What Makes Neon Signs Glow, and Tips for Care and Maintenance
There’s nothing quite like the telltale glow of neon signs. The way they stand out in the night or in a storefront simply can’t be beat. Introduced close to a century ago, neon signs transformed the way businesses advertised themselves. Our company name should be a dead giveaway to how popular these signs were!
It might surprise you to learn that the manufacturing process for neon storefront signs was often thought of as an art form. The unique shapes, styles, and designs for businesses that wanted a little something extra to stand out meant endless opportunity to get creative and make a statement.
But these days, neon signs aren’t the trend-setting industry leader they once were. In part due to their energy costs, necessary upkeep, and the unique challenges in repairing these signs, their popularity has waned in favour of eco-friendly LED-lit signage.
There’s good news, though – you can re-use old signs in unique ways, and that classic neon look has persisted to this day. And because neon signs last, all you need is a bit of proper maintenance to make sure these signs look and work great.
What Makes Neon Glow?
Neon signs use – you guessed it – the noble gas neon to get their signature glow. Sign manufacturers seal neon (or sometimes argon) in a glass tube shaped into a unique design. Electrodes at either end of the tube connect to an alternating electrical current. The charge on each electrode alternates 50 times per second between positive and negative. A well-made neon tube should be able to last for 20 years.
The positively-charged electrode attracts the negatively-charged free electrons. On their way to the electrode, the electrons crash into neon or argon molecules, knocking loose more electrons.
As the gas molecules lose electrons, they become positively charged. To return to their neutral state, they grab electrons. As a result, the gases emit visible light: the glow of a neon sign.
When exposed to electricity, neon emits a bright orange-red light, and argon emits a blue light. To create other colours, sign manufacturers use:
- The colour of the illuminated gases
- The colour of the glass tubes, and
- Fluorescent powder coatings on the glass tubes.
Caring for Neon Lights
To keep your neon sign safely lit for longer, inspect it regularly for dirt and damage. You’ve also got to stay on top of cleaning and regular maintenance to keep your signs in top form and to prevent any leaks or damage.
If your sign looks dirty, try a gentle cleaning. Make sure to unplug the sign first and wear safety gloves and a mask before handling the sign. Safety gear will protect you if the glass tubes break and release their.
To remove dust, vacuum with a brush attachment, wipe with a soft cloth, and use a paintbrush to reach the crevices. Spray with a glass cleaner and wipe with a soft cloth to remove grease and tougher dirt.
The glass tubes are fragile, so be extra gentle when cleaning and handling these signs.
Preventing Gas Leaks
Gas leaks from neon signs can be toxic in non-ventilated areas. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, and eventual suffocation. If you suspect a leak, seek fresh air immediately and visit your local emergency room. To prevent leaks, inspect your neon sign regularly for any damage, and get repairs when needed.
While many sign manufacturers are phasing out neon signs, you don’t have to say goodbye to your cherished sign. They can still be a fun item to keep around if they are in good condition. Consider sign maintenance and alternative uses to keep your neon storefront signs around and glowing for longer.