Brass pops up on everything from lamps and vases to coffee tables and flatware—and while brass is in style, tarnish isn’t. It’s critical to know how to clean brass so you can keep all your brass items gleaming. We turned to the experts to get their best tips on caring for brass: Teri Hartman, manager of Liz’s Antique Hardware in Los Angeles, and Carl Sorenson, founder of Nanz, a New York company that produces custom-made solid-brass hardware. Here, they reveal their favourite brass cleaners, how to make a DIY brass polish, and other key insights on cleaning brass. Whether you’ve picked up a vintage lamp or just replaced your cabinet pulls, here’s how to make your brass items look their best.
1. Determine whether the brass has been lacquered
There’s a surprisingly easy way to determine the lacquer-related status of your brass: If there is already tarnish on the brass, it probably has not been lacquered. “Chances are it hasn’t, because the point of lacquer is to prevent tarnishing,” says Hartman. “But if there’s a thin, shiny coating that is coming off in places, then the piece has been lacquered and the only real option is to take it to a metal refinisher.”
2. Determine if the object is brass or brass-plated
The way to know whether or not something is fully brass is simple: Place a magnet on it. If it doesn’t stick, it’s brass. If it does stick, it’s only brass-plated—and if the object is just brass-plated, all you actually need to clean it is warm water and soap. Polishing isn’t necessary on objects that are only brass-plated, and, in fact, it could actually scratch the plating off. That’s why it’s important to identify whether or not the brass is just a plating before you embark on any brass cleaning project.
3. Polish the brass regularly
To remove discoloration, use a polish designed specifically for brass. Apply it according to the instructions on the bottle using a soft cleaning cloth (Sorenson prefers a knit-cotton material, like that of an undershirt). Though Hartman rubs in polish with very fine steel wool, she warns that you should never use any steel wool that’s thicker than grade 00, to avoid scratching the surface. And before you get started on polishing, always wash the brass before polishing it. All you need is warm water and mild dish soap. Use a soft, damp cloth to apply the soapy water, and clean it until all debris, dust, and dirt are gone.
4. Choose a tried-and-true brass cleaner
There are plenty of store-bought brass cleaners that you can use. Here's a list of what Sorenson and Hartman consider the best brass cleaners.
Bar Keepers Friend
Twinkle Brass & Copper Cleaning Kit
Wright's Brass Polish
5. Or, Make a natural, DIY brass polish at home
Of course, you don’t have to buy your brass polish. You probably have everything you need to make your own brass polish in your kitchen. Your ingredients will be all-natural, but fair warning: Hartman says, “The procedure is the same, but it takes a lot more elbow grease.”
Lemon and Baking Soda Polish
Combine the juice of half a lemon with a teaspoon of baking soda and stir until it becomes a paste. Apply the paste with a soft cloth. If the tarnish is heavy, let the piece sit with the paste on it for 30 minutes. Rinse with warm water and dry. Repeat if necessary.
Lemon and Salt Polish
Slice a lemon in half and cover the cut section with a teaspoon of table salt. Rub the lemon on the tarnished piece, squeezing it as you go to release the lemon juice. Rinse with warm water and dry.
Flour, Salt, and White Vinegar
Combine equal parts of all three ingredients to create a paste. Apply a thin layer of that paste to the tarnished brass and leave it for an hour before rinsing with warm water and drying.
Ketchup, Tomato Sauce, or Tomato Paste
When you wondered how to clean brass, you probably didn’t think ketchup would be involved, but—surprise—it is! Tomatoes contain an acid that helps to remove tarnish on brass and other metals; that’s why applying a tomato-based product can work wonders on your brass. Ketchup, tomato paste, and tomato sauce all work equally well. Apply a layer to your brass and leave it on for an hour. Then wash with warm water and dish soap. Let it dry.
6. Enlist an expert for certain items
For functional elements, such as locks, hinges, hardware, or light fixtures, Sorenson suggests seeking the help of a professional. “Wiring, mechanical complexity, and lubricating requirements generally turn these types of projects into more than simple DIY chores,” he says.
7. Consider letting the brass age gracefully, and not polishing it at all
Sometimes the beauty of an antique brass object is its tarnish, in which case Sorenson recommends leaving it alone. “Oftentimes it’s best to forgo the polishing process altogether,” he says, noting that polishing antiques could significantly reduce their value. “Too often I see what would be a wonderfully patinated item significantly degraded by a bad decision to restore it to a like-new state.”
Feature Image: Pexels
This article was originally published on AD CLEVER