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I often find myself hand sewing small seams or buttons, repairing a garment or embroidering something using standard hand sewing needles. After about 8 hours of active use, the needles start to become harder and harder to push through the fabric and they take on a dull, black color. I assume this is corrosion due to the natural sweat and acid on my hands.

Here's a picture of some of my needles. The ones on the bottom are (mostly) unused, the ones on the top are used for a few hours.

9 hand sewing needles lying horizontally; 4 needles with a silver shine on the bottom, 5 needles of a dull black color on the top

The problem is not that the tips of the needles are blunt, but the surface seems to become less smooth and has a harder time gliding through the fabric. Sometimes I hear the needle stopping in the fabric for a fraction of a second before going in further. Sewing with these needles gets increasingly frustrating until I realize what's going on and switch to a new one. New needles don't cost a fortune, but I find it frustrating how quick they become unusable.

Is there a way to restore a used needle to it's former smooth surface? Or is there a way I can treat a brand new needle to prolong the lifetime of it's smooth finish?

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Tl;dr: Your best option may be to buy gold plated or stainless steel needles.

Everyday needles are nickel plated (says Wikipedia and other sources). Nickel corrodes in contact with sweat, worse for some people than others because some people have saltier sweat. Working in a cool room with freshly (frequently) rinsed hands should help, but this will only slow the corrosion down.

Gold won't corrode, and at a quick look, gold plated needles are only slightly more expensive (mainly because of the existence of cheap brands that don't make gold-plated ones).

Some stainless steel needles are even marketed as hypoallergenic (nickel-free), and similarly seem to cost only a little more than the normal nickel-plated carbon steel, though it's hard to get a direct comparison.

Barrier gloves (e.g. latex, nitrile) are likely to be a pain when you need dexterity, but would otherwise be a solution. Only the tips of the finger(s) and thumb(s) that regularly contact the needle need to be covered; finger cots are available or just use the finger cut off disposable gloves.

It should be possible to remove the corrosion. I have removed a different type of corrosion from (repurposed) sewing needles using Brasso metal polish, rinsed afterwards with denatured alcohol and dried with paper towel. Steel wool will take it off but will also remove the nickel plating over time. Both of these approaches are perhaps a little tedious anyway, with each needle needing wiping.

The most likely dipping process for cleaning would be a jewellery cleaner solution that includes ammonia. You can buy this or make it if you already have household ammonia. It may have adverse effects on the needles but would be worth a try. I might have some but don't hand sew enough to corrode needles so can't test for you.

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  • Thanks a lot for the advice. Gold plated needles make perfect sense to me, but searching for them in online shops only yielded "gold eye needles" that are only golden at the eye, but no further down the length. Do you know whether those are resistent to corrosion any more than standard needles?
    – Elmy
    Jan 12, 2022 at 9:26
  • The plating needs to be where you hold them or it won't work, so I'm sure there's a good reason for plating only around the eye, but I don't know what it is. Ebay and Amazon UK both have fully gold plated needles, and quite a variety so they may just take a bit of hunting down
    – Chris H
    Jan 12, 2022 at 9:48
  • what about the purpose of walnut shells in pin cushions? Is this only for sharpening? Jan 12, 2022 at 21:58
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    @NotTheFace I haven't come across that. Maybe just a traditional fill based on scrap material. Mine, and the one I bought for my ex, just use different types of synthetic foam. Walnut shells are slightly abrasive but that's all, and too much abrasion would take off corrosion+plating
    – Chris H
    Jan 13, 2022 at 8:59
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    @ChrisH Yesterday I found the Pony needles with gold around the eye and some black surface finish along the rest of the needle. They look very promising and I'll try them (once they arrive).
    – Elmy
    Jan 13, 2022 at 9:16

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