How To Clean Tarnished Brass

Most of us have some brass pieces in and around our homes, such as cabinet hardware, door hinges, bath faucets, furniture, and decorative curios. Brass, which is a combination of copper and zinc, is highly prized for its durability, corrosion-resistance, and good looks. Over time, however, tarnish can take over, dulling the appearance of your brass pieces.

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It's possible to restore tarnished brass to like-new condition, but you have to keep a couple of things in mind. For starters, you'll want to be careful not to use coarse abrasives or harsh chemicals that can cause damage to the metal. Then, determine if the piece is solid brass or just brass plated. Take a magnet and place it against the brass. If the magnet does not stick, then it's solid brass. If it does stick to the piece, then it's plated. Brass-plated pieces can be cleaned by simply scrubbing with hot, soapy water. Remember not to use anything too abrasive or you'll risk scrubbing away the plating.

How To Clean Tarnished Brass

⚠️ Don’t use a wire brush, metal knife, or anything else that might scratch the brass.

Remove the Lacquer

Many solid-brass pieces are protected by a factory applied coating of lacquer. To clean away the tarnish, you must first strip off the lacquer. You could use acetone or lacquer remover, but try this first: submerge the brass piece in very hot water for about five minutes. Then, remove it from the water and wait for it cool. The heating/cooling cycle causes the brass to expand, and then contract, which breaks the bond between the brass and the lacquer. Now, try scraping or peeling off the lacquer with a plastic putty knife or your fingernail.

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Soak the Tarnished Brass

If the hot-water bath doesn't loosen the lacquer, scrub it off with a cloth dampened with acetone or lacquer remover. After removing the lacquer, clean the brass piece by soaking it in hot, soapy water. Use an old toothbrush to remove any caked on dirt or dust. Rinse the piece well and then dry it with a clean cloth. It's now ready for tarnish removal and polishing.

Rub the Tarnish off to Reveal Shiny Brass

To clean away the tarnish, make this safe, nontoxic cleaning solution: squeeze the juice of one lemon into a small bowl. Then, add two teaspoons of baking soda and mix to form a thick poultice. Use a super-soft micro-fiber cloth to rub the cleaning solution onto the tarnished brass piece. Force the solution into small spaces, holes, and crevices with a cotton swab or your fingertips.

Wait about ten minutes, then rinse and dry the piece. If there's still some residual tarnish, repeat the poultice treatment. Once all the tarnish is gone, apply a light coating of mineral oil to the brass and then buff it with a clean micro-fiber cloth until it shines. And to deter the brass from tarnishing again, repeat the oil and buffing process every six months.

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