Care of your bronze sculptures and figures
Depending on whether the item is displayed indoors or if it is exposed to wind and weather on a regular basis, there are different maintenance options, which we want to present to you in more detail below. In general, it is advised to thoroughly clean bronze sculptures three to four times a year. This way, they always give off a brilliant, unclouded shine. Many collectors also consciously decide to let the sculpture form a beautiful green patina that gives the figurine a particularly graceful look. In this case, a good maintenance is nonetheless advisable, especially if the patina already reached the desired hue.
What is Bronze?
The natural darkening of bronze is unavoidable. The reason for this material property is found in the alloy, as the name bronze denotes a metal that consists of at least 60 percent copper. An exception to this rule is the copper-zinc-alloy that is known as brass. Copper has a special property: when it encounters oxygen, it oxidises and takes on a darker colour. Additionally, alkaline copper compounds are formed during this process, which evolve into a green coating after some time. Colloquially, this coating is also called verdigris. However, this is not the scientific term for it. Besides copper, some other metals can also be used as bronze components. Usually, tin is mainly used for this alloy. Lead or aluminium can also be added. The combination of copper and tin is the first metallic alloy in human history, which gave a whole period its name: the bronze age, which began roughly 2,200 years bevor our calendar.
Patina – Yes or No?
Whether you want to let a patina grow on your sculpture or whether you want to limit this process by regularly polishing it is a question of personal preference. Clearly, a lot of historical bronze sculptures get a part of their special allure from being exposed to the “ravages of time”. Additionally, the patina builds a natural protective layer that can immensely extend the lifespan of exterior sculptures. Thus, some collectors even decide to artificially expedite the patination process. Even though there are some methods that can be applied by handymen, it is not recommended for high-quality statues. The danger of getting a patchy result and thus destroying the look of the sculpture for a long time would just be too big. With a little patience, you can observe the buildup of a natural patina within a few months, especially when it comes to garden statues. If you rather want to limit the darkening and the discolourations, you should regularly polish the statue. For this purpose, you can choose between both special metal cleaners as well as well-established household remedies.
Metal Cleaners for Sculpture Maintenance – What You Should Keep in Mind
The regular polishing of a beautiful bronze sculpture can almost be a meditative activity during which the owner forms a deeper connection to their work of art. Most suitable for this type of cleaning is a soft, dry cloth or a smooth brush. The work is also made easier with a dremel with a polishing wheel. If you decide to use a metal cleaner or a polishing paste, you should ensure that it is suitable for bronze or rather copper. The contained polishing pigments as well as the gentle surfactants ensure that dirt is dissolved mildly and that the natural gleam of the material gets to shine through once again. The relevant cleaning agents often also contain an oily component which subsequently builds a protective layer. If necessary, the polishing process can be repeated several times until the desired outcome is achieved. Afterwards, the residues of the polish should be wiped off with a moist cloth, after which you should rub the sculpture dry.
Want to Preserve the Patina? Maintenance Tips for an Antique Look
Dust, pollen, bird droppings and sticky residues of insects: even sculptures with an intentional patina need regular maintenance. However, this is way less time-consuming than polishing. All you have to do is remove organic impurities with a soft brush and possibly a damp cloth. Additionally, you could use a few splashes of citric or acetic acid. This has the benefit that spots that have become brighter due to the cleaning will become darker again more quickly. After the cleaning, you should gently dry off the sculpture and seal the bronze with a suitable polishing wax. This should be done quickly and with as little friction as possible, so the patina does not get damaged. This is also why the wax should at least be at room temperature before the procedure. Thanks to the wax layer, the further progression of the patina buildup is slowed down and the surface gains an opulent antique look with a soft gleam.
Household Remedies for Bronze Sculptures
For a long time, there have been numerous household remedies that can be used to maintain bronze figurines. In many cases, they are just as good as professional metal cleaners. However, before you use salt, vinegar, or oil to clean your precious sculpture, you should be well-informed about the purpose, function, and effectiveness of the used remedies to avoid unwanted outcomes. Which substances should be used depends on the specific goal you want to accomplish:
- Do you just want to free your sculpture of dust and dirt, but want to preserve the patina?
- Do you want to brighten your sculpture to get back that first-day-gleam?
- Do you want to re-seal the bronze after the cleaning?
Reliable Household Remedies
The following methods are suited to maintain a bronze figurine with resources that can be found in almost any household:
Vinegar and Citric Acid
This method is extremely easy: you just pour pure vinegar or citric acid onto a clean cloth before vigorously rubbing the bronze with it. Hereby, minor corrosions come off rather quickly and the old gleam can shine through once more. However, there is one disadvantage: the contact between metal and acid facilitates new corrosions, which is why this method is not recommended if you want to have a permanently gleaming surface. Thus, the treatment with pure acid is only advisable if you want to speed up the natural corrosion. Furthermore, please keep in mind that the contact between copper and acetic acid can lead to the creation of true verdigris (copper acetate), which, unlike the green patina, is poisonous.
Soap Solution and Alcohol
Soap solution and alcohol quickly lead to satisfactory cleaning results, especially in the case of remnants of a former sealing or greasy fingerprints.
Natron and Toothpaste
Conventional natron powder mixed with a bit of water can be turned into an effective polishing paste for bronze figurines. Due to its alkaline effect, you will not have to worry about facilitating more corrosion. Additionally, fine details and reliefs that cannot easily be reached with a cloth can be cleaned with toothpaste and an old toothbrush. After the treatment, the residue should be removed completely with a damp cloth.
Sealing with Oil or Wax
After cleaning, the figurine should be dried off if necessary. Some possible household remedies for the sealing process are linseed oil or carnauba wax. If you want a stronger seal for garden sculptures, you can dissolve some paraffin wax in cleaning solvent and treat your sculptures with this mix. Excess oil or wax should be wiped off or carefully rubbed in with a cloth. Tip: sealing agents should always be used sparingly, as waxes and oils can leave an unpleasant, greasy film.
Which Maintenance Methods Should Be Avoided
Even though it should be self-evident, it again and again happens that bronze figurines are damaged by wire brushes, screwdrivers, or sandpaper. Even if the corrosion is very advanced, you should never try to get rid of discolourations with such brute measures. If the mechanical removal of residues cannot be avoided, you should use a coarse scrubbing brush or a shoe brush. The statues should never be treated with materials that are harder than bronze, as this can lead to unappealing scratches, which later corrode unevenly.
In Terms of Safety
You should be cautious when it comes to the use of highly poisonous chemicals like hydrochloric acid, especially in your living area. If you use aggressive cleaners in your garden, you must ensure their proper use and disposal to prevent damage to the environment. Fortunately, there is no real reason for these methods, as bronze can be optimally maintained with the aforementioned methods. Additionally, if you place your bronze sculpture in direct sunlight, you should test its surface temperature before the cleaning, as it can be quite high and thus could lead to burns if touched.
A wide variety of beautiful sculptures for your interior and exterior can be found in our Bronze Shop. Depending on their tastes, collectors either decide to maintain their golden brown colour through regular polishings or they let them form an appealing patina in a natural way. There are suitable maintenance methods for both options, which to some extent can be done with simple household remedies. In any case, it pays off to regularly clean and maybe seal your work of art, so it can display its full beauty.
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