How To Clean A Plastic or Bakelite Antique Radio

How To Clean A Plastic or Bakelite Antique Radio

This is a question we get asked all the time. We understand. Perhaps you have found a radio and want to bring it back to life, like we do. Is it dusty? Is there some tarnish? What about the finish? What are safe products to use? Here we will try to answer these questions and tell you what we do at Retro Radio Farm.

First, you should remove the back and electronics from the radio, so that you can clean the case. We do this so we can immerse the case in water and get it wet. Water and elbow grease do not hurt plastic, so we use these liberally.

Remove any extra knobs or features to wash separately.

The most important advice we can give is to be gentle. The products we generally work with are made of plastic. Plastic can NOT be cleaned with any strong product that might hurt the finish. We like to use plain old dish soap, a well-worn soft brush, and a sponge. Anything stronger than dish soap and you will likely damage the finish of the plastic beyond repair.  

Cracks? A cigarette burn? Yep, we get those too. We leave them alone. There is nothing to be done except enjoy the radio as a treasure that has lived a full and varied life. Look upon these imperfections as what they are, a testament to the piece for lasting so many years. Besides anyone will tell you that marks, scratches, and patina are the hallmarks of a true antique and are to be valued as part of the aesthetic; not polished away and eliminated as though they never happened.


You risk electrocution if you do not take the electronics out of the case before you wash it. So, please be safe and remove the radio from the case before you attempt to wash the case.

An old toothbrush is great for cleaning the grillwork of the speakers.

We like to use a soft gauge toothbrush.

The knobs often require a bit more scrubbing. The knobs can also take a stronger brush than the soft brush pictured above or the old soft toothbrush. We like to use a stiff brush found easily at any hardware store. Wire brushes can work but be careful, test the brush on the back of the knob first. Make sure the brush is not creating unsightly gouges in the plastic. You want to remove the dirt from the crevices of the knob, not create new crevices that attract dirt.

Let the case dry and wipe away excess moisture. Replace the electronics and there, you have just expertly cleaned an antique radio.  

You have saved a piece of history. So, give yourself a little pat on the back and enjoy!

Back to the top