How to Clean Brass and Keep it Shiny

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Soap and water remove light tarnish from brass. For heavier discoloration, reach for pantry ingredients like vinegar, ketchup, flour, or salt.

How to clean brass like this planter holding a small Christmas cactus in bloom

The tarnish on brass is a surface reaction to oxygen exposure. So, an easy way to remove tarnish is by using household ingredients that dissolve that bond. Use whatever of these methods is most convenient. Once you’ve cleaned your brass item, you can polish or lacquer it to slow or even stop it from tarnishing.

Steps to Clean Brass

If you’re not sure what you’re cleaning is brass, test it with a magnet. If the magnet sticks, it’s some other kind of metal. If the magnet falls, it’s real brass and you can safely proceed with the steps below.

  1. To clean brass, first use a microfiber cloth and warm, soapy water to remove dirt and oils, then rinse and pat it dry.
  2. Use an old toothbrush dipped in baking soda or Bar Keeper’s Friend (BKF) to remove stubborn grime. Toothpaste (not the whitening kind) can also work.
  3. Once the detailed areas are clean, rinse the item thoroughly and pat it dry with a clean cloth.
  4. To clean badly tarnished brass items, use one of the methods below.

Household Ingredients that Remove Tarnish

You can clean most tarnished brass items at home using pantry ingredients. If you see significant corrosion or the item you’re cleaning is an antique, take it to a professional metal cleaner instead.

Tomato Ketchup (or Sauce)

The acetic and citric acids in tomato ketchup make it an excellent natural brass tarnish remover. First, put the tarnished piece in a bowl and slather it with ketchup, then leave it soaking for an hour. Next, use an old toothbrush to dislodge loosened tarnish. Finally, rinse with warm water and pat dry. Tomato sauce, paste, or juice can work, too, but they lack the vinegar that ketchup contains, so they won’t work as dramatically.

Lemon and Salt

Lemons also contain citric acid. To get rid of tarnish on brass door kickplates or other things you can’t remove, use a lemon and some table salt. First, slice the lemon in half and squeeze the lemon juice from one half all over the tarnished brass piece. Wait 10 minutes. Then, dip the other half of the lemon into a teaspoon of table salt and use this to lightly rub away loosened tarnish. Avoid scrubbing roughly, since brass is a softer metal that easily scratches. Finally, rinse the item thoroughly and pat it dry.

Vinegar + Flour + Salt

To remove heavy tarnish on brass hardware or vertical surfaces, you need a mixture that can stay in place while it works. For this, combine equal parts white vinegar, flour, and salt to make a damp paste that’s not runny. Use a soft cloth to apply the mixture to tarnished brass and let it sit for 30 minutes. Grab a fresh, damp cloth and wipe away the paste, then rinse the item and buff it dry.

How Often to Clean Brass

Dust your brass items regularly. For brass jewelry, wipe it after each wearing with a warm, damp cloth then buff it dry. Clean brass items with soap and water as soon as you see signs of tarnish, then apply a layer of linseed oil or use a product like Brasso to prevent oxidation. If neglected for too long, tarnish can become corrosion that requires the attention of a professional metal cleaner.

How to Keep Brass Shiny

Regular cleaning removes dust and grime from brass and leaves a mellow gleam. If you like your brass shiny, you’ll want to polish and maybe refinish it, too.

• For unlacquered brass, rub on a light layer of linseed or mineral oil. WD-40 can work, too. Pour or spray a small amount on a soft, dry cloth and wipe an even, light coat onto the brass items.

• To revive an old lacquered brass piece, you’ll need to refinish it. First, dunk it in pure acetone for a few minutes. Then rub it with a #000 steel wool pad to get rid of every bit of lacquer. Wash it well and pat it dry. Next, seal it with polyurethane spray lacquer following the manufacturer’s instructions. Remove and refinish the lacquer any time you see signs of flaking or bubbling.


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