Naked ladies coyly hiding in the undergrowth, giant fish with water cascading from their mouths into a pond, a birdbath, or regal eagles standing guard on gateposts – they can all add a touch of class. Their weathered appearance adds a vintage appeal, but there comes a time when they need to be cleaned.
Consider three things first – what is it made from, how delicate is it, and when do you plan to do the cleaning – when temperatures are high enough to dry out the statue relatively quickly, is best. Most statue materials can handle a wide range of cleaning methods, however, there are some to avoid, depending on the statue.
The first step is to give it a basic wash with a tap or a hose on a gentle spray - never a power wash, which could damage any delicate areas, or rip off any paint. The idea here is to loosen the build-up of grime and to wash any dirt away. For delicate areas, use a new toothbrush - the small soft bristles are excellent for getting into those nooks and crannies and are soft enough not to cause any damage to the detail.
After the first rinse, a solution of around 3 litres of warm water, 1 litre of all-purpose bleach, and just under 80ml of mild dish detergent is a good start - and wearing rubber gloves would be sensible. Be gentle with your statues as you scrub them, too much pressure may cause them to crack, chip, or even break. Again, use a hose with a gentle setting, like a shower or mist, as a rinse.
Polyresin statues, concrete, or marble - After the first rinse, a gentle wash with your washing solution and a soft cloth or sponge together with a gentle scrub if necessary - then a light rinse with the hose, and dry with a soft cloth to prevent streaks.
With wood, be sure to scrub in the direction of the grain. Rise with a hose, and initially wipe with a towel to aid drying, then finish with air drying. Once dry, you could add a coat of polyurethane or similar to preserve and protect the wood.
Bronze – use a non-ionic cleaner, water and spot-free dishwasher soap. Using a soft cloth, wipe away the grime, and if needed, use a non-wire scrubbing brush to clean hard-to-reach or difficult areas. Let the soap sit for a few minutes, then hose off. Dry with a clean, soft cloth, and let it dry for 2 days to ensure all moisture is gone. Then, using a soft scrub brush, apply wax to the statue, leave for 20 minutes to let the wax dry, and use a cloth to buff and shine the surface.
Removing Moss, Mould and Mildew from older statues – to clean up older pieces, add 150ml of TSP (trisodium phosphate (TSP, obtainable from good hardware stores) into your washing mix. Be careful using this product– it is a toxic substance, can be harmful if swallowed, and exposure to it can cause serious eye and skin irritation. Personal protection equipment (PPE), including long pants and sleeves, waterproof gloves, goggles, and a mask should be worn when preparing and using TSP, so check before use.
Using a stiff brush and quick, circular motions, gently scrub the mildew and mould from the statue – and use that toothbrush for the delicate detailed parts. Don’t let the surface you've scrubbed dry as you work - rinse the cleaned sections Immediately with a garden hose on mist or shower setting. Continue until your sculpture is completely clean. You can coat the statue with zinc oxide primer or paint to prevent further mould, mildew, or moss growth once the statue is dry.
To protect concrete statues from harsh weather conditions, you could apply a UV / water sealant as directed, then place your statue on a ventilated surface to dry for 24 hours. You can also add a clear sealer enamel spray for a glossy look – or a concrete sealer will do the trick, too.