Friday, October 25, 2013

DIY Antiqued Mirror Wall Panels (Or, "Fun With Muriatic Acid!")

I've been putting off this tutorial because it's kind of a monster project, but for those of you who want to try making your own antiqued mirror panels, I think this will be super helpful. There are other tutorials out there, but they all seem to vary a bit, plus John and I had to learn a lot through trial and error. Here's hoping our missteps will save you some time and aggravation!

Here's another peek at the finished product from my bedroom makeover, although of course you can use these instructions to age any kind of mirror.

So. You will need:

- cheap mirrors (Ours are 12X12 plain-edged squares, available in a 6-pack at Home Depot for $9.99) Buy extra, just in case.

- paint stripper, any brand (about $10 for a quart, which is more than enough)

- mineral spirits

- Pure muriatic acid, available at pool supply stores (less than $10 a gallon)
(Some tutorials try to avoid using this stuff, but trust me, it's the cheapest and most effective option.)

- plastic spray bottles

- Safety equipment: heavy rubber gloves, goggles, and face masks, if you have them

To begin, we'll be removing the the backing on our mirrors using that paint stripper:

Pour out a big glob and brush it around with a disposable chip brush or rag:

Your paint backing might start to bubble up immediately, or it might stay kind of streaky even after several minutes. Even in the same packs of mirrors, we saw a lot of variation:

See how the one in the center is hugely bubbled up, and some of the others look crackled like alligator skin, but others just looks streaky? I don't know why it does that. But no worries; that just means some of the backings will come off a bit easier than others.

It's very important that you not scratch the backs of your mirror, so remove the stripped paint as gently as possible:

It should wipe or scrape right off. (John used a plastic scraper, but a rag is better/softer.) If not, feel free to use a bit more stripper.

Once all the gunky bits are off, pour a little mineral spirits on your mirror and wipe off the rest of the residue with some paper towels:

Then follow THAT up with a quick rub-down of Windex or other glass cleaner.

When you're done, your mirror should be equally reflective on both sides - so be careful not to get the back and front mixed up. (The easiest way to tell? Press your finger to one side of the glass. If there's a space between your finger and its reflection, that's the front. The back will have no space.)

Again, there's a lot of variation among mirrors - even from the same manufacturer - so some might still have a bit of residue and streakiness after you're done removing the backing. Some might even have a gold film, like the one on the extreme left up there. THAT'S OK. Remember, we're aging these suckers, so we can chalk any imperfections up to "character." 

Ok, your mirrors are clean! TIME FOR THE SUPER DANGEROUS FUN STUFF.

First, gear up like you're cosplaying the guys from Breaking Bad. Then clear yourself a workspace outside or in a well-ventilated garage. Next, when you're ready, pour some muriatic acid into your plastic spray bottle:

It's going to put off a lot of cloudy vapor, like dry ice, only stinkier. Use your masks, and try not to breath it in. Feel free to cackle a bit and scream out, "LIVE, MY CREATION! LIIIIIVE!!" from time to time, though, just to keep the neighbors nervous.

Now, here's the thing about muriatic acid: it eats through stuff.  That's good for our mirror backing, which we're TRYING to beat up, but bad for that plastic bottle you just poured the acid into. Don't worry; it's not going to eat through your bottle and start dripping all over your toes or anything, but it WILL destroy the spray nozzle innards in about, oh, 20 or 30 minutes, give or take. SO GET MOVING. (If you have a lot of mirrors to do, like we did, then buy extra bottles. We went through 3 or 4 bottles for about 24 mirrors.)

After a lot of trial and error, here's the best method we found for applying the acid. Please, learn from my frustration:

1) Spray a light, even mist of acid onto the entire mirror
2) Immediately wipe that mist around with a paper towel
3) Wait a few seconds, and then spray on heavy, irregular splotches of acid however you like
4) When your splotches turn transparent (usually within a minute or two), rinse the entire mirror with water. (I recommend using the garden hose.)

Those first two steps are crucial for removing any last bits of mineral spirits or stripper still clinging to the back of your mirror. If you DON'T do them, here's what your mirror will look like after you apply your acid splotches:

In other words: basically nothing happens, and what does happen takes forever to show up.

 And here's the mirror AFTER those first two steps, and with the bigger acid splotches applied:

Big difference, right? It happens much faster, too; often in a matter of seconds, instead of minutes.

The acid application is where your artistic side comes in; you can add as much or as little as you like, but try to keep it random and somewhat natural looking. The edges tend to wear first on antique mirrors, so concentrate your sprays there - but don't be afraid to add some huge patches wherever; randomness is your friend.

Also, remember that with those spray bottles a hard squeeze gives you a nice even mist, while a weak squeeze will dribble out big splotchy areas. Experiment a bit; you'll soon get the hang of it.

Here are our acid-splotched mirrors reflecting the sky - which is why they look so black-and-white.

And here they are reflecting the garage:

As you can see, the acid ate away the reflective backing, so you can see the plywood board underneath.

John and I spent two nights stripping & spraying our 20+ mirrors, since it was too hot to work during the day in August. We set up big construction lights in the driveway, geared ourselves up like meth-making cray-crays, and sprayed clouds of acid all over the front yard at 2 o'clock in the morning. (The neighbors love us. Honest.)

So now you've got a bunch of splotchily transparent mirror panels. Time to replace the paint backing!

Now, here's the thing: every tutorial out there will tell you to paint your mirror backs black. BO-RING. I say, have fun with it! Experiment with different colors! Like, you know, brown. :D (In all seriousness, I've seen a gold & fuchsia backing on aged mirrors that was TO DIE FOR.)

Actually, after a lot of experimenting, here's what I did:

First, I sprayed gold (yes, GOLD) spray paint randomly in small sections on all of my mirrors:

Then I followed that up with a coat of metallic bronze:

This results in a slightly warmer, sparklier, and less severe finish than straight black paint would give you:

See the gold speckles? Again, subtle, but quite nice in the light.

And with that, your mirrors are done!

Now here's how we (or rather John) built the actual wall panels:

First, figure out your sizing. (Actually, you should really do this before anything else, so you know how many mirrors to age. So, go back in time and do that.) We used large butcher paper to help us visualize the panel size on our walls:

Next John cut a piece of plywood about two inches larger on all sides than our 10 mirror panels laid out, like so:
Then he added 1X2 wood strips to the edges to give the plywood board a slight lip.

We glued our mirrors down using construction adhesive (aka Liquid Nails):

Again, there's a gap between the mirrors and the slightly raised edges. Why? Because the decorative trim wood we applied next covers that gap perfectly, just barely overlapping the mirrors:


This is actually a finished shot, after we painted the trim. John installed the trim using ultra-tiny furniture nails (with no head) and a pin-nailer, and then we taped off the mirrors and painted the trim with my favorite chrome spray paint:

Once we finished peeling off that painters tape, it was just a matter of adding super heavy-duty hanging hardware (with short screws, of course - don't go cracking your mirrors!) to the back, and  hanging each panel in place on our walls:

And there you have it: two antiqued mirrored wall panels for about, oh, $100 in materials. SHINY.

I hope this helped someone out there, and as always, link me up with pics in the comments should you decide to try this yourself, guys!

Oh, and Happy Friday!

(For my Pinterest peeps.)


Come see ALL of my craft projects on one page, right here!


  1. No one's commented yet? WOO-HOO! Oh, sorry. *ahem*

    Your comment about pressing your finger on the reminded me of something I once read. "If there's no space leave the place." Supposedly if a mirror is 2-way then if you put your fingernail to the glass, there should be a gap between the image, and your fingernail. If there's NO gap, then it might be a 2-way. Just remember that this is just a urban legend, and there are different opinions on whether or not it's true.

    1. Sounds accurate to me, since having the silvering on the FRONT of a mirror means you could probably see through it from behind.

  2. I was wondering what those where in your first set of pictures! I was drawn to them! I'm so glad you showed us!

    Thanks for the visual of you guys at 2am all dressed in hazmat gear! hahaha!

  3. So I'm guessing this is not a good project to do while pregnant, right? ;) Looks like there's no mirror antiquing in my near future, but this is definitely an awesome one to file away!

  4. Oh, pretty! Something else to put on my things-to-do list :D

    As someone who runs a public pool and spends a lot of time with muratic acid, I'd really recommend people try AcidMagic or something like that. It's muratic acid without the stink, and will not burn you unless you have open cuts. It's MUCH less scary than regular ol' muratic acid. (I mean, don't do anything stupid with it, but still. Less scary) Most hardware stores carry it.

    1. forgot to mention that AcidMagic is a bit nicer to metal than regular muratic acid is, so it may not be quite as effective in aging your mirrors

  5. I wish your tutorial had been around about 3 years ago when I was distressing some mirrors. Yours is the easiest, simplest, and most thorough one I've read. It was a lot of work, but also really fun (destroying with acid in my Cap't Hammer gloves!). Hummm… wondering if there are any other mirrors I can distress…

  6. Excellent tutorial, Jen. Thank you!

    The final product looks awesome!


  7. Very cool. I have a damaged antique mirror that I'd love to distress. I think I'll wait until spring and take it to my parents' farm and do it there...

  8. An easier way to tell if your mirror is the wrong way around: Just look at it and see if it shows the back of your head.

  9. I love this!!! I want to make one, but i want to make it a little less distressed, and i like the idea of terqoise, I am really into terquise +pink/orange <3 I have a Picture frame that would be PERFECT for this i picked it up for a couple dollars at a yardsale a couple months back too.. and i have extra on my pay check this week.. ooohh wee plot plot plot..and to be honest it would be great to freak my neighbor out by dressing up like a crazy meth cook bahahaah

  10. Maybe a dumb question but: when you spray off the acid, where does it go? I realize the water dilutes it but is this going into the sewer (or if you did it on your lawn, into the grass?)? I live near a bay so anything that goes into the sewers eventually ends up there. Maybe I'll look for a less toxic option that this, although they really did turn out fabulous.

    1. Just a guess, but as this stuff is regularly used in pools I'm guessing when it's diluted with the water it loses some measure of it's harmfulness? I have no idea really, but that's a good question.

    2. Muriatic acid (aka Hydrochloric Acid) is used in pools to balance their pH. If you are concerned about the acid levels of the diluted rinse water, add some Baking Soda (aka Sodium Bicarbonate) to it. Baking Soda is the most commonly used base to counter most acids in a wide variety of situations, from pools to laboratories. Feel free to sprinkle a dusting of it over everything you feel is "acidic" and if there is no more reaction, then it is either neutralized or basic. If you add baking soda to a very acidic cup of liquid (ie the left over muriatic acid) it will bubble and release gas. This is the same reaction as a vinegar (a weak acid) and baking soda "volcano" done in elementary school and not to be scared of. (Although safety is always important when working with acids, so be sure to wear all the safety gear mentioned above for the cleanup too.)

      As for the "less toxic" versions (including the AcidMagic mentioned above), they are all the same acid, just more diluted with water, making them weaker. Which just means you need more of it or more time to get the result you want. Hydrochloric acid has been used since the Renaissance, and is used in everything from pvc manufacture, to food processing, to leather making, to cleaning, etc. As long as it is diluted it is not a hugely scary bad thing. (Assuming basic common sense safe handling of all acids is used.)

    3. Thanks for that explanation, Cindy; you answered everyone way better than I could have! (And yes, we rinsed the mirrors on our lawn, so it went into the grass - with no ill effects that we could see!)

  11. PERFECT! I've loved the looks of these mirrors but have had a hard time finding a good tutorial. THANK YOU. I'm thinking of doing this and then mod-podging some awesome fabric behind the mirror for some sort of pattern/texture instead of a solid color. OHHH the possibilities :)

  12. What do you do with the broken spray bottle of the acid stuff and what about the run off when you clean the mirrors after putting the acid on them? I love the idea of doing this, but the idea of figuring out the clean up is keeping me from running to the hardware store right now.

    1. As long as the acid is properly diluted, it shouldn't cause any harm to your lawn or plumbing - so just use a fair amount of water from the hose or in the sink while rinsing. (See Cindy's explanation above; she knows more than me!)

  13. Preeettttty!! I totally want to do these, now. I have to find a spot in my house that needs mirror-izing.

  14. So, um, yeah, I'm feeling like an inadequate crafter over here with my Styrofoam eyeball Halloween decorations.

  15. You should be specifying a respirator rather than a "face mask"-- the cheap disposable masks you buy at the hardware store only protect against large particulate inhalation and do literally nothing to prevent harmful fumes from entering your lungs. Only a properly fit respirator with the right type of cartridges can protect against inhalation of toxic vapors. As a theater professional, I have endless horror stories about improper use of toxins-- safety is easy to take lightly until something truly nasty happens.

  16. beautiful mirrors...poor neighbors...I guess they will only be really concerned when your cackling is actually followed by a TREX stomping out of the garage or a Tardis materializing on their lawn....

  17. I work at Home Depot, so I'm super happy you shop there and pimp it so much. It's a great place to work and I think they have really great stuff and just YAY!!!

  18. Wow! You are hard-core dedicated to your crafts! I think my aunt had those mirrors in gold-tones some time in the 70s. It brought up some fun memories of sleepovers at my aunt's house and staying up late to watch Fantasy Island. Thank you!

  19. I have a (accidentally!) distressed looking mirror in our bathroom. When our bathroom mirror broke I decided I wanted to just make one to hang up in there and discovered how difficult it is to find a tutorial for making mirrors! I went to goodwill and got a cheap ($7) picture with glass in the frame (a lot of them had plastic there) and a can of Magic Mirror spray paint from Wal-Mart (the only store around here that carried it, including JoAnns, Michaels, Home Depot, Lowes, etc.) and tried to make my mirror as even and shiny as possible. It turned out kind of cloudy and splotchy, but it looks just like an antiqued mirror, so happy accident I suppose.

    So, just for anyone that might be scared of all the paint strippers and stuff, try doing it in reverse by making a mirror instead of distressing one, it could work out!

    1. Oh yes, the Looking Glass spray paint from Krylon is also excellent - not to mention addicting. Pretty soon you'll be mirror-izing ALL the things! ;)

  20. These mirrors are so beautiful! I love the addition of gold and bronze paint instead of black. Your whole bedroom redo is stunning. I'm looking forward to making some pendant lights similar to yours in the near future. Great job per usual!

  21. Hi, you may actually find this easier, and far less toxic it's from better homes and gardens. Basically take a picture frame (or any glass), spray the back with a vinegar & water mix, then spray again while the vinegar is wet with mirror glass spray paint. The vinegar stops the paint from sticking in certain sections.

  22. I normally detest "faux age". As a jeweler I sell new jewelry not old jewelry recently made. That being said, I love the idea of using the gold and bronze spray paint to fill in the holes. Crap. You inspire me.

  23. You both did an amazing job with the mirrors. I was (past tense) interested in trying this technique on a smaller scale, but after seeing how much work you went through I will have to pass on this DIY. It was major but you make a great team. Love what you created in your bedroom and the details in your blog!

  24. I think I need a few more details on that "travel back in time" step. ;)

    This is gorgeous, and way braver than I think I'll ever be with corrosive chemicals.

  25. Did you make the shiny starburst too?- Mijinjax

  26. We did, yes! There some more info on it in my reveal post here, plus a link to the tutorial I used to make it.

  27. This is my 'no-no blog', 'cause whenever I read it I go on crafting benders.

  28. This is an amazing project. I bought 12 mirrors tiles from home depot and one 20" by 24" larger mirror. The backing on them look the same as the ones you have pictured above, yet when putting on the stripper, NOTHING happened. I left the stripper on overnight even! The backing is grey, yet it does not feel like paint. Maybe there is a different type of backing on these tiles and mirrors then you have on yours? Has anyone experienced this? I used the stripper on another old mirror I had in the house and it turned out great! I really wanted to do a tile panel like yours, but I am stumped at this weird turn of events. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated!

    1. Yikes, sounds like your mirrors must have a different sealer on the backs! Ok, to get through it, I'd suggest getting a heavy duty sandpaper and giving the backs a good sanding, then trying the stripper again. You just need to get it through whatever clear coat they've added, so the scratchiness of the sandpaper *might* do the trick.
      Good luck, and let us know how it goes!

  29. I tried the muriatic acid on our outdoor patio area and felt it was a bit too unsafe (as far as breathing it in.) I seriously thought my eyeballs were going to be damaged after using the muriatic acid. The vapours immediately hit them and I decided "nope, not going there."

    We live in a condo, so I needed an alternative.

    I did some googling and found that Modern Masters has something called Blue Patina Solution. They also have a Green Patina Solution. The company website has a list of retailers, so I was able to find a store that carried the product in my area.

    I used the blue solution in place of muriatic acid and the mirrors came out great! The solution has no odour, meaning it can be done inside.

    You get a much smaller bottle (I paid just over $6 for a 4oz,) but you don't need much. After doing 2 large mirrors and one small one, I still have about 3/4 of a bottle left, and to be fair I used FAR more of the solution than I needed to.

    I would still recommend wearing gloves, goggles and protecting your work surface while using the solution, but at least you won't have to worry about the harmful vapours.

    Hope this tip helps! :)

    1. That's amazing! I never would have thought the patina solution strong enough, so that's super good news, and something I'll definitely have to try! Thanks for the tip!

    2. I got so excited to see your tutorial, because this was just what I needed for a project of mine. Except I had two problems (neither of which were the fault of your tutorial). The first being, in my apartment complex, I had absolutely no place to go outside to work with acid. Second, the alternatives I found online were also toxic and/or expensive. So I decided to try a cheap experiment with something I already had, and I actually had really good luck with it. I used (drumroll please) lemon juice. The concentrated stuff in the little yellow bottles that you can buy at the grocery store for two bucks. I just sprayed it on and left it for maybe a half hour or so, then rinsed it off in the sink.

    3. When using the Blue Patina solution did you rinse with water as you would have the muriatic acid after a minute or so, and then apply paint?

  30. Hey, I've just found this video of someone who debunks pins, and finds yours works!

  31. You should post this to Houzz

  32. Added this to my list of projects! Thank you.

  33. I tried this diy and spraying a light even coat over the whole mirror (60"x24") of muiratic acid. It was overkill for my project. I wiped instead of blotted right away and the mirror surface came off way faster than expected. I should have sprayed the muiratic acid and then used the garden hose to clean it off immediately. Followed it up with spray paint in a mix of champaign gold, silver,pearl and then a solid coat of black high adhesion over the back. I would like to try metalic turquoise and charcoal grey mix next time. I did 2 mirrors this size. I plan to adhere to plywood with construction adhesive and trim out in trumeau style (8'×32"). Will add a nice architectural element to the room and I can take it with me when I eventually move. Thank you for the outstanding tutorial.

  34. These are the prettiest distressed mirrors I've ever seen . Thanks for the share.

  35. Does this work at all on the newer plastic mirrors? Or does it have to be glass ?

    1. Only glass - the acid will eat through plastic!


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