Instagram Life Hack Experiments Part 2: Polishing Metal With Ketchup

August 24, 2017



Welcome to part two of a special three-part series where we're investigating some recent viral life hacks that have been making their way around Instagram. On August 5th, 2017 the Instagram account @Blossom posted a video stating: "Brighten up your day with these 5 surprising hacks". These hacks consisted of repairing  and cleaning various objects with household items. The video can be found here


Obviously as you can see from the post, the conservator in me cringed.... and she cringed HARD. So what's a girl to do when faced with such strange things spreading around the internet? Make a video and tell the world otherwise, of course! My friend Anna and I decided to look into the science behind these "clever" hacks, see if they actually work, and look at them from a conservation viewpoint. 


Part 2: Tarnished Metal and Ketchup


First Thoughts: Why is this woman pouring ketchup into her hands? Where are the french fries?


The Science behind it: Ketchup is acidic. With a pH of around 3.5, it essentially eats away the tarnished layer. This means ketchup isn't special in any way. Any substance with similar acidic properties would have the same effect. 


The Experiment: A metal bottle stopper was used in the experiment. We covered one half with tape for a before and after comparison. From reading around the web, we also saw that it was best to leave the ketchup on for about 10 minutes in order for it to take effect. 


The Result: Less than ideal but there is some merit in it! Watch the video above for more. 


Conservation Viewpoint: While the ketchup method does work well with metals such as bronze, copper, and sterling silver, precaution should be taken with using any sort or polishing agent. These agents are acidic and can also sometimes contain abrasive elements which can scratch the surface of the object. As with anything organic, if there is some of the foodstuff leftover on the object it can be an open invitation for biological growth as well as pest activity. With every polishing, you are removing a layer of metal, not only putting any engravings at risk for being wiped out, but also causing a general thinning of the metal which can lead to instability, and eventually holes!


Have any more questions about archaeology or history? Shoot me an email:


Looking to Find Out More?


American Institute for Conservation - How to Protect Your Metal Objects


Victoria and Albert Museum - Cleaning Metals: Basic Guidelines


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Some days I pretend I'm Indiana Jones. Other days, I make videos about pretending to be Indiana Jones. 

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