Clean a marble statue

August 7, 2013

Q: We have inherited three marble statues that are in need of cleaning. One spent time in an outdoor courtyard and is especially dirty. How can we clean them without damaging the marble? If we cannot clean them ourselves, how do we find a reliable source, and what might the approximate cost be?

Woodbridge

A: The most important caveat about cleaning marble is to avoid acidic cleaners, such as vinegar or lemon juice, because they eat into the stone. The safest DIY approach is to wash the stone with warm water plus a few drops of stone soap or clear hand dishwashing soap, then rinse thoroughly with water.

But conservators who have studied stone extensively cringe even at that advice. “Marble can be very porous, and it’s possible to drive in staining materials if the cleaning isn’t done by an experienced conservator,” according to Connie Stromberg of Stromberg Conservation in Bethesda (301-263-9298; c.stromberg@verizon.net). Even plain water can slowly dissolve the stone if it is acidic, as rain typically is because its pH is usually 4.5 to 5.5 on a scale where 7.0 is neutral. Conservators rinse with buffered water, raising the pH to about 8.5 with ammonia or calcium carbonate (precipitated chalk). But, Stromberg wrote in an e-mail, “I don’t think I should give ‘how to’ directions for doing that” for fear of damaging the sculpture or the person.

A conservator begins by examining the sculptures carefully and testing cleaning treatments in a small, inconspicuous area before deciding on an approach. A key initial question is what kind of stone is involved. What appears to be marble might actually be alabaster, Stromberg said. Alabaster has an entirely different chemical makeup from marble and can actually be harmed if cleaned with water.


Marble statues in need of cleaning. (Reader submitted photo)

Stromberg looked at the photograph you sent and noted that the statue that was outside appears to be stained mostly near the base. Removing that kind of stain often involves applying poultices to draw it out.

Conservators set their rates individually but are never inexpensive. Stromberg charges $110 an hour and said that cleaning statues like yours would probably take at least a day, meaning the bill could come to hundreds or even thousands of dollars, especially if any repairs are needed or the stone has a finish that needs to be removed to allow the cleaning. When people can’t afford a pricey cleaning, Stromberg says it’s often best to leave statues as-is, because improper cleaning makes the damage worse.

The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works provides a “find a conservator” service on its Web site, www.conservation-us.org. Two near you are Paul Jett in Accokeek (202-467-0214; paul.jett@gmail.com) and Mark Rabinowitz at Conservation Solutions in Alexandria (866-895-2079; www.conservationsolutionsinc.com).

With District Shade’s departure, there no longer seems to be any place that repairs blinds and shades in the metro D.C. area. In my case, I need re-taping work for beautiful, old wooden blinds that are otherwise in mint condition. I’ve searched online and in the Yellow Pages and have made numerous phone calls to businesses connected to blinds/shades in one way or another. No luck. Can you possibly help?

Washington

We had the same luck you had in finding a local repair company. So, short of the answer you’re looking for, here are some ideas.

First, if you know the manufacturer of the blinds, check whether it is set up to do the repairs and, if so, whether a local company is authorized to do them. If the warranty has expired, you might need to pay, but at least it would give you a local solution.

Or you might consider taking the blinds to Creative Windows Shutters & Blinds (804-379-7794; creativewindowsblinds.com) in Midlothian, Va., in the Richmond area. Al Chenault, the owner, says that if you have only a couple of blinds and phone first to schedule a visit, he will try to do the repair while you wait, because it’s a bit of a trek from the D.C. area. To install new tape and new cords on wooden blinds about three feet wide and five feet long, he charges about $45.

There are also mail-order companies that replace tape on wooden blinds, such as Americana (800-269-5697; www.shutterblinds.com) in Georgia. But this requires packaging and shipping the blinds.

And, finally, you might consider doing the work yourself. Fix My Blinds (719-597-0696; www.fixmyblinds.com) sells replacement tape and other supplies and has instructions, both printable and video, on its Web site. If you have a friend who’s handy and you’re not, consider asking for help on at least the first blind or two.

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to localliving@washpost.com. Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.

The Checklist Read Jeanne Huber’s roundup of home-improvement tasks you should tackle in August, such as upgrading locks, at washingtonpost.com/home.

Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Lifestyle