Whether it's your grandmother's old vanity or a mirror you found at a flea market, a vintage framed mirror can be refinished for a new life. First, examine and clean the mirror to determine if refinishing is necessary as refinishing is a tedious process. You may be able to spare yourself the chore just by cleaning the mirror frame. If refinishing the frame is necessary, you'll need to remove the old finish with a furniture refinishing product and then apply a new finish to protect the wood.
Clean the frame of the mirror with Murphy's Oil soap and a clean rag. Scrub any detailed areas as needed to loosen dirt and tough grime. Clean the mirror with glass cleaner, repeating if areas are particularly dirty. Examine the mirror again to decide if the piece needs to be refinished.
Take the mirror outside or into a well ventilated room such as a bathroom with a fan and open window and door. Working in small sections at a time, use the steel wool to apply small amounts of furniture refinishing product to the frame. While the refinishing product will remove the now softened lacquer, the steel wool will address any scratched or hazy areas.
Use a clean rag to wipe away the old finish which has dissolved. Work quickly to remove the finish before the refinishing product has a chance to dry. Continue working in the same area as necessary before treating the rest of the frame. Take your time if the piece has decorative crevices which can be hard to get into to strip.
Let the mirror frame dry completely before adding polyurethane with a clean cloth. Work with the grain of the wood and wait at least an hour between coats. If the manufacturer suggests a longer wait time on the can, then use their suggestion over the hour guideline.
Wash the mirror once more with glass cleaner once you are satisfied the polyurethane is completely dried.
Depending on your preference you can choose to use a clear coat or a stain on the mirror frame. If you are using a clear coat, be especially certain you have removed all the dark grime you can before applying it, otherwise you will seal in the dirt under your clear coat leaving it visible.
For an antiqued look on a newer mirror, apply a coat of paint to the mirror and once dry, dab petroleum jelly over a few edges or areas on the frame. Paint a second color over the first coat and petroleum jelly and let dry. Rubbing steel wool over the petroleum jelly areas will reveal the first coat hidden underneath and give a look of age to the mirror.
If the mirror itself is worn and flaking off of the back, because of the expense involved it is often not recommended to try re-silvering the mirror yourself. It is also often easier to replace the mirror rather than send it away for professional re-silvering. If you do choose to re-silver the mirror use appropriate precautions as with any project for ventilation and skin protection.