How to Clean Brass and Keep it Shiny

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Here are the easiest ways to clean brass accents in your home and restore their shine. You already have the tools and equipment to get it done today.

The warm gleam of brass objects adds a lovely look to your home, but over time brass develops tarnish that dulls the glow. Many people enjoy the look that an aged patina gives to old brass. But, if you’d like to get your brass clean and shiny again, you only need a few kitchen ingredients and elbow grease.

How to Clean Brass and Get Rid of Tarnish

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

Make Sure it is Real Brass

Before you begin, make sure what you’re working with actually solid brass. All you need to check is a refrigerator magnet. Magnets don’t stick to brass. If the magnet falls off, it’s some other kind of metal with brass-plating.

You can still try the methods below on brass-plated metals, but you should spot test to make sure they won’t damage the finish. And, as always, if it’s valuable or an heirloom, take it to a professional.

The Easiest Way to Clean Brass

Follow these steps to remove dust, grime, and grease from your home’s decorative brass items.
Print
10 mins
Total Time10 mins

Equipment

  • Several soft cloths
  • An empty sink or large bowl
  • A soft toothbrush

Materials

  • Water
  • Liquid dish soap
  • Plain white toothpaste

Instructions

  • Fill the sink or bowl with hot water and add a few drops of dish soap. Swirl to combine.
  • Wash solid brass items directly in the soapy water. If the item has openings that would let water in, dip a cloth into the soapy water and use it to clean the brass instead.
  • Use the toothbrush and a small amount of toothpaste to clean grimy grooves or embellishments. Don't scrub too hard, especially if the item is lacquered, or you may damage the finish.
  • Rinse away all the soap and toothpaste then use a clean, dry cloth to pat the item dry. Then, spot-treat any remaining grime using the homemade brass cleaners below.

Many times, a good, gentle wash is all you need to get brass clean again. If you still see tarnish, the simple household ingredients below will do the trick.

Homemade Brass Cleaners

The tarnish on brass is a reaction to oxygen exposure. That’s right, plain air tarnishes brass. Mild oxidation happens on the surface. So, an easy way to get rid of tarnish on brass is with household ingredients that dissolve the bond between them. You can use one or all of these as needed, but let one homemade brass cleaner do its work before trying the next one.

1. Tomato Ketchup (or Sauce)

Tomatoes are mildly acidic. Tomato ketchup contains vinegar, which is also acidic. You can put these acids to work to get rid of tarnish on brass. Just slather the item with ketchup and wait an hour, then rinse with warm water and pat dry. Tomato juice or sauce can work, too, but they don’t have the vinegar that ketchup does.

Clean brass bathroom sink faucet with a lacquered brass candlestick sitting nearby

2. Lemon and Salt

Like the tomatoes in the homemade brass cleaner above, lemons are also acidic. To get rid of tarnish on brass door kickplates or other things you can’t remove, reach for a lemon and some table salt.

All you need to do is slice the lemon in half and dip the cut side into the salt. Use the salty end to clean the tarnish, but take care not to scrub too hard. Brass is a softer metal, and you don’t want to scratch the surface.

Dip the lemon back into the salt as needed and squeeze as necessary to get more lemon juice. To remove stubborn tarnish, leave the mixture in place for 10 minutes. Finish by wiping the item with a clean, damp cloth and buff dry. (Related: 22 Surprising Uses For Lemons)

3. Vinegar + Flour + Salt

To remove heavy tarnish on brass, you’ll need a mixture that can stay in place while it works. For this homemade brass tarnish remover, grab some white vinegar, flour, and salt.

Stir together equal parts of each until you’ve made a damp paste that’s not runny. Use a soft cloth to apply this to your 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. (Related: 7 Smart Ways to Use Vinegar in Your Laundry.)

Clean and shiny brass knocker on a red front door

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.

Use Oil on Unlacquered Brass

For unlacquered brass, you only need to rub on a light layer of oil. Linseed or mineral oil both work well to prevent tarnishing. 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.

Refinishing Lacquered Brass

If your lacquered brass accents are showing signs of tarnish, you need to refinish it. Surface flakes or bubbles are other signs that you need to remove the lacquer and apply a new coat.

Fortunately, it’s not hard to get that old, peeling coating off of brass. All you need to do is 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. Then wash it well and pat it dry.

If you want to apply a high gloss shine, use a polyurethane spray lacquer that you can easily remove and reapply as needed. Or, if you prefer a subtle gleam and less upkeep, rub on linseed oil or a commercial brass polish to protect it from oxidation.

No matter the finish, you can clean your brass as needed. Don’t delay in removing tarnish from brass or refinishing lacquered brass objects, though. If neglected for too long, you may wind up with tarnish that homemade ingredients can’t remove. Then you’ll need to take your brass to a professional metal cleaner and be prepared for that expense.

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