Clocks, Watches/Clock Cleaning


I recently acquired an Ingersoll alarm clock that isn't running. When I opened it up I realized that there is "black goo" all over everything inside. It appears that someone just squirted low grade oil (a lot of it)on everything and it has solidified on gears, springs, etc. Can you please offer some advice for the best method and chemicals that I can use to clean up the mess?

Steven, it is rather difficult to advise someone on cleaning a clock from a professional standpoint.  By that I mean for us in the clock business to do it properly, we usually completely break down a movement and clean each part.  Depending on the condition, we sometimes have to do each piece individually.  Most of the time we can put the parts in an ultrasonic cleaner with the proper professional clock cleaning solutions, and then inspect the parts to see if additional attention is needed for something missed.  All of this requires the proper instruction learned by clockmakers.  If a clock is cleaned in a solution without breaking it down, portions of the cleaning solution and even water used in flushing it out will remain in tight places like in mainsprings, levers and pivots. This causes future problems in corrosion and rust.  On our Clocksmiths Internet Group, we occasionally discuss cleaning materials.  Some chemicals outside of proven clockmaking solutions can be toxic, or flammable, and we discourage each other on this practice.  

If your clock is of some value to you, I would take it to a clockmaker to have it serviced properly.  One note and that is that I have stopped taking these small clocks in for servicing because they can have just as many problems as the more expensive clocks.  After cleaning, then the diagnostics and repair start. Therefore the charges can reach $100 and up, and most customers elect not to have the work done.  

So, depending on what you want to do with the clock, not knowing the results, you should proceed at your own risk.  I do not know the overall condition as I do not have it in my hands.  But I will tell you of one product that we use for occasional cleaning.  It is ZEP Commercial Heavy Duty Citrus Degreaser.  It can be found at most of the big box home improvement centers.  Now, the label says it is combustable, and I suggest reading all the precautions before using.  Depending on how the movement can be removed from the case, if you can separate any non-metal parts from the movement, I would put it in the solution for a few hours up to a day or so. Without disassembling it, any stubborn gunk or goo would be difficult to remove.  Then rinse with water and dry THOROUGHLY with a hair dryer.  and I use it as well around my home shop for cleaning machines, tools, etc.There are probably other products that give the same result.

One thing I must emphasize.  Never attempt to dismantle the movement itself.  The springs are captive in the assembled condition, and only an experienced clockmaker knows how to clamp the mainsprings and disassemble it without the springs letting go which can damage the clock and cause personal injury.

If you have any more questions about this, I would be glad to discuss it with you.  I will give you my shop email address below so we can make contact if you wish.

John Newman
Vintage Emperor Clock Consultant
Old Prattvillage
Prattville, Alabama  

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John Newman


As I am not a certified appraiser I do not give values of clocks over the Internet. There is very little published information on what I consider to be the value of "modern production clocks". However, considerations are what the clock originally sold for, the condition of the case and movement, and particularly the area in which you live, the demand and the economy. ALSO, WATCHES ARE NOT MY FIELD. However, I can advise the clock owner on proper maintenance of a clock to keep it running, small corrections and adjustments and how to move a clock without damaging it. I can also advise on obtaining parts for clocks. As clock case model label numbers are difficult to relate to the movements, it is helpful if you can give me the information usually found on the movements themselves. Modern clock movements usually have the information on the back plate of the movement. I have been a clockmaker for about 40 years and was plant engineer in the mid 90's and later operations and engineering consultant at Emperor Clock Company in Fairhope, Alabama. I now have my own clock shop in Prattville, Alabama.


One of my greatest accomplishments was traveling to China to assist a clock factory in building clocks to the standards which we required at Emperor. With the proper specifications and quality control, some beautiful clock cases were built. The factory people from the wood carvers to the plant manager were very congenial, friendly and I left a lot of wonderful friends when I returned from my trips.

NAWCC (National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors) 30 years Prattville, Alabama Chamber of Commerce

Horological Times, a publication of the American Watch and Clockmakers Instute. Collaberated column author, with Photos and ideas for clock movement conversion article.

Associate of Science Mechanical Engineering Technology Emperor Introductory Clock Repair (Eventually taught a portion of the class after becoming employee)

Awards and Honors
Small Business of the Quarter (Prattville, Alabama) Leadership Class of 2009 (Autauga County, Alabama)

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