The weather and its effects aren't always predictable. While cemetery staff is continuously working to keep the grounds clean and monuments beautiful, there are times when the weather and elements make it difficult. Occasionally the spring rains make a muddy mess, the winter snow piles quickly, and autumn leaves can blow in on the slightest breeze. Cemetery staff works as hard as possible to keep cemeteries dry and markers clean—but sometimes, they may not have the resources to keep up.
Seeing your loved one's bronze headstone or memorial covered in leaves or dirty can undoubtedly spark the desire to care for the marker yourself—and we completely understand that feeling—it is your right to do so! However, it is essential to remember that incorrectly cleaning your loved one's bronze marker can damage and weaken it to the elements.
There is a safe way to care for and maintain bronze headstones and memorials, and we would love to share with you a short guide and examples of what you should always avoid.
How to Clean A Bronze Grave Marker or Memorial
- Supplies Needed
Before you clean your loved ones' bronze marker, you will want everything you need on hand so you won't need to make multiple trips.
• Several very soft, lint-free cloths
• Soft bristle brush that won't scratch (important)
• Optional: soft-bristled toothbrush
• Two empty spray bottles
• Very mild soap and water, mixed (to place in one of the empty spray bottles)
• Clean water within one of the empty spray bottles for rinsing
• Optional: Wax paste, coconut oil, bronze protective spray
• Optional if using protective coating: q-tips
- Gently Brush.
The first step is to take your soft, bristled brush and gently sweep off dirt, leaves, grass, or debris from the bronze memorial's surfaces. A toothbrush can be very helpful in getting into the small spaces between engravings and letters, but remember to use a very soft toothbrush to avoid damaging the surface.
Next, mix your bottle of soap and water mix and spray it onto the bronze headstone. It is important not to let the soapy water sit too long, so begin the next step as soon as possible.
Note on Soap: Our recommendation for cleaning bronze is plain dish soap and water. Avoid soaps with additives or scents, as they could cause unintended damage.
- Wipe, Brush or Both
First, use steady and medium pressure with a soft, lint-free cloth to remove dirt and debris. Depending on how dirty it is, you may wish to use the soft-bristled brush to work debris loose delicately, then continue again with a cloth.
Continue using a cloth or brush until the marker is clean.
With your bottle of water without soap, begin to rinse the marker. Please pay close attention to the tiny areas within letters and engravings since they are the most likely to hold onto soapy residue.
Dry the bronze marker as thoroughly as possible using another clean, lint-free soft cloth, like microfiber.
- Protective coating
After the bronze headstone is completely dry, do your best to ensure it is also free of lint and pollen before carefully applying a protective coating. Regarding which protective coating to choose, wax, coconut oil, or protective spray—that is entirely your choice; remember that wax and coconut oil work best when the bronze marker is still warm, as the oils can better penetrate the pores.
If you get wax or too much coating within the engraving or lettering, use a Q-tip to remove any build-up gently.
Oxidation Vs. Bronze Disease
Bronze is an alloy material or a mixture of metals such as copper, tin, and zinc. Whenever bronze is exposed to air, the metals begin to oxidize and create what is called a patina coating. This coating can be green, blue, red, black, or brown and is a sign of typical corrosion that does not harm the bronze under it. While a patina is harmless, there are
signs of a more serious issue if you notice patina changes like the following:
- Light green powdery spots that crumble when touched
- Brown growth that flakes away easily at a touch
These are signs of what is known as bronze disease. This is unlike oxidation, a highly deadly form of corrosion that can lead to severe bronze marker damage.
We sincerely hope that we have been able to assist you in caring for your loving memorials. No matter what material a grave marker is created from, one of the best ways to ensure your loved one's memorial remains for years to come is ensuring you check on it and clean it as frequently as possible. Maintaining a headstone is one of the best ways to save yourself the heartbreak of attempting to fix and restore a marker too far gone to save.