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topic 22020

Cleaning a military bronze cemetery plaque


Q. I'd like to know how to clean a bronze military plaque that has been in the cemetery for about 11 years. We've tried polishing it over the years and it now looks very dull. One of the products we've tried is Brasso [linked by editor to product info at Amazon] which apparently added to the dullness of the stone.

Sandy K [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Bay City, Michigan

similarly (2004)

Q. Hi:

I have the same question for a bronze war memorial in Gustine, CA. Did you get an answer to your question and did it work?

Thank for any help.

Diana B [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Sacramento, California


Q. I too am searching for advice on the best way to clean, brighten up, a bronze historic plaque placed in the 1920s on an outdoor boulder. Last year it was hit by a black paint ball which we washed off with detergent and water. The appearance is very dull and dingy.

E K Johnson
- Easton, New York


Q. I wish to clean a 12" x 24" nameplate that was cast in bronze. It has raised letters and a smooth background and has weathered over time to an almost black shade of coloring overall. The nameplate is affixed to a stone pillar and will most likely have to be cleaned while still in place. After cleaning, I would like to protect the finish to prevent it from turning black again. I would appreciate your advice. . Thanks very much.

Bill C [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
Retired Do-gooder - Wethersfield, Connecticut



LEONARD C [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]


A. Most plaques and markers come with a clear lacquer finish, this only slows down the oxidation process and after some time depending on the exposure you have to refinish the bronze to maintain the original here we go.

If you have raised letters and trim and you are ok with a satin grained look, the you can sand in uniform direction to remove the clear coat, as you are doing this you will notice it is also cleaning and removing the oxidation.

If you have a recessed background color use caution not to damage the color, once you are done sanding and have done your detail work and are satisfied with the look...Now you can spray on a clear finish coat with a UV inhibitor.


Don't touch the bronze after you clean, you have acid and oil's on your hands and this will leave finger prints that will show up in a couple of weeks.

Have Fun

Mark Rekdahl
- Los Angeles, California


Q. Yes I would like to know how to clean the bronze plaque that my dad has on his grave.

Tom H [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Fowler, Michigan


Q. Hello I would like to know what is the best way to keep a bronze plaque in good condition? We would love to keep my daughters bronze plaque at the cemetery looking its best.

Thank you in advance for your help!

Ana M [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Dallas, Texas


A. General Purpose Bronze Cleaner: Salt, Vinegar, and Flour. Dissolve 1 teaspoon salt in 1 cup white vinegar. Add enough flour to make a paste. Apply paste to bronze and let sit for 15 minutes to 1 hour. Rinse with clean, warm water, and polish dry.

Dr Gayle Kite
- lake worth Florida

June 8, 2008

A. You can also gently rub it clean with a cloth dipped in mineral spirits [linked by editor to product info at Amazon].
If using the vinegar/water/flour method, make sure the water you are using is warm DISTILLED water.

Joan Martin

February 10, 2009

Q. My late wife's bronze headstone needs refinishing, I used the wrong cleaners on it and it needs refinishing real bad, I am 70 and won't be long before I will be beside her and I want to get it looking good again, thanks

leonard cronan
- douglasville, Georgia

January 16, 2012

A. Just read this post and in the event that you have not found an answer here it goes. As posted in one of the responses most all these signs or plaques have come with a lacquer coating or even tougher some sort of a urethane applied at production.
If you have a plaque that is completely bronze color then you have a fewer steps. If a lacquer coating you can use acetone or any other stripper to remove the lacquer (please note always be careful and follow instructions on how to handle any product), then you can clean the bronze with some oxalic acid which is a whitener or bleaching agent that will remove the patina that has occurred on the plaque. I usually mix the oxalic with some neutral soap as an additional cleaning agent. Rinse thoroughly with water and if needed you can use a white scotch pad for any stubborn marks as long as you go with the grain. Then lacquer using one of the products supplied by our many advertisers on this site. The only curve ball would be if the background is a painted finish such as a brown color usually. If this is the case when you finish cleaning spray the plaque with the brown color and then you can wipe the face of the letters before the paint starts to dry leaving the brown only in the recessed areas (try wrapping a piece of some stiff wood or 6in scraper in the towel and pulling it across the face of letters for best results)Then clear coat the whole plaque
Hope it helps

Bill McKenna
Metal Finisher - New York, New York

April 23, 2012

A. Laughingly, I thought I'd try the vinegar, salt and flour mixture on a brass raw water pump that was completely caked in black and green because it came off a 1968 Chris Craft salt-water boat. The pump was pure ugly!

Using an old basting brush, I gave it a nice even coating of the mixture, then let it sit. An hour later, I rinsed it off in warm water and ....well ......I'm humbled! This thing looks new!

If it can do this to an old pump, I'm sure it would work for brass or bronze plaques.

Kevin Holden
- Port Angeles, Washington, US

February 17, 2013

Q. Will using WD40 damage the clear coat?

Frank Arellano
- Orange County, California

August 23, 2015


Steps to Restore a Bronze Headstone:

1.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.
2.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.
3.Place a strip of sandpaper on the sanding block. Make it as tight as possible.
4.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.
5.Use a folded piece of sandpaper to blend in any dents or chipped areas.
6.Mix a small amount of Ivory liquid dish-soap with water.
7.Use the scrub brush to apply the soapy water to the surface.
8.Scrub to remove any dust or residue from the brushing and sanding that was completed earlier.
9.Rinse with water.
10.Complete a second rinse with distilled water to make the surface as chemical free as possible.
11.Dry with a clean, soft cloth.
12.Allow the surface to air dry completely.
13.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.
14.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.
15.Let the dye dry completely.
16.Re-sand 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.
17.Brush any dust away with a soft brush or canned air.
18.Finally, spray a coating of lacquer over the surface of the plaque. Go over the plaque several times, using a different direction each time.
19.Protect the area from any blowing dust or debris (grass clippings, leaves, etc.) while the lacquer dries.


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