or 0000...I used Grade 0)
3. Paint stripper (one that works on glass, I used the eco-friendly stuff by NEXT)**
4. Bleach (depends on mirror size, but smallest you can find would be best)
5. Rags (I cut up some old shirts)
6. Paintbrush (something to apply the paint stripper with, i used a soft squeegee)
7. Toothbrush (an old one)
8. Chemical resistant gloves (Chemical proof if you want to be safer)
9. Kneepads (if working on floor)
80. Goggles (if you want them to prevent splashing, I wear glasses)
11. Latex Paint and Odor Respirator
12. Glass Cleaner or Soap & Water
13. Large Tarp or covered table

*Shouldn't cost you more than $30 (this is given that I had the tarp, glass cleaner, squeegee, steel wool, plastic scraper, and rags to begin with, and I didn't use knee pads)
**Don't get paint thinner, apparently that won't do much of anything, but I've never tried it

Make sure to work in a well-ventilated area. This means intake and exhaust (cross-breeze) Contact your town or county for disposal of all the used materials you wish to get rid of.

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Step 1: Set Up

Set up your work area and lay out your materials so that you have easy access to them. Dedicate one rag to wiping your gloves, this will get messy. Put on your goggles and kneepads if you need them, gloves, respirator and get ready to work.

Step 2: Strip the Paint and Scrape

Apply the paint stripper directly to the painted side of the mirror and spread it around with the paintbrush. Let it sit for 1 to 3 hours (overnight if you start this late in the evening like me). Grab your scraper and start pushing the paint off. It should come off in strips and chunk up (you may have to push hard at first). You may also get through the base coat faster than I did if you're using liquid paint stripper (mine was a gel). 

Regardless, keep scraping, reapplying the stripper and scraping again until you can see a gold/coppery sheen through the remaining base coat.

Step 3: Buff the Paint and Silver

Grab your steel wool and buff the remaining base coat of paint and the copper coat of paint until everything looks dull and silvery (like the mirror was smeared with a thin coat of Vaseline).

At this point, you should be able see your reflection through the coppery-silver smear. You're getting there. You can keep buffing until more of the base paint, copper paint, and silver disappear. You'll have to go back and forth between this step and the next.

Step 4: Bleach the Glass

Grab your bleach and your toothbrush. Pour on some bleach (use sparingly and watch the splashes). Brush it around with the toothbrush.

You should see parts of the silver turn black and disappear, or completely disappear.

Step 5: Wipe, Rinse, Repeat

Wipe down the mirror. Inspect it. Repeat steps 3-5 as necessary until you have clear glass. 

For an added artistic effect, you can leave a pattern of copper paint or buffed silver on the mirror and then wipe it clean and go on to the next step. I'm not sure if you can touch it or leave it laying around, you should probably paint it again before leaving it anywhere and coming back later.

Step 6: Clean the Glass

Once you have clear glass, use either glass cleaner or soap & water (the latter did the trick) to clean the glass.

Wipe off your gloves and wash them with soap.

Clean the glass again until it squeaks. 

You're done!

Step 7: Clean Up

Put everything you want to toss out into a plastic bag, or trash bag and call your town or county. They should be able to tell you how to get rid of it.

Step 8: Extra Ideas

I cleaned mine because I wanted to make a dry/erase board out of glass. To do this I took off the paint and silver and am now painting the back with white paint. I've heard roof paint works well, but any white paint should do. However, this might push you over $30.


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19 Discussions


2 years ago

i would like to remove a 3" border around a mirror by stripping the silvering to leave a 3" clear glass border. does anyone know how to do this while still retaining a definded line between the mirror and the clear glass border? thank you

1 reply

Reply 1 year ago

Just use painters tape to mask the area , stripper won’t dissolve it , and you can strip the primer , copper off , and then use bleach for the silvering , or nitric acid ( diluted 1:3 water ration ) . Use a razor to delicately work the tapeline


2 years ago

Ever tried Hydrochloric acid to disolve the copper layer? I do this
when making printed circuit boards...they sell it at home depot/lowes as
muriatic acid as a concrete etchant for a couple dollars a gallon.
Nitric acid would be needed to dissolve the silver which is a bit more
difficult to source.


4 years ago

Just want to verify that I did a large aquarium mirror surface last night - a can of spray paint stripper (scrape off backing with putty knife) and a cup of bleach (wipe off remaining silver with rag) - FANTASTIC! Thank you for the tip......


4 years ago on Introduction

I'm hoping someone is still reading this! I stripped the grey paint layer off my mirrors and underneath I found......a mirrored surface, argh! Does this mean the mirrors are not suitable to clean into glass?

2 replies

Reply 4 years ago

You may have already figured this out, but that is a possibility. But maybe it means it has another mirror underneath. If it is as heavy as glass, it is probably a piece of glass.

Steo cal

4 years ago

Thanks mate looking 4 this 4 a long time go wit wat this chap says it works brill


5 years ago on Introduction

I Am building a server closet in my house, and the closet I am using had mirrored doors, I am still working on it, but your instructable was PERFECT for me, in helping me remove the mirror materials. The reason I did not just swap out the mirror for plain glass was the cost $400 for both mirrored doors VS $30 and a lot of labor :)



7 years ago on Introduction

I do a homemade haunted house every year and was trying to make a 2 way mirror from an old oval shaped mirror and some reflective window tint. After hours of scraping the hard grey paint and steel wooling the copper, I got down to the silver and realized just leaving the silver would have given me the effect I was looking for, however I had already scratched it all up and ruined it and still needed to use the tint, therefore I needed to remove the silver completely. Lots of buffing with steel wool hardly budged it. Having not spent a penny yet (tint was left over from a household project) I was reluctant to go buy muriatic acid or any other items that may contain a chemical that would strip the silver. I scoured but never thought to look here for a tip, and never would have thought bleach would do the trick of removing the silver. Luckily I did come across this post and I was amazed at how quickly the bleach stripped the silver. Wish I would have seen this a lot sooner. Great and simple instructable.


7 years ago on Introduction

I wanted to make mirrors into picture frames leaving some mirror around the edges. I found some mirrors at thrift stores an garage sales ect.

There was brown paper backing glued to the mirror back that i tried to get off by getting it wet and scrubbing it. I eventually just gooped on the gel type paint stripper on it and let it sit for 15 minutes like the instructions say. I used a scrape peice of hard plastic with a sharp corner on it and was able to take the paper backing off and the gray paint backing off together. It took 3 repeats but 2 could have done it.

(Here is what did not work. Acetone dried far to quickly to do any good dissolving anything. I used a spatula for scraping at first but it's edge wasn't sharp enough to be effective. I didn't want to use metal or razor blades for fear of scratching glass.)

Once I had the middle part of the mirror free of the paper and paint backing the mirror was reflective and had a copper tinge. I put strait muriatic (hydrocloric acid) (from the pool supply store) on it and smeared it around with a paper towel--a small amount just enough to get it wet. After about 30 seconds to a minute the silver mirroring can be wiiped off with paper towels. I did this 3 times to get it off but twice would have worked.

A note about hydrochloric acid. It is the same acid as stomach acid and is also what is used to lower pH in swimming pools. The stuff is very strong in the bottle so I always used regular disposable medical gloves to keep it off my skin. It has nasty fumes that will burn and cause you to cough so don't lean over it and do this part outside! You will have a lot of acid left over. I used it to bubble of calcium deposits and clean stained concrete driveways and sidewalks as well has for my pool. It is just HCl, so beyond being a power acid it is not some unnatural chemical.

After getting enough of the mirroring off, I rinsed it and dried it and taped a photo to the back of it.

1) gel paint stripper
2) muraitic acid
3) something to scrape with
4) paper towels
5) water proof GLOVES

Mr. E Meat

8 years ago on Introduction

Wouldn't it be cheaper, easier and more environmentally friendly to just buy a sheet of glass or, if reuse was your intent, remove one from a used window?

5 replies
Mr. E Meate.p

Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

Sorry, I guess I should have been more blunt with the intent of my comment. I was curious about your motivation for removing the backing of the mirror rather than just finding another source of glass for your whiteboard. Why did you decide to do this?

e.pMr. E Meat

Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

It started as a project to frame a mirror. I ended up cutting the angles for the wood just slightly wrong; enough so that the frame wouldn't fit around the mirror. After the project stagnated for a little while, I got the idea to either buy a large whiteboard or make my own. Melamine was my first find online and I was going to go through with it when I had enough wall space. At the office I work in, they have a large 4'x8' piece of glass that is painted white on the back and serves as their whiteboard during meetings. Seeing as this was the same size that melamine comes in, I like the idea better and wanted to run with it, but also wanted a smaller piece of glass.

Enter the desilvering idea. All resources I found online were geared toward making an antique mirror, which I had no interest in doing. I found one random website, after a couple of weeks of on and off searching, that mentioned using bathroom or household cleaners, i.e. anything that had bleach in it. The other solutions used Nitric Acid, or Muriatic Acid to remove the silver. I don't know about you, but I have plenty of uses for leftover acid in my apartment....... :)

The other popular solution was to go with Mirror Silver Strip (MSR) that was sold for $30/16 oz bottle or in a powder. There were other various powders to be bought, but for that same $30, I could buy all of the protective gear and cleaning agents and solve my problem just as easily.

Essentially, I did this because I wanted to see if the bleach would really work. If it did, I wanted others to be able to find this answer easily and use it for their own projects in combination with other answers they had found, i.e. to make an antique mirror without buying Nitric Acid or chemicals more dangerous than bleach or paint stripper.

There was only one problem. I didn't take any pictures. So I did it again, but with a smaller mirror that was square, not octagonal like the original.

Did that answer your question?

Mr. E Meate.p

Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

Yes. Thanks! I find that the why of the Instructable can be almost as instructive as the how.

e.pMr. E Meat

Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

You're welcome. It's funny you mention that last comment. Originally I wanted to put all of that as the narrative of the first step, but halfway through typing, I got to thinking who was actually going to read all that when they really wanted to know how to complete this process.

It seems we both learned something here today. Thanks.