How to Clean Antique Copper and Bronze

antique-bronze

Question: I just came into proud possession of some nearly 100 year old arts and crafts copper candlesticks and various copper and bronze bowls. Of course, I do NOT want to lose any of the original patina that has rendered over time, but the pieces are a bit dull and could, I feel, use appropriate cleaning and preservation. Is there a product(s) designed for non-destructive beautification of these old metal objects?

Antique metals develop a certain look over time due to patina and oxidization. With arts and crafts metals, they often began as an “antique” look as opposed to a bright, shiny metal when they were originally created. It was the style in those times, to have pieces that were tarnished and “old” looking. As time has passed, the color may have changed slightly, such as getting darker, but it would be detrimental to the value to try to alter the color in any way. Below is a simple cleaning method to remove dust and dirt that will not damage the look of the piece and should not affect the value. It is not recommended that you put any special products on the piece as it could alter it and decrease the value. For preservation of old metal pieces, it is always best to consult with a professional who can look at the individual pieces to determine how they may react.

Cleaning Antiques

A simple cleaning with mild soap and water will remove the dirt without removing tarnish or patinas that have formed over time.

You Will Need:

  • Mild soap
  • Water
  • Soft cloths
  • Dish or bucket

The Cleaning Process:

  1. Begin by mixing a small amount of mild soap with water in a small dish or bucket.
  2. Moisten the cloth with a small amount of the mixture and gently wipe away any dirt and dust from the piece.
  3. When the entire piece has been wiped down, gently rinse with clean water.
  4. Dry immediately. Allowing water to set on the piece may affect the oxidation and leave marks.
  5. Do not apply any special coatings or cleaners to the piece without the recommendation from a professional who is experienced with antiques.

Additional Tips and Ideas

  • Antiques will quickly lose their value if the original tarnish or patina is altered or removed. Avoid using any special cleaners other than a mild soap and water to ensure that they remain untouched.
  • If the dust and dirt isn’t bothersome, it’s really best to leave the pieces completely alone.

Comments

  1. The blue ape says:

    I find it stupid to keep a beautiful piece looking decrepit. I have a 400 year old Chinese bronze vase that I need to clean. I very much doubt that the original craftsman that made it would have wanted it looking faded and dirty and stained! He would have wanted it to look new, forever.

  2. Paul T says:

    Blue Ape,

    If you don’t care about retaining the value that collectors appreciate and pay for, then go right ahead and clean the vase.
    BE WARNED though!

    Cleaning can reduce the value by 90%!! But if you really don’t care about turning a $5000 piece into a $500 one, that’s your prerogative. Some pieces even that old were intended to have both shiny and patina’d surfaces for effect. I suggest finding out first what the piece is worth before destroying possible value!

  3. Yadira R. says:

    Hello, I recently bought two guardian lions. My husband wants to get them clean and shiny, and he does not care about the price of them because he wants to keep them.

    He cleaned one of them with Comet and three other chemicals, and it looked like a white-ish color on the surface, so now he is applying “stainsteel” polisher.

    I don’t know if it’ll work, or the chemicals in the “stainsteel” will damage the metal. Would you have any comments about this procedure of getting the pieces clean and shiny?

  4. E. says:

    I have about 60 or so pieces of antique copper, some from ancient Persia (B.C.) and it really ticks me off when I find a piece that has been cleaned to the point of the patina being removed. As a serious collector, I won’t pay very much for the piece that has been ruined by the person that cleaned it in ignorance. But I will still buy it to remove it from ignorant hands if they will sell it cheap enough. It takes many many years to get a good patina back, but it will never again get the true age look back once it’s been removed.

  5. Sue says:

    I have a life-sized bronze of a Boxer dog that now has green streaks on the patina caused by my old dog Bailee (now deceased). In his declining years, he would lift his leg on my beloved bronze. What should I do? To clean or not to clean, that’s my dilemma. This piece will never be sold by me, so value isn’t in play here. Any thoughts or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

  6. Jaz says:

    Your dog has made an ancient work of art smell.
    Leave the stains to remind you that you are but a fool with a foul dog.
    Then use some Febreze.
    Good day sir – yes, (sighs) I’m a Brit.

  7. John says:

    Why don’t you just lift your leg too to make it green all over?

  8. A. says:

    Hi,
    Never clean ancient coins with chemicals, or any other chemical cleaning products. The best way to clean them is mechanically with wooden sticks very well, even if it takes hours, then apply wax on them and keep then in a dry, closed box. If you can, add a small amount of silica gel in the box and keep monitoring the coins.

  9. Kathy says:

    I have an older Stiffel lamp, not antique, but it is pitted. Can that be cleaned? How do I even the pits? I love this lamp! It’s tall and heavy.

  10. Antique Specialist says:

    Steel wool with toothpaste and a little water (or a Brillo Pad) is the best thing to use when cleaning antique metal.

  11. Barney says:

    I have one of two antique, hanging, wooden and bronze, three-arm, ceiling-directed lights with original wiring with me and the other is still hanging at my great-grandparents property that still remains in the family. I just happened to bring this one back home with me. The light bulbs screw into it at the top side of each of the three light bases and the body is either walnut or oak, not sure.
    Everything is all original and the base, which sets up against the ceiling, has what I would call a “hammered” design to it and the metal is fairly thin. Then, it has a chain with the original cloth and copper wiring still laced among the links down through the wooden portion, which continues onto the three arms, and comes out horizontal from the base.
    It also has a switch at the bottom of the base that can still be turned, which can turn the light off and on. I am curious when this was made and the only thing that I can find on any of it is the name Leviton, which is a company that makes electrical items. The name was written down inside each of the three sockets where the lightbulbs are fitted. There used to be three white milk bowl shades, which slipped on over the outer part of the socket and the lightbulb would hold it in place, but that was many years ago – I guess at various times they must have broke over the many, many years these had been hanging in the farmhouse.
    The farmhouse was originally built with natural gas lines running throughout the house and all natural gas lights. I was wondering if it was possible that these could have been converted from natural gas to total electric somewhere along the way. The metal on it appears to be bronze and after all these years, it appears that these lights have a coating of rust built up on the metal. I was wondering how to best clean this light? Thanks. Sorry for the length of this comment.:)

  12. Diane says:

    Does Murphy’s Oil Soap qualify as a mild soap? If not, then what? Ivory soap bar? I bought a lamp that turned out to be copper and it’s patina is quite nice. But dust and dirt has accumulated in the decorative areas, making the piece look shabby. I’d like to clean it just enough to remove the dirt (without making the copper look dull).

  13. Elaine says:

    I have an arts and crafts sideboard with deceptive copper hinges and drawer handles. What’s the best way to clean them? At the moment they are lost and I’d like them to be seen.

  14. Ginger b. says:

    About 20 years ago, my sister had an old seemingly worthless, dented, beat-up, dull, floor-standing ‘brass urn’ brought back to life. She had a small business polish & then ‘dip’ it in some type of solution that permanently left a beautiful ‘shiny brass gold’ color that never tarnished again! What process do you think they used; it wasn’t extremely expensive? I have brass candlesticks that I’d loved to stay bright & gold-like.

  15. Deb says:

    Very valuable, rare, or ancient antiques do lose value if you if they are restored or cleaned improperly. However, an expert needs to evaluate your item to see if it falls into one of those categories. Museums restore items all the time, and they don’t lose their value because of it. It just needs to be done right. Also, vintage or common antiques do not necessarily lose value by being cleaned. I would much rather see an old chandelier that has been restored to its former glory, and would therefore pay more for it than one that is dark with tarnish. I am restoring a 1940′s brass chandelier right now, and it is just gorgeous. It makes me sick to see so many people painting these.

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