Cleaning & Preserving Headstones, Headstones & Memorials

How to Clean a Bronze Plaque

U.S. Space Shuttle challenger bronze plaque with patina
By Tim1965 [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], from Wikimedia Commons
Burial monuments, markers, and headstones are traditionally placed at grave sites to provide family and friends with a way of paying tribute to, and honoring, the life of a lost loved one. The use of bronze in grave markers is very common, especially as an addition to a flat or slanted marker. However, bronze plaques are not just seen in headstones or grave markers, they are also commonly used to commemorate individuals on civic monuments or donor walls. No matter the use, bronze plaques make for a beautiful addition to any monument.

Bronze Plaque is Looking a little Discolored

Bronze consists of a combination of copper and tin. Over time the bronze will begin to oxidize, or tarnish, and appear discolored often developing a greenish tint. This discoloration is called a patina and it is a part of the oxidation process, in which the protective layers of the bronze begin to break down. Many individuals love a good patina to their bronze; however, there are just as many that prefer a more polished look.

No matter if you prefer a good patina or a like-new look, it is good practice to avoid touching bronze to often with your bare hand as this can accelerate the oxidation process. Though you can’t prevent the oxidation process, you should also try to occasionally dust off your bronze plaque to slow it down.

Cleaning and Restoring a Bronze Plaque

When it comes to cleaning a bronze plaque, you have a couple of good options. Below we have listed two methods for cleaning and restoring a bronze plaque. However, it should be noted that many bronze plaques are set into another stone, such as granite. These cleaning methods should only be used on the bronze plaque and the stone will require a different cleaning method. Learn more about cleaning natural stone headstones and grave markers.

Cleaning a Bronze Plaque with Backing Soda

1. To start gently remove any debris from the plaque. A flat graver marker may have leaves, grass, or dirt on it. This debris can be gently dusted away with a soft cloth, prior to cleaning. You may also want to use cotton swabs to remove any dirt that may have settled in the small grooves.
2. Next you will need to make a cleaning paste by adding small amounts of lemon juice to 2 Tbsp. of baking soda, in a small bowl until you have a paste.
3. Using a gloved hand or a soft cotton cloth, rub the paste onto the bronze plaque in a circular motion.
4. Once the plaque is completely covered with the paste, let it set for approximately 30 minutes.
5. Rinse the bronze plaque thoroughly with warm water, you do not want to leave any residue behind.
6. Buff dry with a soft cloth.
7. Repeat if necessary.

Cleaning a Bronze Plaque with Flour and Vinegar

This is often a preferred method for larger plaques, primarily because it uses flour making it easier to make in larger quantities.

1. Same as before, gently remove any debris from the plaque before you begin; being sure to use a soft cloth to avoid touching or damaging the plaque.
2. Start by mixing equal parts flour and salt in a bowl. You can customize the amounts according to the size of the plaque.
3. Next you will need to add vinegar, just a little at a time until you get a nice soft paste.
4. Using a soft cloth or gloved hand, rub the paste onto the plaque. Be sure to use a circular motion, until the entire plaque is covered.
5. Once the plaque is completely covered with the paste you will need to use a plastic bag to cover plaque. Let the plaque set, covered, for 1-2 hours.
6. Mix 1tsp of ivory soap to 1 C. water with a bronze brush (from hardware store) clean lettering and design. Important Note:DO NOT scrub any painted areas on the plaque with the bronze brush, this will remove the paint.
7. You can use a soft natural bristle brush to clean the marker itself with the same soap solution
8. Rinse thoroughly
9. Buff the plaque completely dry with a soft cloth, or you could use a hair dryer to make this process faster

Once you have your bronze plaque all cleaned we recommend that you polish and protect it with a good UV wax, which can be found online. You will simply need to add a thin layer of the wax to the plaque and allow it to set for about a half an hour, before buffing it with a clean cloth. You may want to repeat this step once or twice, until the plaque really shines. The wax will not only help your plaque to really get that like-new look back but, it will also protect it and slow down the oxidation process; helping to keep it looking new longer.

If you find that your bronze plaques discoloration is beyond a DIY cleaning, reach out to one of your local monument companies for a complete restoration. If you need a bronze plaque or memorial cleaned and restored in the Greater Washington D.C. area give us a call at (703) 527-7774, to schedule an appointment.

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