Reg asked: How do I clean bronze headstones? I am trying to polish my relative’s headstones. Any suggestions?
Most bronze headstones consist of multiple materials. A bronze plaque is placed on a granite or marble base that is set level on the ground. If the plaque is laying horizontal, it is more affected from weathering. The protective coating that is originally applied wears away and leaves the bronze exposed to the elements. The plaque can be restored using the products and steps below.
Restoring a Bronze Plaque/Headstone
You Will Need:
- Steel wire brush
- 220 grit wet/dry sandpaper
- Sanding block
- Scrub brush
- Distilled water
- Soft towels
- Leather dye
- Small artist brush (1/4”)
- Clear spray lacquer
- Canned air
Steps to Restore a Bronze Headstone:
- Choose a warm, dry day to do this process. If the area has sprinklers or gets watered, check the timing to ensure it will have enough time to dry.
- Use the stainless steel brush to brush away dirt and corrosion that may be present on the surface. Move the brush in a variety of directions. It may remove some of the coloring, but that will be replaced in a later step.
- Place a strip of sandpaper on the sanding block. Make it as tight as possible.
- Following the lines on the stone, sand the tops of the letters using a back and forth motion. It will take some effort. You want to sand until the letters become brighter.
- Use a folded piece of sandpaper to blend in any dents or chipped areas.
- Mix a small amount of Ivory liquid dishsoap with water.
- Use the scrub brush to apply the soapy water to the surface.
- Scrub to remove any dust or residue from the brushing and sanding that was completed earlier.
- Rinse with water.
- Complete a second rinse with distilled water to make the surface as chemical free as possible.
- Dry with a clean, soft cloth.
- Allow the surface to air dry completely.
- Next, you will darken the background with leather dye. Choose brown, black or a mixture. It may take several coats to achieve the final desired look.
- Use the artist brush to apply the dye to the background and the sides of the lettering. Try to avoid getting it on the tops of the letters.
- Let the dye dry completely.
- Resand the tops of the lettering again to remove any dye that may have gotten on the tops and fix any blemishes that were missed the first time.
- Brush any dust away with a soft brush or canned air.
- Finally, spray a coating of lacquer over the surface of the plaque. Go over the plaque several times, using a different direction each time.
- Protect the area from any blowing dust or debris (grass clippings, leaves, etc.) while the lacquer dries.
- Maintain the beauty of your memorial with the steps below.
Maintaining a Bronze Plaque/Headstone
You Will Need:
- Ivory dishwashing liquid or other non-ionic soap
- Distilled water
- Scrub brush
- Sponge or soft cloths
- Flannel cloth (for buffing)
- Paste wax
- Wax applicator brush
Steps to Maintain the Bronze Plaque:
- Start by filling the bucket with water.
- Add a small amount of Ivory dish soap and mix well.
- Use a scrub brush with the soapy water to wash off any debris or dirt that may have built up on the bronze.
- Rinse with clean water.
- Wash again if needed to remove any remaining dirt.
- Rinse the surface with distilled water to remove all chemicals from the surface.
- Dry completely with a soft towel. Ensure there is no water trapped in the nooks and crannies as this can lead to further damage if the liquid becomes trapped under the wax.
- Allow the surface to air dry as long as necessary for all of the water to evaporate. (Working on a sunny day will help speed up the drying time.)
- Apply a small amount of quality paste wax. Only a thin layer is needed.
- Brush the surface with a shoe brush while the wax is still wet.
- Buff the surface with the flannel cloth to restore the shine and luster. It may take some time, but the end result is worth the effort.
- An optional step is to return the following day for a final buffing after the wax has hardened. This will produce a beautiful shine to the bronze plaque.
- Clean the areas around the plaque as needed and rinse away all soapy residue from the washing.
- Check the plaque frequently for wear. When the wax starts to wear off, it is time to wash it again and reapply a new layer of wax. This will offer the necessary protection to keep bronze looking great and extend the life of damaged bronze pieces.
Additional Tips and Advice
- Continue to maintain the clean bronze. It is much easier and cheaper than restoring.
- For the best results, choose a wax that has UV inhibitors.
- Start preserving the bronze plaque as soon as it is installed. The better it is maintained, the longer it will last.
- If you would like to clean the surrounding marble as well, see the guide How to Clean a Marble Headstone/Tombstone.
As a final step, do you recommend spraying it with a clear finish, as if you were painting a car?
No, it’s not a good idea to spray anything foreign on the headstone because of the inevitability of it flaking away. It gets down in the stone’s recesses and is extremely difficult to remove. Keep it all natural, Ed.
Thank you so much for the sharing your info with us. I have been trying to find out how to restore my mom and dad’s headstone for years. God bless you.
What is quality paste wax and where can I buy it?
Paste wax is a type of protectant that can be used to cover metals, wood or other materials. For bronze, a paste wax is applied to prevent any oxidization from occurring. It is often sold at home improvement stores, though you can also find it at some major retailers, such as Walmart.
Source: Home Depot – SC Johnson Paste Wax
Hi. I was wondering why you use a leather dye for the background color? Does it adhere better than an exterior paint like Rustoleum for example? I need to refinish my parents’ headstone and want to do it myself, but want it to last a very long time. I really appreciate you sharing the information above and also any help you can offer me now. Thank you!
What about using mineral oil to make it stay looking new?
Yes, mineral oil can be used on a bronze headstone. Apply the oil with a soft cloth, then use a second clean cloth to wipe off any excess, especially around any lettering or other textured areas.
Source: Ohio Tombstone Transcription Project – How to Safely Clean Cemetary Monuments
I would to know what I can do to bring the lettering on my son’s stone back to looking gold? I’ve been paying a guy to sand and clean but it’s getting too expensive.
Can I use a light sandpaper and sand the tops of the letting?
You can use leather dyebas described above in the Steps to Restore a Bronze Headstone; there is gold leather dye. Or, if you would prefer to use something else, there are metal paints available, such as Rust-Oleum Universal All Surface paint and primer in one. However, sanding first is still a good idea. Good luck!