Brass has been around in interiors for centuries, used in fenders, chandeliers, handles, mirrors and photo frames. It is also a popular material for light fittings and plug sockets, both things which are touched very frequently. Both the oils in our skin and the oxygen in the air itself cause brass to tarnish, and while the metal undoubtedly has a beautiful patina to it, it does require maintenance.
How to clean brass
First, you need to ascertain whether the brass is lacquered or not, as many brass pieces are finished with a clear coating to protect them. The way to know is to dab a small amount of polish on with a white cloth. If the cloth turns black, the brass is unlacquered. If it stays white, then it's lacquered.
How to clean lacquered brass
To clean lacquered brass is a fairly easy task (if the lacquer is in good condition) as you simply need to dust it and occasionally give it a gentle clean with mild dishwashing soap and warm – never hot – water. Dry it thoroughly and you're done. However, it becomes a different story if the lacquer has small nicks or has worn away in parts, as those exposed parts will tarnish and colour. For small items, you can remove the tarnish yourself with acetone and a cotton wool pad, or paint stripper and an old paintbrush. Leave it to sit for five minutes and then use a soft brush to remove the stripper. Rinse the item and then either polish it (more on that coming up), or you can reapply a thin coat of lacquer with a spray-on gloss lacquer for metals. For large, valuable items, employ a conservator to look after it for you.
How to clean unlacquered brass
For unlacquered brass, dusting still applies of course, but in order to keep the shine on brass, you need to polish it too. There are plenty of polishes designed for brass out there, so choose one – a liquid, cream, paste or soaked cloth will do – and follow the instructions on how to apply it. Rubbing the polish in circles ensures an even shine.
“Use brown sauce for this…honestly!” says Ann Russell in her helpful book, How to Clean Everything. “Tomato ketchup works,” she continues, “but brown sauce is better. Paint it on thickly with a brush, leave it to sit for a bit, then wash it off. After that, you simply polish up with metal polish. As a side note, there are now metal polishes that you rinse off, and they do get rid of tarnsih very easily, but I have noticed that the metal then tarnishes really very quickly afterwards. If I use one, I always try to do a final polish with Brasso just to preserve my hard work for a few weeks longer.”
So there you have it, you can go traditional with dusting and polish or, for some serious tarnish, try a dollop of brown sauce next time you're wondering how to clean brass.
This story originally appeared on House & Garden UK.