Preventative Maintenance and Restoration
If you are an Ironmaster user or have any other weight training gear in your gym then you likely have chrome finished bars, handles, frames, etc. Chrome looks great and protects your metal surfaces against corrosion while being a ultra-thin coating that is hard and durable. You’ll find chrome on many items in our lineup, like the IM2000 smith bar, Quick-Lock (QL) Adjustable Dumbbells, fixed dumbbells, our new QL Mace Handle, and more. Of course chrome plating is used in other areas like on a sweet ’57 Chevy bumper or even on modern Harley Davidson cycles but we will just focus on gym gear.
What is chrome?
Chrome plating is a technique of electroplating a thin layer of chromium onto a metal part. The chrome layer can be decorative or it can be used for surface protection from abrasion or corrosion. The chrome plating process most commonly used for gym gear is a multi-step process where the part is dipped into a series of chemical tank baths some of which are electrically charged and the metal part is grounded. First step is chemical cleaning/etching. Next is electroplating with bright nickel. This is where the nickel metal is dissolved into a solution and then electrically charged so it is attracted to the metal parts introduced. After the appropriate time for about 0.1mm thickness, the part is moved to another tank for chromium plating. This is much thinner and provides an extra layer of protection and a much brighter mirror-like finish that we all love. Cleaning and rinsing baths and it is ready to rock. There are other types of chrome plating like “hard chrome” like on some Olympic barbells or “industrial chrome” that hold up to tough use but the tradeoff is they have a dull appearance and cost a lot more to produce. The thicker coatings also smooth out the feel on knurled surfaces like on dumbbell handles. Most chrome we use is a decorative nickel chrome so that is what will discuss.
When it comes to caring for your chrome finished gear there are two types. Preventative maintenance (PM) and restoration. I want to spend the most time on PM since a little attention and cleaning is better than trying to deal with heavily corroded/rusted metal.
Chrome Preventative Maintenance
Clean off that sweat! Sweat is the primary culprit when it comes to corrosion developing on weight training gear. There is a lot of salt in sweat and salt will promote corrosion much faster than just moisture. If you make it a habit to clean off chrome surfaces that your sweaty hands are in contact with, you will greatly improve the lifespan of the coating. Using a glass cleaner works quite well. Other general purpose cleaners will also do the trick. Ideally spray and wipe off after every training session. You know how it’s recommended to wipe down your gear at a commercial gym when you are done with it? Think of it like that, but not to clean it for the next dude. Rather clean it for yourself and remove sweat residue. You might not be a sweat monster and can get away with less frequent cleaning. That’s for you to decide. We recommend using WD-40 spray to clean and lightly lubricate the Quick-Lock Dumbbell handles and locking screw threaded areas. You can also use WD-40 to provide some extra protection to all the other chrome surfaces too, however it can feel slippery so be sure to wipe it down well.
Don’t leave your gear outside or in high humidity environments. Even the finest quality, thick chrome plating on a motorcycle can develop rust if left out in the elements long enough. Most indoor home environments are fine for gym equipment, but unheated basements and garages in humid climates can play havoc on metal parts. We’ve seen some gear that was left in a storage shed out back that got pretty rusty.
OK, you neglected your gear and are seeing some rust spots. Now what? There are commercial chrome polishes and rust removal chemicals to choose from. CLR, 3M Chrome and Metal Polish, Turtle Wax Chrome Polish are all decent options. Chrome polishes can be found at most automotive supply stores or ordered online. Some polishes will say they help “protect” the surface after it is cleaned. That is mostly not true but getting even tiny spots of rust abraded away with polish will help prevent those spots from growing. Be sure to be even more diligent with your PM routine if your chrome parts have needed to have rust removed since the surface is now compromised somewhat.
There are some basic household items you can also try for light corrosion. Standard white toothpaste can work well as a polish. WD-40 with a brush can get small spots cleaned up. An old toothbrush can work, especially in the knurled areas. If you need a more aggressive brush than nylon bristles, we recommend a brass bristle brush. A steel or stainless steel bristle brush will remove everything, but also will scratch the good chrome so stay away from those types of brushes.
In some cases, you may see some discoloration in certain areas that have welds. This can happen when chemicals or rinsing water gets inside crevices and can slowly work its way out over time after the item is packaged. This is nothing to worry about. Just clean it up with one of the above polishing techniques if you wish.
If you end up with a nasty rusty mess, you will need to dig deeper if you want to salvage the part. Applying a rust remover and then wrapping up the part in a soaked cloth then plastic wrap to keep it from drying out will give the best results. It may not be worth all the effort since there will not be much of the thin chrome plating left and it can develop rust pretty easily after more use or lack of care. One thing that can help is to spray on a clear lacquer or acrylic spray paint after the part is thoroughly cleaned. It won’t feel as good as the original chrome surface, but it will help protect the part if the chrome has been rusted or polished away. Remember that the chrome coating is super thin and even if some gets eaten or polished away there will still be plenty of steel thickness for strength and structural integrity.
Chrome finish is actually easy to care for in most environments and for most users. If you are as proud of your Ironmaster gear as we are, just give it some TLC for a lifetime of beauty and performance.
- Clean your chrome periodically
- Keep away from high humidity areas
- Polish up blemishes if you see any
- Don’t stress over this. Keep on lifting!
Ironmaster is always available to help. Email at contactus (at) ironmaster.com or call us with any questions on how to best care for your weight lifting tools.
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