The “Real” Color of a Mirror Will Surprise You

published Dec 26, 2023
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Gallery wall of antique mirrors
Credit: Photo: Sarah Crowley; Prop Styling: Liv Melchers

A mirror is one of the most important decor pieces a room can have. Not only do they fulfill the all important use of checking your appearance, but decorating with mirrors can make your space look brighter and even bigger!

Whether you’re looking for a full-length floor mirror, a tabletop mirror for your vanity, or a wall-mounted mirror for an entryway, there’s no limit to the amount of different ways mirrors can be hung and displayed in a room. Luckily, they are made with tons of different materials, shapes, and finishes, so they can easily be matched to any design style. In order to really understand the benefits of decorating with mirrors, it’s helpful to understand what a mirror actually is. If you’re like me, you’re also wondering: What color is a mirror? Read on to find out!

What Is a Mirror? 

A mirror is “a piece of glass with a silver reflective coating on the opposite surface,” explains Aldo Gonzalez, sales manager of Avalon Glass & Mirror, a mirror manufacturer in Los Angeles.

“Whenever you look at a mirror, you’re always looking through the glass to the silver reflective coating, which will then reflect an image back at you,” Gonzalez says. But mirrors also bring in the colors and images from the space around them as well. “Mirrors applied in different areas will give you different reflections, not just based on what you see but what’s comprising its surroundings,” Gonzalez explains. 

This means that if you place a mirror by a window, the light reflecting off of the mirror helps lighten up a dark room. Similarly, large mirrors placed in a small room can actually make the room feel larger than it is.

Credit: Andrzej Rostek

What Color Is a Mirror? 

According to BBC Science Focus Magazine, a perfect mirror is white because it “reflects back all the colors comprising white light. That said, real mirrors aren’t perfect, and their surface atoms give any reflection a very slight green tinge, as the atoms in the glass reflect back green light more strongly than any other color.”

With most mirrors, you will be able to see that green hue on the edge of the glass. However, low-iron mirrors, where the iron is extracted during the glass making process, are made with a clearer, more white-looking glass. “Extracting the iron actually pulls away the green hue. Without the green hue, you’re not influencing any colors on the reflection,” Gonzalez says. 

How Is a Mirror Made? 

Gonzalez, who was a plant manager at Avalon for five years before moving into sales, detailed their mirror-making process. Mirrors are made with glass; in order for them to be reflective, the glass needs to go through a silvering conveyor to chemically deposit the silver onto the glass.

The silver solution is sprayed onto the glass along with a sensitizer. “When the sensitizer and silver solution are mixed, it causes a reaction that makes the glass go from transparent to reflective,” Gonzalez explains. 

After the silver is applied, a similar process is used to apply a copper spray. “The copper is there to protect the silver because it has better resiliency over time,” Gonzalez says. 

Finally, the mirrors are treated with two protective paint layers: The first has a small amount of lead to bind the silver and copper, and the second is a lead-free top coat. The finished mirror then goes through a curing and rinsing process before being loaded into packs or cases for distribution. From there, the mirrors are cut down into smaller shapes and sizes and are finished with various decorative materials to match a wide range of design styles. 
Want to step up your mirror decorating game? Check out our favorite budget mirrors.