Care & Cleaning for Bronze Statues
The very last step in creating a bronze sculpture is to apply a coat of wax. This is usually done when the metal is still warm and allows for the wax to enter the pours of the bronze. The wax acts as a barrier to the air and humidity that can cause the bronze to oxidize and turn green.
Unless the sculpture has been cleaned aggressively, the initial wax coating should last at least a year and probably longer. However, normal household dust will accumulate on a sculpture and it is important to dust it regularly (every month or two should be fine). I’ve read some cautions about dust on bronze, but I can tell you first hand that I have purchase old antique bronzes that looked like they had been covered in dust for years and they shined up like new. That said, dusting them regularly is still a good idea.
If your sculpture looks like it has accumulated more than dust and has developed a grimy film, more intense cleaning may be in order. The best cleaner for bronze sculptures (now get ready) is plain soap and water. I read and was told several times that the best cleaner is just a little mild soap, like Ivory liquid dish washing soap and water. Just avoid any soaps with scents like lemon scent or other additives that might have unknown consequences. Also, I was told that if you have water “issues” in your area you might like to use distilled bottled water. Just add enough soap to make bubbles in the water because all you really need to do is loosen the dirt from the surface.
If you are cleaning an indoor sculpture just add a few drops of soap in a bowl of water. Then dampen a clean rag and wipe down the sculpture. If the piece has a lot of nooks and crannies, a soft toothbrush might be useful. I keep an old tooth brush in my cleaning supplies just for this purpose.
Once the sculpture is clean, rinse out the rag and wipe down the sculpture with clear water to remove the soap residue. Again, use the toothbrush with clear water to clean hard to reach areas. (note: try to prevent water from running down to the base of the sculpture as most bases usually have felt glued onto the bottom and water can loosen it if it gets wet.)
Next, allow the sculpture to dry completely. This is very important because the next step is to re-wax the sculpture and you don’t want to trap moisture under the wax coating. Usually a sculpture is dry in a couple of hours. Once the sculpture is completely dry you are ready to begin waxing.
The best type of wax to use is plain clear paste wax. It usually comes in a can and is very inexpensive. Avoid automotive waxes as they usually contain other cleaners, etc. that could be harmful to bronze. But most importantly, car waxes tend to dry white, so if you leave any at all in little cracks or crevasses it will dry white and look terrible and you’ll have to start all over again. Although there are many good brands of wax I recommend Trewax Clear Paste Wax and Johnson & Johnson Clear Paste Wax.
To apply, use a soft rag or clean brush(small paintbrush type) use masking tape near the end of the brush to make it a firmer at the end. This makes it easer to get wax onto the brush.). Apply a light coat and allow to dry. Most waxes are dry within 20 minutes. Then buff the sculpture using a soft cloth or clean shoe brush. Apply a second coat if desired. A second coat is recommended for outdoor sculptures.
So there you have it, care and cleaning of bronze sculpture demystified-soap and water and plain ordinary paste wax. Notice there was no mention of magic cleaning potions or exotic oils. In fact, everyone I spoke with strongly advised staying away from any type of oil whatsoever. No fancy gadgets, just a clean rag, an old toothbrush and maybe a shoe brush for a high shine.
I can add one more thought to this for cleaning in-between waxing. I have a liquid silicone applied, to clean sculptures before they are packaged for shipping. It does not disturb the wax coating, adds another protective layer and leaves a nice shine. Now it even comes in convenient sponges and I can clean about four sculptures with one sponge. You can get them in many places.
I hope this helps.
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