What Is Mica - Used In Mica Lampshades

What is Mica?

At Oak Park Home & Hardware, we are asked this question often. Many who are not familiar with mica, think mica is a solid glass material and only used in lighting designs. When actually the major uses of sheet and block mica are as electrical insulators in electronic equipment, thermal insulation, gauge “glass”, windows in stove and kerosene heaters, dielectrics in capacitors, insulation in electric motors and generator armatures, field coil insulation, as well as decorative panels in lamps and windows.

Mica is a group of silicate minerals and the word ‘mica’ is derived from the Latin word ‘micare’ meaning ‘to glitter’. Mica is a natural mineral mined from the earth and known for creating dramatic lampshades in lighting.

Mica lampshades are made from natural occurring mica minerals mined from the earth to create a dramatic warm romantic glow like no other lampshade. Mica is found all over the world, and after mining, typically coated with other natural minerals such as iron oxide and tin oxide to name a few. Colorations vary.

Decorative lampshade mica is manufactured by combining mica flakes with organic shellac binder. The combination is then put under pressure for an extended time, and then sanded to ensure an even thickness.

In lighting, not all mica is of equal quality. There are some lighting manufacturers who use synthetic fluorophlogopite – more widely referred to as synthetic mica, which mimics the effect of natural mica but is made in a lab. Just like natural mica, the synthetic alternative gives a glittering finish and appearance. Most high quality lighting manufacturers (typically made in USA), either source or create their own mica panels where mica mineral flakes are adhered to a substrate material with genuine organic shellac. With some manufacturers, you can actually see subtle brush strokes from applying the shellac layers.

As an example, The Mica Lamp Company lampshade panels are the same natural materials used by the Arts and Crafts Period master lamp makers. Mineral mica flakes, combined with organic shellac, make each mica shade unique with its variations of mineral deposit patterns and color tones. In this manor, the famous San Francisco coppersmith Dirk Van Erp, was the first to make these copper lamps in 1910. When illuminated, the shades give off a warm, fire-like glow popular in the early 1900s. Needless to say, this manufacturing art form is time consuming, and costly to produce.

Mica was not always the expensive material that it is now. In the early American colonial years, muscovite mica was sometimes found in such large sheets that it could be used as window material for houses. Prices were competitive with glass, which had to be imported from England.

Durability of Mica Panels In Lighting

Two key qualities of mica minerals are that they are heat-resistant and will not conduct electricity. Mica panels can also be formed or curved which makes is perfect for creating a variety lampshade designs. Indoors, mica lampshades will endure for many years. Occasional surface flaking is normal and natural with mica shades and will not affect its performance. If used outdoors, the durability and longevity with vary greatly depending on installation location and exposure to the elements. It is not always the extreme cold which can affect the mica panels, it is the UV from Sun exposure which can reduce longevity. This is why exterior lighting by The Mica Lamp Company and others use a clear polycarbonate (Lexan) sleeve to cover the mica panels. Lexan naturally blocks or absorbs the UV spectrum up to 380nm with no additives or special UV filtering at all. Without the protection of Lexan, lighting with mica panels should only be used in protected covered areas regardless of geographic location.

Cleaning or Maintenance For Mica Panels In Lighting

Use a clean, soft microfiber cloth to wipe your shade. If necessary, you may use a cloth dampened with a mild solution of soapy water to gently wash the shade. Rinse thoroughly with a white cloth dipped in clean water. Keep in mind that mica will naturally flake so you do not want to apply pressure or use fast movements when cleaning. Here at Oak Park Home & Hardware, we use a microfiber cloth with just a little spray of Endust to dust off our mica lampshades. Always spray onto the cloth and not directly onto the lighting.

We hope you have found this information helpful. Oak Park Home & Hardware has been offering genuine Craftsman Style Lighting by The Mica Lamp Company since 2001. Please let us know if you require any customization to your lighting.