How To: Clean Brass

How to Clean Brass - Door Knocker

Photo: Pottery Barn

Brass brings a warm, burnished glow to household items, ranging from switch plates, door knockers, and lamps to bathroom fixtures, furniture, and even kitchen utensils.

Brass is a strong, corrosion-resistant, and relatively inexpensive alloy made from a combination of zinc and copper, and on account of its bright, golden color, the material has long been a favorite material for home furnishings and decorative accents.

Like any metal, brass can become dull and tarnished over time. However, with only a little bit of knowledge—and some elbow grease, too—you can keep your brass accents polished and shining. In fact, many common cleaning products are already in your kitchen cabinets!

The first thing you need to determine before cleaning and polishing any brass object is whether the item is solid brass, or brass-plated steel, zinc, or cast iron. The easiest way to check is by placing a small magnet on the piece you’re not sure about. Magnets will not stick to solid brass, so if the magnet sticks, the piece is brass-plated. Plated items can be cleaned with hot soapy water, but rubbing or polishing them too aggressively can remove the brass plating, so proceed with caution.

There are numerous ways to clean solid brass. Your approach should depending on the level of dust, dirt, or tarnish that has built up. Here are a few tips and techniques:

  • Start with hot, soapy water and a microfiber cleaning cloth: Go over all of the surfaces thoroughly with the cleaning cloth, using a clean toothbrush to get into any crevices. Rinse with warm water and dry thoroughly.
  • For tougher cleaning jobs, pull out the ketchup, tomato sauce, or tomato paste. Simply rub a thin coat onto the brass, let sit for an hour or so, and then clean the piece with hot, soapy water.
  • Another option is to make a paste of equal parts salt, flour, and white vinegar. Apply the paste to the brass and let sit for up to an hour. Rinse with warm water and buff dry.
  • An alternative natural cleaning combination is salt and lemon. Cut a lemon in half and remove the seeds. Coat the cut half of the lemon with table salt and rub it over the surface of the brass, re-coating the lemon with salt as needed. Once you’ve covered the entire surface, buff to a shine with a clean, dry cloth. You can also make a paste using two parts cream of tartar powder to one part lemon juice—rub the paste on the brass, let sit for 30 minutes, rinse with warm water and buff.
  • Commercial metal cleaners and polishes can also be an effective way to keep your brass objects in tip-top shape and are commonly available at most home centers and supermarkets. Leading brands include Brasso, Bar Keepers Friend, Never Dull, Cameo, Hagerty and Blitz.

There are a few areas of concern that you should be aware of when it comes to cleaning and polishing brass:

  • Avoid using highly abrasive scrubbing cloths, metal-bristled brushes, or steel wool; these will scratch the surface of the brass.
  • To prevent tarnishing, a thin coating of linseed oil or mineral oil can be applied to clean brass with a soft terry towel.
  • Many brass objects are protected with a lacquer finish and should only be cleaned with hot, soapy water. If pieces of this type are heavily tarnished, you will need to remove the lacquer with a paint or varnish remover, clean and polish the brass using one of the techniques above, then re-lacquer the piece.
  • You should avoid touching your brass items as much as possible; oils in your skin can hasten tarnishing.

Regular cleaning and polishing with a microfiber cloth will help keep dust and dirt from accumulating and keep your brass accents lovely and lustrous.

For more on cleaning, consider:

How To: Clean Stainless Steel
Cleaning Green: Eco-Friendly Cleaning Products
How To: Clean Vinyl Flooring