Modern Mail Maintenance
Maintaining Your Mail (In a Modern Fashion)
This will serve as a quick-reference companion to my more detailed video on the subject. This method is what I use and what works for me. There are tons of differing opinions out there and different methods, different preferred products etc., so mine is not the only way to accomplish this task. I’ve broken the process of mail maintenance into three different activities. De-greasing, protecting, and cleaning the mail. De-greasing is required anytime you purchase new mail (although some may disagree) or whenever you need to strip all of the oil or corrosion preventative off of your mail garment. Protecting your mail is the process by which you prevent corrosion (rust) from building on the surface of your mail. Cleaning your mail will be required if rust does get on the surface of your mail, which is really an inevitability unless you are using stainless steel or another corrosion resistant material.
De-greasing your mail
When you purchase mail new, it generally comes packed in some sort of (often unidentifiable) nasty grease or oily sludge. Some people will tell you to just leave it on because it is preventing corrosion. It is true that it’s preventing corrosion, but I generally prefer to use a product of my own choosing, and often the stuff that they use is absolutely offensive to the senses. De-greasing will also be necessary if you need to strip all of your rust prevention product from the mail.
To de-grease my mail, I use a water-tight container that will be big enough to fully submerge whatever piece of mail I’m about to de-grease. A standard bucket or a shallow tote will work well for this application. Then I use a 50/50 mixture of water and Simple Green as my de-greasing agent. You can buy Simple Green at your local big box hardware store in 1 gallon jugs if you want, or select a de-greaser of your choosing, but mixtures will be different according to the product used.
Now submerge your mail in the 50/50 water / simple green solution and agitate the mail with your hands. Kneed it, let it abrade itself, really get it moving and thoroughly mixed. I usually check it every minute or so to see how I’m progressing. When the mail is clean, pull it out and rinse it thoroughly with water.
Your mail is very vulnerable to rust at this stage because it’s covered in water and has no means of protection. You must dry your mail immediately to prevent flash rust. I generally recommend doing this outdoors on a sunny day. I will lay the mail out flat in direct sunlight on concrete or cement and let the sun dry the mail quickly. Even if it’s cool out, direct sunlight should heat the metal of the mail up and aid in drying it. If you need more help, use a hair dryer or heat gun and wipe off excess water with a towel. Once dry, immediately proceed to protecting your mail.
1. Get a water-tight container
2. Fill with 50/50 water / simple green
3. submerge mail, and agitate with hands (allowing the mail to abrade itself) until clean
4. rinse the mail with clean water
5. dry immediately in the sun, or with the aid of heat gun / hair dryer etc.****
**** – I’ve been advised that products like Ballistol are very effective during the drying stage to immediately displace any water on the mail. Ballistol or something like WD-40 will displace water quickly and can prevent flash rust, however you still need to apply a long-term protection as Ballistol or WD-40 will not last indefinitely.
Protecting your mail
Now that your mail is dry and clean, any moisture it gets on it will want to start rusting the rings. You need to create a moisture barrier on the surface of the steel in order to inhibit water from resting on it. This is usually accomplished with some sort of oil. Some people have had great success with commercial floor waxes. I’ve never tried them so I can’t attest to their usefulness. The two products that I’ve personally seen work exceptionally well on preventing rust buildup on mail are Breakfree CLP and Fluid Film. Both are an oily liquid that can be sprayed upon your mail and left on it in order to prevent future rust. You want to accomplish this phase after any cleaning or de-greasing.
I simply take my clean mail, lay it flat on a dedicated towel, lightly spray the surface with a preventative, flip the garment over and spray again. Then I let it sit for a few minutes. Next I will fold up the mail in the center of the towel, wrap it up in the now oily towel and store it until needed. When I wear it again I just remove it from the towel, put it on, and re-store it when I’m done. I’ll re-apply a light coat of preventative if I feel that it’s wearing off.
1. Lay out your mail flat on a sacrificial towel (or whatever you want)
2. Spray with your favorite product
3. Flip the garment (if necessary) and re-apply
4. Let sit for a few minutes
5. Store in an oily container (towel, bag, pouch etc).
Cleaning your mail
The inevitable result of owning mail not made from a naturally rust-resistant material like stainless steel or aluminum is that it will eventually see surface rust. Mail rings are generally pretty thin, and if you leave rust untreated, you will have to replace rings because they will be structurally compromised and start to break down. Rivets are also very prone to rusting, and in many cases seem to rust before the rest of the ring.
There are two approaches to cleaning the rust off of mail. It can be done chemically or mechanically.
Chemical cleaning involves the use of a rust removal product and is pretty easy to use. The most recommended product I’ve seen used is a product called ‘Evapo Rust.’ You simply submerge your mail in the product using a container similar to the de-greasing step and let it sit until the rust has disappeared. I’ve heard that if the mail is not fully submerged it can cause an etch at the waterline, so beware.
Once it’s clean, you’re basically in the same place you were after de-greasing. You want to rinse the mail with clean water and immediately dry and apply a rust-preventer.
Mechanical cleaning involves the use of a mechanical abrasive to remove the rust from the surface of the mail. Mail will actually abrade itself to some degree by simply wearing it and moving around. You can also remove small and light patches of rust by simply rubbing the mail on itself. Sometimes for a light spot clean, I will hit the spot with some CLP and then rub the mail on itself and this can take care of a light problem area. If this isn’t taking care of what you need, you may want to ‘tumble’ your mail. You can literally put your mail in a bucket with an abrasive media and roll it around, or you can let an electric motor do the work. The two main types of electrically driven tumblers out there are rotary tumblers and vibratory tumblers. Vibratory tumblers can usually be found for less money but they are typically smaller and may not be suitable to something the size of a mail hauberk due to space or weight limitations. A cement mixer drum has baffles inside of it that are meant to mix the wet cement. These would need to be removed if you wanted to go that route, but it will accommodate larger pieces of mail.
You would then place a tumbling media inside the drum (walnut shell, bran, steel shot etc.) and tumble the mail along with the media. The media is what’s responsible for abrading the surface of the mail. Over time it will knock the rust off of your rings, leaving you with a rust-free mail garment. As always, now is the time to apply your favorite rust preventative.
No matter what method you use to clean your mail, now that it’s clean, guess what, you’re back to ‘Protecting your Mail.’ Go grab your favorite rust prevention product, apply it your mail, and now it should be ready for storage.
Here’s the accompanying video for this post if you prefer to hear the information that way: