How Are Mirrors Made (and How to Make One at Home)

By Adam Ioannidis

Have you ever looked at a mirror and thought “I wonder how they make those…”? Well, you’re not alone. Glass mirrors are objects that we sometimes take for granted and are used virtually everywhere we go. Even walking along shopping strips, some windows may be polished so clearly that they basically become mirrors themselves. Today, our Melbourne-based metal recyclers are going to take you through the process of creating a mirror so you can stop wondering how they’re created. And, the best part? You can actually attempt a variation of the process at home to create your own mirror.

Mirrors in the early ages

To understand the present, it can sometimes be beneficial to understand the past. The first mirrors were made from obsidian around 600 B.C. The stones were highly polished to the point where incredibly clear reflections were achieved. As the ages progressed, mirrors began to be made entirely from different metals such as copper, silver, gold and bronze, for example. These became too expensive and dirty, however, and soon, more modern solutions were discovered that are still used to this day.

Making a mirror

Looking at the whole picture — making a mirror is actually quite simple. Essentially, all you’re doing is just coating a piece of glass to make it reflective. When you break it down, though, it’s the how where the process becomes complicated — even after the appropriately proportioned piece of glass has been cut.

Cleaning and polishing 

Cleaning the glass properly is key to a well-functioning mirror. This is performed by an optical grinding machine that combines a special, gritty liquid with a metal plate to ensure the surface of the glass is worn down to a fine, smooth and even finish. Whilst this can be done by hand, on an industrial level these specialised machines are far more efficient and consistent. For example, industrial optical grinding machines can grind anywhere from 50 – 200 blank glass panes simultaneously.

Coating the glass

There are a couple of different metals used for coating the glass panes. The two popular types are silver and aluminium. When it comes to the industrial production of mirrors, specialised vacuum chambers called evaporators are used to carefully and accurately boil the metal and condense it onto the sheet of glass. The evaporator’s vacuum will actually apply the coating in the same way that steam fogs up a cold window. This method is so precise that it delivers a thin coating of the chosen metal that perfectly covers the expanse of the glass sheet evenly.

Protective dielectric coating

There is a final layer of coating known as a dielectric coating which serves to either add an additional reflective layer or a protective one over the metal. This is achieved by combining silicon oxides and nitrates in extreme heat so that they can form a solid substance — forming a coating similar to how the metal coating is formed.

Making a mirror at home

If you have a glass piece that you no longer need, then you could turn it into a stylish and practical DIY mirror. As long as you have an appropriately cut piece of glass that has been highly polished and cleaned almost flawlessly — then all you need is the ingredients that will make it reflective. Whilst the above process cannot be replicated exactly due to the specialised, heavy-duty machinery — the silvering process can be undertaken at home and involves mixing two vital solutions:

  1. Silver nitrate, ammonia and distilled water.
  2. Rochelle salts dissolved in distilled water.

Mixing these two solutions together will give you pure liquid silver (saving you the hassle and energy-taxing task of melting solid silver). The liquid silver must be poured over your glass soon after it’s created so it can cool on the glass and stick to the surface. That’s all there is to it. It may take you a few tries to find the correct consistency and mixtures but as they say, practice makes perfect. The only thing left to do is decide if you’re going to decorate it or border it.

Are you looking for metal recyclers in Melbourne?

Making a mirror at home can be a fun DIY — but you may also have other bits of scrap glass or metal that are unsuitable for such a project. When you can’t use them for anything, come down to Metal Men Recycling so we can pay you to sustainably recycle them.

Contact us by calling 03 5941 6677 or filling out our enquiry form and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

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Find us at: 18 Drovers Place, Pakenham VIC 3810