How to Clean Antique Copper and 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.


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

  8. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

  16. I work at a lodge in Tanzania and we have big Moroccan lamps that needs cleaning. They are made with copper and I am looking for a quick, easy and safe way to clean them. They are too big to put in any kind of solution. If you could recommend something that I could rub on and then off again, leaving it clean, it would be very nice. Can I perhaps make something with ingredients from the kitchen? Would you be able to provide me with some kind of recipe? We also have several large copper bathtubs, red and yellow, that need a good cleaning. Could you please help?

  17. Yolanda,
    If your copper items are antique, they are considered more valuable with the tarnish. To clean an antique copper piece and preserve the tarnish, use the methods in this article. Since the method is simply to wipe the item with a cloth dipped in soapy water (made with just a mild soap), it can work for any size item.
    It sounds like you want to remove the tarnish though. If so, this is the article that you need: How to Clean Copper. The method for removing tarnish in that article has several recipes made from kitchen items that can be used on any size item.

  18. How do I disinfect my brass ice bucket? I bought it secondhand and want to disinfect it before using it.

  19. Lillian
    This is the article that you need: How to Clean Brass.
    Mild detergent and a good scrubbing should clean the ice bucket well, but for a more thorough disinfection, use vinegar as described in the Removing Tarnish section.

  20. Hi, I have just purchased some antique copper cutlery that I would like to use. How should I keep them clean? Or should I just display them?

  21. I bought an old adjustable table lamp that is solid brass, including a round perforated brass shade at a rummage. It looks as though it’s never been cleaned. I don’t know what I should do to clean it or if I should sell it as is.

  22. I have two 3-4 foot solid brass vases. There are 2-3 small blue mold spots; when using my brass cleaner, they are not removed. Do you have any suggestions on how I can get these spots off?

  23. Jeanie,
    If the blue stains are mold, they will need to be removed with an antifungal or they will likely keep returning. White vinegar is an effective antifungal, and is safe to use on brass.
    However, blue-green stains on brass are more commonly from corrosion. If that is the case, it is possible that the white vinegar will also work to remove them.
    Just wiping the spots with the white vinegar should work, but if needed, you can boil the brass item in vinegar for a stronger cleaning. See the How to Remove Tarnish from Brass section of the How to Clean Brass article for the steps for boiling the item in the vinegar.
    Source: The Natural Handyman – Removing Mineral Deposits from Household Surfaces

  24. For copper cleaning, try using 1/2 white wine vinegar & 1/2 warm water; white wine vinegar is a natural anti-bacterial cleaning agent that has been used for hundreds of years before modern chemical mixtures. If you want to remove the patina and polish it up, use the same mixture with the addition of salt to act as an aggregate to help polish. I’ve used this on copper drinking cups for years and it works great!

  25. I’ve read to use “rubbing flour with oil” to clean my copper incense burner (the kind you fill with ash to burn the incense flat on top of). I haven’t tried it yet, but figured I’d throw that out for someone else to inspect. I do love treating my skin with flour & oil, so I imagine it’s good… 😉

  26. I have just bought a bronze ring 13th-15th c. It’s not green or crusted, it’s just very dark, almost black. Is there any safe way I can “brighten” it up so it’s easier to see the lovely little star etched on the top?

  27. I have and have had an original J Cambos bronze 1819 with beautiful green patina for over 60 years. The smooth areas are reddish brown and have not turned, but are dull. Is there a way to brighten these areas up? I have seen an Auguste Moreau offered for sale for $220,000usd with a very, very dark reddish brown patina on the smooth areas (beautiful). Should I clean the smooth areas of my Cambos and treat them with “olive oil” to bring out a more shiny appearance? And/or should I try to duplicate the finish on the Moreau? I would appreciate any comments.

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