Tuesday, August 10, 2010

How to Remove Foil Backing from Vintage Glass Rhinestones and Cabochons

We stock many beautiful vintage glass rhinestones and vintage glass cabochons at Bumbershoot Supplies.  However, when purchasing for Bumbershoot Supplies, or for the designs you see in Bumbershoot Designs, we receive many vintage glass rhinestones and cabochons that are not always so beautiful.  When vintage rhinestones and glass cabochons, and even glass buttons that have foil backs get old, they can get scratches and dings in the foil. 

This can vary in degree and in more dramatic cases, can be apparent from the front of the piece, as you look through the glass.

Also, sometimes the foil backs of these items can look just fine, but when you look through the glass, you will see cloudiness. 

In this very large topaz rhinestone from 1950's West Germany, what you are seeing is cloudiness at the point of attachment of the foil backing to the glass, part of the natural aging process of foil backed vintage rhinestones and cabochons.

Sometimes this time-related aging, the cloudiness and/or a bit of scratching and dings are absolutely the effect you'd like for a vintage, time worn look, or you can figure out how to work with them in your art and designs.  However, if you don't want these signs of age, you can always try removing the foil backing from vintage rhinestones or cabochons and see if you can use them in their transformed state. You'll end up with a transparent piece of glass, which may give rise to all kinds of new creative ideas and design possibilities.

To strip the foil backing from vintage glass cabochons and rhinestones, here's what you need: 

I usually start with only a few cabs or rhinestones to see how they behave. Some strip really easily and others take more time. But you can pretty much always get the foil off.

I use a small glass dish/cup/bowl and throw in some salt. I use kosher since the crystals are bigger and it helps with the scrubbing (keep reading and you'll see what I mean), but I have used regular salt and you can use any kind of salt you have on hand. For the small number of rhinestones shown here, a couple of tablespoons in a small dish should be fine.

Then add some vinegar to cover the salt.

Then drop in your rhinestones or cabs. Which side lands up doesn't matter. Any vinegar is fine, I've used white, malt, champagne, whatever I happen to have on hand. Now I use the cheapest white vinegar I can find so my family doesn't complain about our house smelling like a fish and chips shop :)

Let them sit for at least a few hours. I usually let them sit overnight. With some really old rhinestones or cabochons, the foil will slip off in 15 minutes, but many take longer.

After soaking, use your fingers and use the remaining salt crystals and rub the foil backs of the rhinestones. The foil should come off. Sometimes I add more salt to get more of an abrasive, because the salt can dissolve a bit overnight. Sometimes I use a soft toothbrush with a bit of a salt paste on it - you can pick up some salt on the brush from the bottom of your dish, or sprinkle some fresh salt on the brush.  In this dish, I have those aqua flat back cabochons that I started with, and I also ended up throwing in several other types of rhinestones, including those big and cloudy topaz West German cabochons you saw earlier.  You can see that they are stripping easily - this photo was taken 15 minutes after I put everything in the dish. There are 3 of those big cabs in the dish and I've checked the one on the right.  By the way, when I decided to add additional cabochons and rhinestones to the dish, I just tossed in some more salt and vinegar to cover everything.  I don't worry very much about measuring or amounts.  I tend to cook this way too...

Once you have the foil off, rinse in clear water and let dry.

Here's some before and after photos.  Foil backed are on the left, stripped and now transparent are on the right. The first photo is to illustrate how you change the properties of the cabochons, since now they are not only clear, but these domed cabs will now magnify items placed beneath them.

I have had stones and cabs that I have to do the whole routine a second time, soaking them overnight in vinegar and salt twice, since there is some residue remaining and I wanted them perfectly clear. But the second time through has always worked for me.

Not only is this a fun way to turn aged vintage glass cabochons and rhinestones into usable supplies, it also is a way to alter your supplies to achieve the effects you'd like. Perhaps you need a clear green rhinestone and you only have foiled.  Or maybe you'd like a magnifying cabochon... You get the idea.

There are sometimes some surprises....  For example, foil can cover a multitude of issues in glass, and sometimes when I've stripped glass cabochons and rhinestones, I've seen flaws that were not visible to my eyes when the foiling was in place. But hey, it's worth a try!  And almost always, you will find that you have transformed a material that you may not have been able to use into one that will look great in your art and designs. 


  1. Great tutorial! Thanks for the info.


  2. Fantastic :) thankyou for sharing!

  3. Thanks! This helped a lot.

  4. How about newly refoiling them?? is it possible? Thanks

  5. Afraid not! Great question, thanks for asking! ~Sharon, Bumbershoot Designs and Supplies

  6. Worked so well, thanks! I wonder...does this technic work for coatings on other types of beads? I have some AB coatings on some beads and the coating is scratched..would this remove the coating?

  7. Just a follow up...this doesn't remove ab coats. bummer.

  8. I will be referencing your tut on my upcoming blog post on the 26th of July, 2013. Thanks for this tut - it helped! I needed an extra step for modern Swarovski crystals, but I got the foil off w/o hard chemicals! pzdesigns.blogspot.com

  9. Is there any reason the foil wouldn't come off? o_o I followed every step and even left them in for 24 hours...and no luck at all!

  10. To be honest, I've always been able to remove the foil, although sometimes it is challenging :) Here's one idea I had: After the soak, try one of those non-scratch scrubbing pads or sponges usually used for washing dishes. Perhaps that may help. ~Sharon

  11. Scoth tape removes old foil really well. I just found out by accident.

  12. Thank you! I used this process and it worked wonderfully! Appreciate you sharing your technique!!

  13. Isn't there a way to replace the foiling on the back of these stones? I know I've seen adhesive foiling on glass mosaic sites--though it's hard to find. I'm not talking about copper foiling tape used for the edging or soldering but it's the same idea just larger.

  14. Hi there, I am not aware of methods to replace foiling on rhinestones. The rhinestone foiling process is a complicated one, akin to creating mirrors, and the characteristics of the foiling vary with time of manufacture and any special effects included in the rhinestone's design. Great question! ~Sharon

  15. I just tried Krylon Looking Glass spray paint on the back of an aquamarine rhinestone I had removed the old foiling. It turned out beautiful. It is a different shade of blue now, more like tanzanite. This stuff is very toxic smelling. Be sure to use outside.