How to Clean Brass

Jennifer L. Betts
removing tarnish from brass

Knowing how to clean brass can help you restore objects made of the metal in your home and protect them against further dirt. You can clean brass quite easily using products that are most likely already in your pantry. Learn different ways to use household items to clean your brass.

Composition of Brass

Brass is a mixture of copper and another metal, typically zinc. Brass is strong but easily malleable, naturally resistant to corrosion and aesthetically appealing. Brass is slightly reflective and is not magnetic.

Checking Brass Items

If you are unsure whether an item is brass, hold a kitchen magnet up to it; if the magnet does not attach to the object, it is made of brass. An object can be made of pure brass or be brass coated. A solid brass object will be quite heavy. The object's composition will influence your cleaning method.

Checking the Lacquer

Prior to cleaning a lacquered brass item, you should determine if you should first remove the lacquer. Lacquer is a thin, clear coating that is sprayed or painted onto an object to protect it from oxygen, thereby delaying the development of tarnish. Lacquer that is chipped or cracked may need to be removed to make the object look its best.

Removing Lacquer

To remove lacquer, follow these simple steps:

  1. Put the item in a pot of boiling water containing 2-3 teaspoons each of baking soda and washing soda (not detergent).
  2. Let the piece boil for up to a minute.
  3. Remove it from the pot and let cool completely.
  4. The heating process will have caused the metal to slightly swell.
  5. When it cools, the metal will return to its normal size but the lacquer will not, causing them to separate.
  6. Once the item has cooled, you can chip off the lacquer with your fingers.
  7. You will then clean the item as though it is not lacquered.

Cleaning Brass With Soap

If the lacquer does not need to be removed or after you have removed the lacquer, you can wash the item in your sink using tepid water and a gentle liquid soap. Do not use harsh soaps, as these can strip away the top layer of brass and cause the object to lose shape. Apply the soap using a soft toothbrush or cloth. Rub the item until clean, rinse and dry.

How to Clean Brass With Vinegar

If your unlacquered brass is tarnished or needs a bit more cleaning power, you can try using vinegar. There are several homemade brass cleaning solutions. You can either use vinegar and salt to create a scrub for the tarnished brass or you can create a vinegar soak. Ketchup and hot sauce can be used too.

Baking Soda and Vinegar Rub Supplies

For this method of cleaning, you'll need:

  • 1/2 cup of baking soda
  • 1 cup of vinegar
  • Toothbrush or cloth

Directions

After finding the ingredients, you'll want to mix them together to form a paste. They will fizz so don't be alarmed. With your paste and your object, you'll:

  1. Use the toothbrush or the cloth to spread the paste onto the item, rubbing gently.
  2. Let the paste sit for about 20-30 minutes.
  3. Rinse the paste and dry thoroughly. Brass easily develops water spots, so make sure that you dry the piece immediately.

Homemade Brass Polish

A simple homemade polish will also clean brass. For this polish, you'll need:

  • Juice from one lemon, seeds removed from liquid
  • Table salt or baking soda
  • Small bowl

Other homemade brass cleaners use the same ingredients as a base.

Mix the Polish

Now that you have your ingredients, it's time to make your polish.

  1. Place lemon juice in a small bowl.
  2. Add salt or baking soda until a thick paste forms.

Get Polishing

With the polish on hand, it is time to brighten up your brass. To create brass you are proud of, follow these simple steps:

  1. Place a small amount of the paste on a cotton or microfiber cloth.
  2. Wipe the item in circular sweeps, being careful not to press too hard.
  3. Vigorously rubbing a spot may scratch the metal.
  4. When thoroughly polished, rinse the item under room-temperature water and dry immediately.

Adding a Protective Coating

The final step in the cleaning process is to protect the metal against future tarnish. To do so, you can coat the object with olive or lemon oil.

  1. Place a small amount of oil on a cloth.
  2. Rub in a circular motion over the entire piece.

Re-Lacquering the Item

If you are more ambitious, you can lacquer the item. Lacquer is available in a spray can at most home improvement and craft stores. To lacquer the piece, you'll need to:

  1. Place it on a clean piece of paper or a sheet of newspaper.
  2. Spray the item from six to eight inches, or as directed if different, above the object.
  3. Do not touch the item after spraying because the lacquer will retain your fingerprints.
  4. Repeat the process once completely dry; for best results, give the item at least two coats of lacquer.

Getting Your Brass Clean

You can clean your brass objects using ingredients found in your pantry and refrigerator. The entire cleaning process is quite quick, making it a relatively painless, environmentally friendly and stress-free task.

How to Clean Brass