How to Salvage Antique Tin Ceiling Tiles

Written by Milan Jara on 2nd May 2022

Antique Tin Ceiling Tiles

Can you salvage antique tin ceiling tiles? Here’s how to save historic tin ceiling tiles, including replicating what you can’t tear down.

What are your options when you want to salvage antique tin ceiling tiles from inevitable destruction? After being in use for a long time, tin ceilings in historical buildings rust out because of prolonged exposure to moisture or water.

If left unsalvaged, the tiles keep rusting and rotting more and more, with the likely result that it will eventually become too late to save them some time down the line. But what can you do to save the tiles from extensive rusting?

If you have a historical building with worn-out real tin ceiling tiles or you just recovered some old tiles from a torn-down ceiling, local architectural salvage store, auction outlet, or online, here's what you can do to save them.

Prevent Rusted Tiles from Further Rusting

If the antique tiles aren't too rusted out, you can prevent further rusting from happening by painting them with an oil-based paint or clear polyurethane finish.

Since real tin is prone to rust, the paint acts as a barrier between the ceiling tiles and the moisture that causes the rusting. You must take care to ensure the tiles are free from corrosion, dust, and moisture before painting to ensure the paint holds for a long time.

To do the painting the right way and preserve the original color of the tiles, you must find paint with a matching color. The tiles and whole ceiling would lose the vintage look if you painted the rusted ones a different color from the tiles that are still in good shape.

Remove the Rust

If the tiles are only rusted and haven't reached the point of rotting, you can carefully remove the accumulated rust.

Getting rid of the rust helps slow down further corrosion. Sometimes, you might want to leave the tiles as they are after removing the rust to preserve their unique old look.

The tool or method you use to remove the rust will depend largely on the design of the tiles. For plain tiles, you can use a belt sander. A wire brush is the best option for tiles with lots of designs, especially if there are raised and lowered parts.

Besides a belt sander and wire brush, you can also use handheld sandpaper for a highly intricate design that requires more sanding control.

Resurface/Repaint the Tiles

Once you remove rust from your tin ceiling tiles, you can resurface or repaint them with a primer followed by two coats of paint. The trick here is to find a matching paint color or repaint all the tiles the same color. Most of the time, you want to go with the first option to retain the antiquity.

Again, the tiles must be free of moisture, dust, and rust before you start painting. The new paint prevents the tiles from rusting again by keeping away water and air that promote rusting.

Repurpose the Tiles

Antique Tin Ceiling Tiles
Patterned-surface Tray - Image Credit: @thevintageroad

Sometimes all that is needed is a little creativity to repurpose antique tin ceiling tiles. You might have obtained them from a torn-down ceiling, meaning that they are now available as individual pieces, making it easier to reuse them.

People with torn-down vintage tin ceiling tiles have often found ways to reuse them as decor pieces and even for items that require structural integrity. Below are some ways you can repurpose antique tin tiles besides having them up on a ceiling.

  • Wall art in homes, offices, restaurants, and other commercial spaces
  • Planters for live or artificial plants
  • Antique tin fences
  • Kitchen backsplash (with uniform tile color or a mix of different colors)
  • Tile headboards (by adhering the tiles to plywood or directly to the wall)
  • Magnetic board (attach several tiles together and repaint them if necessary to act as a magnet board for messages, quick notes, or memo-based communications)
  • Movable fireplace screen (acts as a focal point but can be moved when you want to light a fire)
  • Upgraded vintage chairs (if the tiles are strong enough, adhere them to the seats or backs of vintage chairs to give them a new look)
  • Antique home decor (when placed or propped on kitchen counters, gallery wall mantels, shelves, and tables)
  • Painted tile frames (several tiles joined with space in the middle for holding mirrors, photos, or pieces of art)
  • Patterned-surface trays (for serving meals, placing on tables, or holding decor items)

Replicate the Tin Ceiling Tiles

Replicate the Tin Ceiling Tiles

At Decorative Ceiling Tiles, we can replicate antique tin ceiling tiles that are no longer in production. Replication is a great option when you want to retain the ceiling rather than tear all of it down. You just take out the irredeemable tiles and replace them with newly made replicas.

Tin ceiling tiles were originally produced to replicate the expensive and classy look of European plaster ceilings. Over the years, most companies stopped manufacturing the tin tiles, leaving owners of buildings with such tiles stranded when a ceiling repair is needed.

The two main reasons people want to salvage antique tin ceiling tiles are to save the ceiling itself and to preserve the historic status of a property like a church or theater in compliance with historical societies.

To reproduce ceiling tiles that perfectly match the antique tiles, all we need from you is a sample of the tile. Sometimes, we may already have the design you want.

Once we get the sample, we will assess the design and provide an accurate project pricing that includes the cost of creating custom tools and reproducing the historic tile design.

In the past, we have successfully created replica tin ceiling tiles for a late 1800s historic church in Martic Township in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Historic Church

We also achieved a similar outcome in 2017 by restoring the ceiling of a historic theater in Teatro Espanol in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Historic Theater


When you want to salvage antique tin ceiling tiles, you might think you don't have many options. However, you can choose to prevent further rusting, remove the rust, repaint, repurpose, or even replicate the tiles.

If you have an old tin ceiling you want to salvage without tearing it down, Decorative Ceiling Tiles can help you reproduce the tiles and moldings, even if they are no longer in production.

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