So you think you have an antique bird bath on your hands, and want to restore it to its former glory? Restoration of any antique can be a tricky process, and not necessarily one to be handled by beginners. There are professional restoration experts around for a reason, after all. However, there are small steps that the average person can take to restore an antique bird bath.
Step 1–What Are You Restoring?
Consider what material you are about to restore (bronze, marble, ceramics) as they all differ to some degree in restoration techniques. Also, think about how much you want to restore. Restoration professionals use the blanket term patina to describe anything that has come to cover or affect the appearance of the antique naturally, over time. Usually, this refers to natural chemicals, oils or other materials that have come to coat the antique, but may also refer to fading, darkening or other signs of aging. Most restoration experts will tell you that it is best to save the patina at all costs, as removing it may actually reduce the value of your antique. The choice, however, is yours.
Step 2–Basic Cleaning
Warm water is always the most basic and gentle cleaner. About the only bird bath you wouldn’t want to use warm water on would be something with bronze pieces (more on that later). Always start with a small area to be sure cleaning won’t damage it or remove too much of the patina if you plan on letting that remain.
If you are worried about removing the patina, use warm water and light scrubbing with a soft brush (a soft-bristled toothbrush, or something slightly larger). This will remove dirt and heavy grime while leaving the patina intact.
If cleaning some sort of ceramic, such as a mosaic bird bath, or something with hard stone, add a small amount of dish detergent to your warm water (no more than 2 or 3%). You can scrub off most of what you want safely, especially with ceramics, but DO NOT use anything metal for scrubbing. Metal is harder than stone and likely to leave scratches. If the soft bristled brush isn’t enough, try a plastic brush instead. Beyond that, if you feel further restoration is needed on hard stones (such as marble or granite) or ceramic bird baths, it's probably time to call a professional before you try something you’ll regret.
Step 3 – Metal Bird Baths
Follow steps one and two for metal bird baths (again, with the exception of bronze). Some metals (such as iron and non-stainless steel) may have rust that you’ll need to deal with under the dirt. If you must use a homemade rust remover, be sure to read up on exactly what metals it is safe to use on and how to mix it. What removes rust from one metal may not work on another, and may even damage it.
It is always safer to buy a product specifically for rust removal, so long as you read the label for what metals to use it on. If the rust is too heavy for chemicals, steel wool might do the trick, but may also leave undesirable scratches on soft metal.
Step 4 – Bronze
For bronze, there is little an amateur can do beyond wipe it down with a soft (and dry) brush or cloth, followed by waxing it. Anything more than this is likely to remove the patina, which is often what makes bronze appealing to the eye.
These steps may not seem like much, but the truth is, there is only so much to be done if you aren’t at least semi-professional at restoration. If what you want isn’t fixed by these basic steps, don’t risk ruining your antique bird bath. Call the professionals instead.