How to clean brass

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Here’s a list of homemade cleaners I’ve collected over the years to help remove tarnish and buff metals to a shine, some of them may surprise you!

Door KnockerDirections For Use:

  • Using a damp cloth or toothbrush, scrub with one of the following then wipe off with a damp cloth and buff to a shine with a piece of flannel or other soft material. If the piece has a lacquer coating for protection, simply wipe with a damp cloth then dry with a soft one.

(For Brass)

  • Worcestershire Sauce
  • Tabasco Sauce
  • Ketchup (allow to dry then scrub off with a cloth or soft bristle brush)
  • Tomato Juice Soak: Cover the piece with tomato juice and allow to soak for a few hours. Rinse off with clear water then buff dry.
  • Milk Soak: Mix two parts milk with one part water, soak pieces for a couple hours then rinse with clear water and buff dry with a cloth. If you’re out of milk, try plain yogurt (undiluted) or sour milk instead.
  • Vinegar Soak: Mix two parts vinegar with one part water, soak pieces for a couple hours then rinse with clear water and buff dry.
  • Cream of Tartar & Lemon Juice: Make a paste then scrub into piece. Rinse off with clear water and buff.
  • Vinegar & Salt: Pour vinegar on a cloth, sprinkle with salt then gently rub into piece.
  • Lemon Juice & Salt or Baking Soda: Sprinkle salt or baking soda on a wedge of lemon, this will provide a gentle abrasion for removing grime.
  • Old-timers Tip: Rub piece all over with olive oil then with a dry rotten-stone (tripoli), remove with a cloth and buff to a shine.
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Protect From Tarnishing: Keep things shiny by polishing with olive oil.

Lacquer Finish: Some pieces have a lacquer finish to help prevent tarnishing. If you wish to remove it, boil piece in a large pot of boiling water with 3 tablespoons baking soda and 3 tablespoons washing soda. Polish dry with a soft, dry cloth once the lacquer has been successfully removed.

  • Why do things like Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce & Lemon Juice work? It’s the acidic content that eats away at the tarnish. Milk also contains a lactic acid and that’s why soaking a piece in milk will help.

For Copper & Metals: *First published November 1, 2006 and moved to this page for better organization

Kettle1 TBSP Flour 1 TBSP Salt

1 TBSP White Vinegar

Instructions:

  • In a small bowl, combine salt and flour. Stir until well blended.
  • Make a thick paste by adding vinegar to the salt and flour.
  • Using a damp sponge or cloth, smear on the paste. Rub gently.
  • Allow polish to dry for approximately one hour.
  • Rinse piece well with warm water.
  • Buff dry with soft cloth.

Suitable For: Brass, Bronze, Copper, Pewter Not Suitable For: Silver, Silver Plate, Jewelry

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What you will need

For heavy tarnished brass like mine, remove the hardware before attempting to polish it. It’s just too hard to do a thorough job if it is still attached to your cabinets. Above: For heavy tarnished brass like mine, remove the hardware before attempting to polish it. It’s just too hard to do a thorough job if it is still attached to your cabinets.

Supplies you’ll need:

  • White vinegar
  • Brass or metal polish such as Wenol Metal Polish; $9.66 at Amazon.
  • Gloves
  • Soft, clean cloths or rags
  • Mineral or linseed oil
  • Soft bristle brush (optional)
  • Protective surface covering (optional)
  • Varnish or nail polish remover (optional)
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1. Test your metal.

You don’t need a powerful magnet to test the authenticity of your brass. I borrowed a simple one from my fridge. Above: You don’t need a powerful magnet to test the authenticity of your brass. I borrowed a simple one from my fridge.

Before you begin, confirm that your piece is indeed solid brass and not plate or some other gold-toned metal. To test, simply hold a magnet up to the surface. If it doesn’t stick, you have solid brass. If it does, you most likely have plate. Clean this only with soap and water.

2. Strip any lacquer.

The results of old varnish or stain, the brown discolorations on these two pieces needed to be cleaned with varnish remover. Above: The results of old varnish or stain, the brown discolorations on these two pieces needed to be cleaned with varnish remover.

Many modern brass surfaces are protected with a lacquer finish. Even so, they can become tarnished. You will not be able to effectively polish them until the varnish is removed.

First, examine your piece; lacquered brass is more yellow, smooth, and shiny than unfinished brass. To remove the lacquer, submerge your brass piece in very hot water, which will cause the brass and the lacquer to expand. You may need to go so far as to boil your brass object in a non-aluminum pot. Carefully, remove your piece from the water and let it cool. As it does so, the metal will contract from the finish, and you should be able to peel the lacquer away. You can also eliminate lacquer with varnish remover and a soft, clean cloth. Nail polish remover also works. For really old, stubborn lacquers, consider soaking your piece in the chemical remover for several hours. Never use an abrasive cleanser, wire brush, or steel wool, as these will scratch the metal.

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4. Polish the brass.

Acids such as vinegar or lemon, even ketchup, can be used to clean brass. Above: Acids such as vinegar or lemon, even ketchup, can be used to clean brass.

A. Eco-Friendly Solution

I like to start with straight white vinegar, which is usually all I need to touch up a piece of mildly oxidized brass. To use, simply dip the end of a soft, clean cloth into your vinegar and rub the brass until it shines. You can also add 1 teaspoon salt to 1/4 cup of vinegar to boost the polishing effects. But make sure the salt is not too coarse, as it can scratch the brass. Some people also use lemon juice and salt in similar proportions. Others add flour to their acid/salt combos to make a paste which they leave on the brass for 10 minutes, then buff away.

You can also soak your pieces in vinegar for several hours or even overnight. (I find this bath to be a good first step when you’re dealing with heavily tarnished pieces like my hardware.)

A good commercial cleaner is by far the fastest way to clean badly tarnished brass. Above: A good commercial cleaner is by far the fastest way to clean badly tarnished brass.

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