Bronze and water - good or bad?

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Bronze and water - good or bad?

Post by thefiggis » Wed Nov 21, 2018 5:45 pm

What ho, all.

Just wondered about your views on whether you should soak bronze/copper alloy in water during the cleaning process.

Personally, I have no issues with soaking and the coins/artefacts I soaked in water are as good today as when I cleaned them. However, I saw a video on cleaning Romans and the chap was very adamant that water should never be used. Mind you, he then went on to seal in some bronze disease with wax so I thought better than to take his word for it.


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Re: Bronze and water - good or bad?

Post by Phil2401 » Wed Nov 21, 2018 6:30 pm

It strikes me that if artefacts have been in contact with water in the ground for hundreds of years - along with all the dissolved natural and man-made chemicals contained in the soil, how could a quick soak for a few days in relatively pure water do them any harm? Your (and others') experiences to date seem to suggest that it won't do any harm.

Just wondering if anyone is an expert on photo-oxidation though - some materials will survive hundreds of years underground and then rapidly decay when exposed to the light of day...

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Re: Bronze and water - good or bad?

Post by littleboot » Wed Nov 21, 2018 6:46 pm

As a general rule I keep water off anything copper alloy and try and keep it as dry as possible. I take care to dry any coins thoroughly before attempting to clean em at all. And I never, never ever do that circular rub with a grimy thumb thing that I see so much of on videos. May as well put the item in a tumbler and have done with it, all that grit being scoured around. ;;z I like to get home with my stuff before I make any attempt to remove any surface crud. Patience grasshopper is my motto.
I find lots of copper coins in France that have been in the ground 350- 450 years.(hundred and hundreds of 'em every season and most are toasted ) Some milled, a lot of them hammies. They look OK when you fish em out but go anywhere near them with water and the surface detail simply sluices down the sink.
I suppose it very much depends on what state it is in to start with....sometimes the patina is solid as a rock ( big old Romans and of course Vicky/Nap3 era stuff) and so washing does no appreciable harm. But once there is a hint of the dreaded bronze disease, or flaky patina then its a no-no. Thing is, if you wash or soak in water you tend to only find out once it is too late and the crud has soaked off but also lifted the surface detail.
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Re: Bronze and water - good or bad?

Post by cantona1 » Wed Nov 21, 2018 6:57 pm

Not an expert by any means but I ruined too many coins when I first started by washing them in tap water, like Littleboot I let everything dry and use a toothpick to remove the dirt. Sometimes your own natural grease from your skin can really bring any detail to life.I know it sounds gross but it does work rl;

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Re: Bronze and water - good or bad?

Post by Easylife » Wed Nov 21, 2018 7:11 pm

I don't think water does any harm, it's the oxidization that happens whilst it dries that does the damage. You just need to assess each item to what cleaning method it will stand if any. Sometimes just a dry brushing is best.
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Re: Bronze and water - good or bad?

Post by Lowland » Wed Nov 21, 2018 8:04 pm

littleboot wrote:
Wed Nov 21, 2018 6:46 pm
As a general rule I keep water off anything copper alloy and try and keep it as dry as possible. I take care to dry any coins thoroughly before attempting to clean em at all. And I never, never ever do that circular rub with a grimy thumb thing that I see so much of on videos. May as well put the item in a tumbler and have done with it, all that grit being scoured around. ;;z I like to get home with my stuff before I make any attempt to remove any surface crud. Patience grasshopper is my motto.
I find lots of copper coins in France that have been in the ground 350- 450 years.(hundred and hundreds of 'em every season and most are toasted ) Some milled, a lot of them hammies. They look OK when you fish em out but go anywhere near them with water and the surface detail simply sluices down the sink.
I suppose it very much depends on what state it is in to start with....sometimes the patina is solid as a rock ( big old Romans and of course Vicky/Nap3 era stuff) and so washing does no appreciable harm. But once there is a hint of the dreaded bronze disease, or flaky patina then its a no-no. Thing is, if you wash or soak in water you tend to only find out once it is too late and the crud has soaked off but also lifted the surface detail.
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Re: Bronze and water - good or bad?

Post by Batman » Wed Nov 21, 2018 8:46 pm

I must say I don’t use water on bronze/copper alloy coins I tend to dry them out then use a toothbrush to remove dry dirt. If I use water on anything I think will stand it I collect rain water and use it as it is natural and not containing any chemicals. ::g

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Re: Bronze and water - good or bad?

Post by dig-dog » Wed Nov 21, 2018 9:06 pm

If you need to wash off the dirt, use de-ionised water.
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Re: Bronze and water - good or bad?

Post by oldartefact » Wed Nov 21, 2018 10:11 pm

I dont think that there is a single all encompassing answer .. I am sure that there are preservation experts out there who would say that there are alot of variables to take into consideration when assessing whether water is the right way to go or not, I guess it all depends on the particular find in question... that said I use water on all finds, and havent had any problems yet.
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Re: Bronze and water - good or bad?

Post by Easylife » Wed Nov 21, 2018 10:25 pm

dig-dog wrote:
Wed Nov 21, 2018 9:06 pm
If you need to wash off the dirt, use de-ionised water.
DD ::g
It may be better in certain circumstances for very special finds, but generally tap water is fine when they've already likely been subject to the effects of animal urine and worse? :D
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Re: Bronze and water - good or bad?

Post by garrettoldboy » Wed Nov 21, 2018 11:02 pm

hello, have used a jewellery cleaner and warm soapy water for years, any dirt turns to mush so leaves the item intact then dry off with hair dryer medium setting/radiator/ etc

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Re: Bronze and water - good or bad?

Post by chillidog » Thu Nov 22, 2018 12:26 am

i only use warm RO/distilled pure water and soaked wooden tooth picks and toothbrush to clean my finds,if i can't get the hard muck off i leave alone.tap water is full of chemicals including toxic metal salts,hormones and pesticides and fluorides
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Re: Bronze and water - good or bad?

Post by oldartefact » Thu Nov 22, 2018 12:31 am

chillidog wrote:
Thu Nov 22, 2018 12:26 am
i only use warm RO/distilled pure water and soaked wooden tooth picks and toothbrush to clean my finds,if i can't get the hard muck off i leave alone.tap water is full of chemicals including toxic metal salts,hormones and pesticides and fluorides
Just wish modern day farming took the same attitude,,, though truth is that the land is sprayed with every that and the other ... not to mention the billinons of tons of brown stuff scattered every which way and the other.
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Re: Bronze and water - good or bad?

Post by Easylife » Thu Nov 22, 2018 2:49 am

oldartefact wrote:
Wed Nov 21, 2018 10:11 pm
I don't think that there is a single all encompassing answer .. I am sure that there are preservation experts out there who would say that there are alot of variables to take into consideration when assessing whether water is the right way to go or not, I guess it all depends on the particular find in question... that said I use water on all finds, and haven't had any problems yet.
But some are living in a psychological bubble. =)) x; =))
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Re: Bronze and water - good or bad?

Post by thefiggis » Thu Nov 22, 2018 6:12 am

So it seems, as suspected, that there are mixed views. I used to use tap water exclusively but now use de-ionised, bottled or rain depending on what's available. If it's a good find I always soak in de-ionised after cleaning to try to get rid of anything nasty which might remain.

I agree that you should assess each find according to its condition but I really can't see what actual damage water can do and why you should avoid using it.
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Re: Bronze and water - good or bad?

Post by Steve_T » Thu Nov 22, 2018 6:47 am

I think the issue is contact with air, oxydisation is the enemy, or the worst of them and depends on the general condition of the find, damed if you do, damed if you don't

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Re: Bronze and water - good or bad?

Post by erm1969 » Thu Nov 22, 2018 7:54 am

I found the following relating to 'bronze disease' (courtesy Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World, Brown University):

"Bronze disease is a form of corrosion that affects bronze artifacts. It manifests itself as either a powdery green substance on the surface of the metal or as a warty or waxy film over the surface of an artifact. To the untrained eye, it may simply resemble a natural patina. However, while a patina is not destructive, bronze disease most certainly is.

In reality, “bronze disease” is not the result of bacteria, as the name would suggest, but the result of a complex chemical reaction. It is known as bronze disease because the reaction produces a green powder on the surface of bronze artifacts that resembles a fungus. This corrosion is much like rust on iron. This corrosion is caused by a circular set of reactions that involve the chlorides of a copper alloy and water. Bronze disease is triggered by the presence of water in this equation. It might take just one humid day to activate the reactions and begin the destructive chain."


The point is that without the presence of water this type of corrosion cannot take place, so maybe it is better to keep bronze artefacts as dry as possible?

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Re: Bronze and water - good or bad?

Post by garrettoldboy » Thu Nov 22, 2018 8:18 am

garrettoldboy wrote:
Wed Nov 21, 2018 11:02 pm
hello, have used a jewellery cleaner and warm soapy water for years, any dirt turns to mush so leaves the item intact then dry off with hair dryer medium setting/radiator/ etc
with bronze artifacts try renaissance wax when the item is completely dry,

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Re: Bronze and water - good or bad?

Post by WVAM » Thu Nov 22, 2018 10:20 am

Just breathing on artefacts and coins while you take close up pictures or examine under a loupe will push up the local humidity enormously - just breath on some glass - and that will perpetuate any chemical reaction such as bronze disease. Moist fingers will also add to the problem.
In general you can't choose what to wash with unless you know the problem you have to solve. Interestingly a lot of organic artefacts from the sea are first washed in tap water before moving on to DI or RO water. I suspect this is to gradually remove salts and avoid osmotic shock which could cause substantial damage i.e. the lack of purity of tap water is a benefit.
Just been talking to a mate who works on some of the unique chemistry and preservation in the soil layers at Vindolanda. Ended up talking about a cannon ball degradation problem with the Mary Rose. Apparently, they managed to wash off and remove most of the chloride from sea water but they didn't check to see what was left behind in the iron. Their balls fell apart!

https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/2018/mar/goi ... -mary-rose

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Re: Bronze and water - good or bad?

Post by chip » Thu Nov 22, 2018 1:22 pm

I have one of those coin pad boxes, a small round plastic tub with a sponge inside with slots cut in it for you to place your coins to keep them safe while detecting.

It recommends keeping the sponge wet, which I do by giving it a splash from a bottle of mineral water. I always wondered wether wetting the sponge did any harm.
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Re: Bronze and water - good or bad?

Post by thefiggis » Thu Nov 22, 2018 6:02 pm

Interesting to note the details in erm1969's post, and thanks for the info.

Prior to storage, I do leave bronze coins close to a heat source for several days to dry out thoroughly and they then go into coin holders. Maybe this is why I've not so far seen any deterioration after using water.
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