How to Clean Bronze

Bronze is a copper alloy (combination of copper and tin) and when exposed to air and moisture, it will develop a greenish layer of build-up on its surface. This greenish coating is known as patina. While this darkened finish does add character to the bronze, some consider it unsightly, and would prefer their bronze to look clean and shiny.

There are two basic homemade polishes you can use to clean and polish your bronze. Using either method will help you safely remove the patina on your bronze pieces and restore their luster and shine. Both methods are equally as effective, so the choice is yours.

Baking Soda & Lemon Juice

What You Will Need:

  • Warm water
  • Clean towel
  • Small dish
  • Soft cotton polishing cloths (smaller size)
  • Lemon Juice (from concentrate is okay)
  • Baking soda
  • Rubber gloves (optional)

Clean that Bronze:

  1. Rinse your bronze items in warm water, and dry thoroughly. This will safely remove any dust and/or particles that may hamper your polishing efforts.
  2. Place about 2 tablespoons of baking soda in a small dish.
  3. Drizzle a small amount of lemon juice onto the baking soda and mix until a soft paste forms (start out with just a little lemon juice and add more as needed). It is normal for the mixture to bubble at first, and will settle down after a moment or two.
  4. Apply the paste to your bronze item using your hands (with the rubber gloves) or with a small polishing cloth.
  5. With a polishing cloth, rub the paste onto the item using small circular motions. This is the key removal step and you may have to rub repeatedly until the desired effect is reached.
  6. Allow the paste to stay on the item for 20 to 30 minutes.
  7. Rinse the item thoroughly with warm water to remove the paste and buff dry with a clean towel.
  8. If the greenish patina still remains, repeat steps 2 through 7.

Vinegar, Flour & Salt

What You Will Need:

  • Warm water
  • Clean towel
  • Small dish
  • Soft cotton polishing cloths (smaller size)
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Flour
  • Salt
  • Rubber gloves (optional)

Clean that Bronze:

  1. Rinse your bronze items in warm water and dry thoroughly. This will safely remove any dust and/or particles that may hamper your polishing efforts.
  2. In a small dish, combine equal parts flour and salt.
  3. Add white vinegar to the flour/salt mixture, using a few drops at a time until a soft paste forms (should be the consistency of toothpaste).
  4. Apply the paste to your bronze item using your hands (with the rubber gloves) or with a small polishing cloth.
  5. With a polishing cloth, rub the paste onto the item using small circular motions. This is the key removal step and you may have to rub repeatedly until the desired effect is reached.
  6. Allow the paste to stay on the item for 20 to 30 minutes.
  7. Rinse the item thoroughly with warm water to remove the paste and buff dry with a clean towel.
  8. If the greenish patina still remains, repeat steps 2 through 7.

Additional Tips and Advice

  • In lieu of polishing cloths, try using an old white cotton tee shirt, cut into squares.
  • This process, while relatively simple, takes time and patience as the greenish patina may be quite stubborn and will require a bit of elbow grease to remove.
  • If the bronze item is small or has a lot of crevices and tight spots, try using a soft bristled toothbrush to rub the paste into hard to reach areas.
  • Although occasional polishing will keep your bronze looking shiny, using these methods too often may have the opposite effect, reducing the luster of the bronze finish.
  • Maintain your bronze items by regular dusting and rinsing; regular care will keep your bronze looking it’s best and lessen the need for more frequent polishing.
  • When you rinse your bronze items, be sure to dry thoroughly. While bronze is resistant to moisture, allowing it to remain wet and air-dry will hasten the formation of patina.
  • There are some commercial polishes available for bronze (usually in specialized stores or online). Some of these products can be harsh and are generally no more effective than the above polishing pastes.
  • The above cleaning techniques may also work well with brass items, since brass is also a copper alloy (copper and zinc).

Comments

  1. Brianna says:

    DO NOT use sugar on bronze. I used it instead of baking soda and it ruined my $800.00 bronze sculpture.

  2. Teri says:

    Is there any type of oil that will protect the finish? My bronze is on a patio and I live on the Gulf.

  3. Admin says:

    Hi Teri,

    We’ve just posted the answer to your question here:
    Preserving Bronze with Wax. Please let us know if this is helpful to you or not.

    Thanks!

    HowToCleanStuff

  4. Steph says:

    I just used this post on our bronze fireplace cover. It now looks PINK! What do I do? I just want that coppery look and it’s been stripped of any goldish tint. Just gleaming pink!

  5. Kate says:

    I have a ring that I have been wanting to restore to its original color. I tried with the vinegar, flour and salt, but it gets pink and pinker everytime.

  6. Linda says:

    Can bronze flatware be cleaned in the dishwasher? If no, why not? Maybe with lemon flavored Kool-Aid or that product that is sold to clean the inside of a dishwasher?

  7. Wolf says:

    I used the lemon juice and baking soda and it worked. **If it turns pink, what do I do? Can you put it in water like when you take a shower?

  8. Barb says:

    I need to clean my bronze flatware. Can I clean it in the dishwasher? It has been sitting in a drawer in the kitchen for years, not being used.

  9. Raman says:

    I used brass polish on bronze metal. It has turned greenish white. Now what to do?

  10. Jakub says:

    Well, salt is a chloride and its usage on bronze leads to “Bronze Disease” – check http://www.collector-antiquities.com/89/ …. That green patina that you´ve washed away was actually protecting the bronze and it´s now started breaking down, that pink you see is probably the zinc in the alloy coming to the forefront. So don´t wash that green stuff away, and don´t use salt on your bronze!

  11. Kelly says:

    A lot of times, the bronze will turn pink after putting this paste on it because it is actually a reaction to maybe some foreign metal or impurity in your bronze object, such as steel, which makes a copper plating reaction when the cleaning solution (essentially an acid) is placed on it. To get it off, just *lightly* sand it with a fine grain paper (220 or 320) to expose a new layer of bronze. To remove any scratching that may be caused by the sand paper, follow up with steel wool or a brass brush.

    Bronze tarnishes relatively quickly. To preserve the shiny color, it sounds odd, but you can always grab a clear coat spray (found in the spray paint section of most art stores) and lightly (not drench) clear coat the final work.

  12. Barb says:

    Bronze decorative items and sculpture have a patina applied by the artist with certain heated chemicals. This gives the redish-brown, green, or black patina and is not replaceable. Cleaning most bronze will ruin the value of the piece. They were never meant to be displayed showing the bare shiny metal.

  13. Ruby says:

    Don’t use harsh chemicals on bronze! Bronze is just another term for antique brass. It’s the oxidized, darker color that gives it its antique look, or patina. If it has discolored areas, clean them gently with a jeweler’s (or rouge) cloth.

  14. Barbara says:

    I have a bronze statue, outside on a screened patio, that is a fountain spouting water into a pool. The greenish, bronze patina is beautiful, but the upper part of the statue has turned black. I would like to remove the black only, and have the whole statue display the weathered, greenish patina. Is there a way to only remove the black?

  15. Kathleen says:

    I have Spanish-American War Medals that are so dark we can’t see any of the inscriptions or information on the medals. Would you recommend the lemon juice and baking soda? There is not any patina on the medals, but two have ribbons and I would not want to damage them. They are on loan from my family, as these were my grandfather’s medals. Could you please help me?

  16. Pat says:

    I never found an answer on if I am able to wash bronze in the dishwasher?

  17. Nannette says:

    I have a bronze sculpture fountain. The torso has water stains. Is there a way to remove the water stains without removing the patina?

  18. Catherine says:

    How do you remove black on a bronze outdoor statuary?

  19. John says:

    I used the lemon juice and baking soda to clean a bronze putter, and it worked great!

  20. James says:

    Brass and bronze are completely different. Bronze is made of mainly copper and a small percentage of tin. I’ve dealt with metals for over 30 years and seen people ruin both metals often. Ruby said, ‘Antique brass is bronze.’ It is not. Antique brass is a type of finish done on brass.
    Once you have a statue clean, all you need to do is coat it with wax and leave it alone. The wax will protect it and not damage the piece. You should never use any substance that will oxidize the metal (that is a reaction with the metal; it can ruin your piece forever. Also, any oils can cause damage. You should spend your life not allowing oils, even from your hands, to get on your statue; using them to clean it is insanity. Soap and water is the best cleaner, just avoid the scented soaps. Only use a little; you don’t want to build a film that will take 30 minutes to remove. Wipe the piece clean and let it air dry. Also, you don’t want to trap any moisture, so let the piece dry before you apply the wax coat. The wax coat, after a cleaning, will last a few months. Just reapply the wax or clean/wax if it is really dirty.

  21. Sue says:

    Do not clean bronze statuary, as this will destroy its value. They are meant to develop a dull brown/black/green patina and once it has been removed, it will take many years (and as I was told by an antiques expert; being buried in the garden) for it to reform. Any old bronze should not be cleaned; just give it a light dusting or washing with pure water. Only flatware (knives, forks, spoons, etc.) should be cleaned – for hygiene reasons.

  22. Pati B says:

    I have a statue that came from somewhere in China. It isn’t supposed to be an antique and there’s no patina on it. But when I got it, there was some brownish black residue, like soot, on it. I want to take an old toothbrush and shine it up, but I don’t want it turning bright pink either. This piece is a very intricate statue of Tara, the Bhodhisattva….I suppose I could leave it as is, but I’d like to bring out some of the detail.

  23. Sonya says:

    I have a very large fountain, which has become quite crusted with hard water minerals that render it a mostly grayish-white color rather than bronze or green. How do you clean off the lime/mineral build up without hurting the bronze itself? The very top, which gets only rain water on it, still looks lovely.

  24. Melanie says:

    Sonya,
    You can try making a paste of vinegar and lemon juice, applying the paste to the crust and wiping or scrubbing away the paste after it has soaked a while.
    Another option is sodium hexametaphosphate, which Fine’s Gallery recommends for calcareous (lime/hard water) build up and stains on bronze.

    Source: eHow – How to Clean Hard Water Stains Off Bronze Fixtures
    Source: Fine’s Gallery – Bronze Care and Cleaning

  25. Diane says:

    I have a statutes water fountain with mermaids and three seals made of bronze. I tried the vinegar and salt and some of the black and patina came off. The details are much more spectacular now. I also, then, tried the baking soda and lemon and more came off. It isn’t very shiny, but it looks pretty good considering that it must have been outside for many, many years and never cleaned for years. I wasn’t even aware that the bowl of the fountain was actually bronze as well because it was so coated in many layers of black and gray. The bronze in the bowl looks fabulous. Now I’m just trying to get the fountain to work LOL.

  26. Margaret says:

    I have a bronze clock with Roosevelt standing at the wheel for a new deal. I can’t just rinse it in warm water, and do not want to remove the patina. It is one of the early electric clocks where you plug it in but still have to turn the small wheel to start it. What other cleaners can I try?

  27. Becky says:

    Our front door handle is corroded. We think it might be bronze, but with all the corrosion, it’s hard to tell. How can we safely and effectively clean the handle?

  28. Joanee says:

    I have bronze flatware that took forever to clean…now, how do I store it so it won’t tarnish again? It seems to tarnish if I just put it in the box it came in. It is bronze and rosewood from Thailand.

  29. Bob says:

    I found a metal bell while digging up my garden that was packed with hard dirt/clay and could not get it clean with soap and water. I placed it in a vinegar solution, which removed most of the dirt and black coating. I used some steel wool to remove the remaining black coating and it looked like gold. I soaked it in full strength vinegar to remove the black coating that remained within the intricate design that was now being revealed. This removed the remaining black coating, but gave the metal a pinkish tinge. Can anyone tell me what this metal is and how to bring out the best finish?

  30. Mac says:

    I have a Franz Bergmann piece I believe and it is an owl perched on a feather (the feather is about 12 in. long and the owl is about 4 in. high. I understand about the patina but, without cleaning it, I could not have found the markings. It may not get back the patina for years, but that is not such a worry for me. The value is in the work, not the coating. I am going to try the baking soda and lemon juice (real) and use an old electric toothbrush. Any positive thoughts?

  31. Adele says:

    Hi, I have a sculpture with white patina. It has a small water spot stain. Do you know how to remove safely without damaging patina?

  32. Gerald says:

    Hi everyone,
    I personally use tamarind paste and salt; the tamarind paste you can buy at any Thai or Asian store. Mix the paste and salt, use a cloth and dab the item the paste and just rub in a circular motion, rinse with tap water and wipe dry. It’s easy and works all the time. Good luck in trying.

  33. Mike says:

    I have two very old, very green bronze oarlocks, which are not museum pieces, but for saltwater use. Best method?

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