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.
A simple cleaning with mild soap and water will remove the dirt and fingerprints without removing tarnish or patinas that have formed over time.
You Will Need:
- Mild soap
- Soft Cloths
- Dish or bucket
The Cleaning Process:
- Start by washing your hands. The natural skin oils can stain the metal permanently.
- If the piece is particularly dirty or dusty, first brush off the debris using a soft paintbrush.
- To wash the piece, begin by mixing a small amount of mild soap with water in a small dish or bucket. Be sure that the soap does not contain any harsh chemicals, particularly chlorine bleach which could eat the metal.
- Moisten a soft cloth, such as an old T-shirt or flannel, with a small amount of the soapy mixture and gently wipe away any remaining dirt and dust from the piece. Be sure not to rub too hard or you could scratch or damage the surface, particularly if there are any abrasive particles in the dirt or dust.
- When the entire piece has been wiped down, gently rinse with clean water. If you live in an area with hard water, use distilled or filtered water for rinsing.
- Dry immediately. Allowing water to set on the piece may affect the oxidation and leave marks.
- 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.
- Never touch antique bronze or copper without washing your hands first; the oils on your fingers can leave permanent stains.
- If the dust and dirt isn’t bothersome, it’s really best to leave the pieces completely alone.
- Clean It Fast, Clean It Right by Jeff Bredenberg
- Saving Stuff by Don Williams