7 Simple Steps to Clean Brass: Without a Scratch

brass tap
Source: Canva

Brass is a material favored by manufacturers for its durability, malleability, and elegance – it pops up on everything, from flatware to lamps and vases. While brass is trendy, tarnish isn’t. Here are the seven steps to clean your brass without a scratch:

1. Determine if the piece you want to clean is brass or brass-coated

brass bell
Source: Canva

Before you start cleaning, it’s essential to determine if the item is actually made from brass. The simplest way to do this is by holding a household magnet near the item – if the magnet fails to cling to the object, it’s brass. If the magnet sticks to the item, the supposed “brass” piece is likely a piece of steel or iron covered with a brass coating.

2. Determine if the brass should be cleaned

Some bras pieces are meant to have a dull appearance, and therefore, any attempts to brighten the piece by cleaning might cause irreversible damage and diminish its worth. If you’re not sure about whether or not to clean your brass piece, consider contacting a brass expert to get guidance on cleaning options. 

Sometimes patina (a thin greenish layer that variously forms on the surface of brass, copper, and similar metals through age and exposure) can add a unique look to a brass item and should not be removed. Patina can be used to evaluate a variety of aspects tied to a piece of brass, including its age, current condition, and potential value. Removing or even altering the patina on a brass item can negatively affect its worth.

3. Find out if the brass piece is lacquered

brass vessel
Source: Canva

There’s a surprisingly straightforward way to determine whether or not a brass piece is lacquered – if there are already tarnished spots on the brass piece, it probably has not been lacquered. Lacquered brass pieces only tarnish if there is a crack in the coating. 

Modern brass pieces typically have an outer coating of lacquer that serves as a layer of protection against oxidation. On the other hand, older antique brass pieces don’t usually come with a lacquered coating. Another way to assess if a brass object is lacquered is by looking at its surface: a lacquered piece will have a clear finish covering the entire surface. If you’re still having a hard time determining whether your brass piece has a lacquered finish, keep in mind that lacquered brass has a yellow tint to it.

4. Regularly dust brass pieces with a soft rag

One of the easiest ways to keep your brass pieces clean and in good condition involves regularly dusting them using a clean microfiber cloth. After dusting your brass, dip a soft cloth into a mixture of mild dishwashing liquid and lukewarm water. Wring out the fabric to be slightly damp, gently wipe the brass surface to remove lingering dust, dirt, and debris. Once the surface is clean, use a wrung-out cloth dipped in clean water to remove any remaining soap, and then use a dry rag to wipe the moisture off completely. 

5. Polish the brass regularly

To get rid of the discoloration on your brass items, use a polish that is specifically made for use on brass items. Make sure to apply it following the instructions provided on the product using a soft cleaning cloth. Before polishing brass, make sure the surface is clean.

6. Use tried-and-true brass cleaners

There are many store-bought brass cleaners that you can use on your pieces. Here is a list of some of the best you might want to try:

  • Brasso
  • Wright’s Brass Polish
  • Twinkle Brass & Copper Cleaning Kit 

7. Consider using home remedies to clean brass pieces

brass chandelier
Source: Canva

If you don’t want to use commercial brass cleaners, consider using the following home remedies:

  • Ketchup, tomato paste, or tomato sauce

Ingredients like ketchup, tomato sauce, and tomato paste may seem like the last thing you’d want to get on your precious brass items. Still, they are surprisingly effective at restoring lackluster brass. Tomato and tomato products contain malic and citric acid, which help remove tarnish on brass and other metals. Ketchup, tomato sauce, and tomato paste all work equally well. 

You apply a small amount of your chosen tomato product onto the brass for this cleaning method, spreading it evenly on the tarnished spots. Let it sit for about an hour or so. Wipe the treated areas clean with a damp cloth dipped in warm, soapy water, and then dry with a soft, clean cloth. If you’re not too sure about using ketchup or any other tomato product, you may want to apply the product onto the brass in an inconspicuous area, such as the bottom. Let it sit for a couple of minutes, then wipe clean with a damp cloth. If the results are impressive enough, repeat the remainder of the brass item. 

  • White vinegar and salt

To clean brass with these ingredients, dip a clean, dry cloth in distilled vinegar and then dip in a bowl of salt. Carefully rub the cloth all over the tarnished areas of the brass. You may find that you need to follow up with a bit of elbow grease on particularly distressed areas. 

  • Flour, salt, and white vinegar

Suppose you don’t want to use elbow grease. In that case, you may want to try using all-purpose flour in addition to white vinegar and salt – combining the thickening power of flour with salt’s abrasive ability and vinegar’s acidic properties may be just what you need to make tough stains disappear. 

In a medium-size bowl, add a teaspoon of salt to half a cup of vinegar. Stir the mixture until the salt completely dissolves, and then add around two tablespoons of all-purpose flour to make a paste. Gently rub the paste onto your brass piece and allow it to dry for about fifteen minutes. Rinse the treated areas, wipe clean, and thoroughly dry using a clean, soft cloth. 

  • Lemon and salt polish

Slice a fresh lemon in half and cover the cut section with a teaspoon of salt. Rub the lemon over the tarnished spots of the brass, squeezing it as you go to release lemon juice. Add more salt to the lemon slice as needed. Once you cover the affected areas, buff with a clean cloth, then rinse with warm water before drying with a soft cloth.

  • Lemon juice and baking soda polish

Lemon juice and baking soda are renowned natural cleaners on their own, but when combined, these ingredients remove brass buildup with ease. Start by slicing a lemon in half and squeezing the juice into a bowl. Add a teaspoon of baking soda and stir until it becomes a paste. Apply the paste onto the brass with a clean cloth. Carefully polish and buff away stains, reapplying the paste as needed. For tougher tarnishes, allow the paste to sit on the brass piece for about 15 minutes or so. Wipe away any leftover residue with a damp cloth, then dry with another cloth.

  • Toothpaste

Small brass pieces can be cleaned with a little toothpaste. For this method, pick a plain toothpaste (steer clear of gels or fancy ingredients). Apply a thin layer of toothpaste to the discolored spots of the brass object. Let it rest for about half an hour, then polish with a clean cloth. For tough stains, apply extra dabs of the toothpaste and let it rest for an hour or longer. Once the brass is restored, rinse with lukewarm water and dry the items with a microfiber cloth.

  • Yogurt 

Yogurt is another surprising ingredient that you can use to clean your brass. Yogurt contains lactic acid, which can effectively break down and dissolve the tarnishing that may be present on your brass piece. Apply a layer of yogurt onto the brass piece and let it rest for around 30 minutes before rinsing under water and rubbing the item dry with a clean cloth.

What to avoid

1. Avoid using highly abrasive cleaning tools

brass sign board
Source: Canva

Avoid using metal bristle brushes, steel wool, or highly abrasive scrubbing cloths to clean brass pieces as they will scratch and tarnish the surface. Strong chemicals can also damage brass and strip lacquer from lacquered pieces, leading to exposure.

2. Avoid soaking brass items in water

Chemicals in tap water, rainwater, and those found in the air can have corrosive effects on brass. As a result, avoid soaking brass pieces in water for prolonged periods when cleaning them, as this could only ruin their appearance. If you need to use water for cleaning, always wash, rinse, and dry immediately.

3. Don’t polish antique brass

brass vessels
Source: Canva

If you own antique brass, you want to be especially careful when cleaning it, as you could inadvertently reduce the value by rubbing off the patina finish. To clean, wipe off dust and dirt with a microfiber cloth. 

If you want to get rid of tarnish on antique brass items, seek the advice of an expert. Polishing tends to employ abrasives, so every time you choose to remove tarnishes this way, part of the original surface is removed. When you do this too frequently, you’ll end up losing valuable detail or even hallmarks on brass.

4. Avoid frequent contact with your brass items

You should avoid touching your brass pieces as much as possible – oils in your skin can speed up tarnishing.

How to remove the lacquer layer covering brass

A lacquer coating helps keep your brass fixtures shiny for a while. However, you might notice that the layer starts to dull and turn yellow after some time, which is hardly an appealing look. Worse still, the coating prevents you from reaching the brass itself to give it a much-deserved clean, so it begins to tarnish. The best solution in this situation is to remove the lacquer layer to clean the brass properly. Here are some tips on how to remove lacquer on brass:

  • Using hot water and baking soda

Mix a tablespoon of baking soda for each quart of water in a pot or saucepan that is large enough to accommodate your brass item. Place the mixture over your stove and bring it to a boil. While the water is simmering, immerse the lacquered piece using tweezers or tongs to minimize the risk of burns. Leave the item for about 15 minutes to allow the lacquer coating to peel away. After the time elapses, fish it out from the hot water and place it under room-temperature or cool water to cool it down.

Although most of the coating will likely fall away during the boiling process, you can peel or wipe away any remaining lacquer once the brass piece has cooled. If this is not enough to strip the item of its lacquer coating, try wiping over the brass with non-oily acetone nail polish remover. (Skip this last step if you’re working on a brass-plated item).

  • Using a commercial lacquer remover

It might prove challenging to remove thicker lacquer coatings by simply boiling your brass piece. In this case, consider using a commercial lacquer remover, which you can find at most hardware and DIY stores. 

Before getting started, move to a well-ventilated area – lacquer remover has a pungent chemical odor that can be harmful if inhaled for prolonged periods. You’ll also want to place a protective layer like a sheet of newspapers, a strip of plastic, or a tablecloth. Beneath the brass piece, you’re working on. That way, you’ll prevent staining or stripping of the surface. Finally, be sure to wear protective face gear and gloves to prevent the lacquer remover from reaching your skin and lungs.

To apply the remover, place a paintbrush into the solution and apply it directly to the tarnished brass using long, sweeping strokes. Coat the entire item with a generous layer of lacquer remover, taking care not to miss any spots. If you’re working on a brass piece with many intricate details, like an ornate candlestick, use a hard plastic scraper, a bottle brush, or a putty knife to reach the nooks and crannies. Always follow the product instructions when using commercial lacquer remover.

Final thoughts

As time passes, your favorite brass pieces will inevitably lose their brightness due to exposure to water, oxygen, and other elements that cause the material to corrode or tarnish. Fortunately, there are many simple ways to bring the shine back to your brass.

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Last update on 2023-04-16 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Zoltan Szatmari

Zoltan is a test and industrial engineer from Europe who loves learning anything new and working on small projects. When he is not working, he is usually hiking or going to the cinema.

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