How to Clean Antique Brass and Preserve Its Beauty

Published September 1, 2020
Woman Cleaning a Brass Candlestick Holder At Home

Whether you have a brass bed or a pair of candlesticks, knowing how to clean antique brass is an important skill. The process will vary depending how whether the brass has been lacquered and the condition of the item you're cleaning.

Decide if the Antique Brass Is Lacquered

Many antique brass items are lacquered to prevent tarnishing. Lacquer is a clear coat that covers the metal surface and keeps it out of contact from the air, skin oils, moisture, and other sources of tarnish. It's easy to tell whether a piece has lacquer, since lacquered brass does not display tarnish. It may still get dirty and fingerprinted, however, and cleaning can dramatically improve its appearance. These tips will help:

Don't Use Abrasives to Clean Lacquered Brass

If a piece has been lacquered, you should not polish it with an abrasive cleaner. Abrasives and strong chemicals can damage or remove the lacquer, leading to more trouble.

Do Use Warm Water and Mild Soap

Find a soft cotton cloth, some warm water, and a mild dish soap like Dawn. Gently clean the antique brass with soapy water and wipe clean with a wet cloth. Don't submerge lacquered antique brass unless absolutely necessary. Dry with a soft cloth.

Antique Brass Door Knob

Leave Damaged Lacquer to the Professionals

If the antique brass shows lacquer that is peeling or chipping off and revealing the metal beneath, don't try to clean this yourself or remove the remaining. Look for a local professional who specializes in vintage and antique brass restoration.

Determine Whether It's Brass Plated

Many antique brass items are crafted from solid brass, but there are also a lot of pieces wrapped in a thin layer of brass or plated with brass over another, less expensive metal. If the item is not solid brass, you'll need to clean it more gently to avoid removing too much of the surface metal and causing permanent damage. Learn how to identify antique brass.

Use an Easy Test for Solid Brass

It's easy to find out if your item is solid brass. Simply grab a magnet and see if it sticks to the piece. If it doesn't stick, the item is solid brass. If it does stick, the magnet is attracted to the base metal below the thin brass surface.

Clean Brass Plated Items With Mild Soap and Water

Cleaning antique brass that has been plated is mostly a matter of removing surface grime and lightly polishing. First, use mild dish soap and warm water to remove dirt and oil. Never submerge the item unless it's the only way to clean it. Then dry the piece with a soft cloth.

Polish Plated Brass Very Gently

Plated brass has only a thin layer of metal, so every time you polish it, you cause damage by removing a little of that plating. Try to polish as infrequently as possible. However, if you need to polish plated brass, use the smallest amount of brass polish you can. Brasso is a good option, but keep the polishing minimal. Avoid rubbing hard or going over the same spot for a long time.

How to Clean Antique Brass With Store-Bought Polish

Store-bought brass cleaning solutions like Brasso or Wright's Brass Polish are specially designed for brass and works quickly to minimize the amount of effort you need to put into scrubbing. They also help you avoid scratching your antique brass. These cleaners are a good choice if you have a big project like a brass bed. The main disadvantage is the chemical nature of this type of polish. Fumes are harmful, so you should always work with good ventilation. In addition to the polish, you'll need soft cotton cloths.

  1. Examine the item first to see if there's actual dirt and grime that needs to be cleaned. If so, wipe this away with a mild soap solution and thoroughly dry the piece.
  2. Pour a small amount of brass polish on a soft cloth.
  3. Wipe the cloth with the polish over the surface of the brass, depositing the polish as you go. Then go back over the surface, lightly rubbing the polish into the brass in the direction of previous polishing. You'll see very fine lines to show you how it was polished in the past.
  4. Continue rubbing until the brass begins to look clean. It won't be shiny yet.
  5. Find a new section of the cloth that is clean and polish-free. Rub the polish off with this part of the cloth, changing to a new section when it gets dirty.
  6. Continue until you have cleaned the entire brass item.

How to Clean Antique Brass With Natural Methods

You can also use natural products to clean antique brass. You probably already have everything you need to make a DIY brass cleaner around your home. These products are easier on the environment, but they may not work quite as well. It's also important to test these products in a hidden spot on your antique brass. Some may cause damage to fragile surfaces, so if you suspect your brass is valuable, proceed with caution.

Tomato Paste

Because tomatoes contain an acid that destroys brass tarnish, they are a tried-and-true natural method for cleaning brass. You can use ketchup or tomato sauce, but tomato paste offers the most concentrated option. Simply smear the paste on the tarnished brass and leave it for 60 minutes. Then wash it off with warm water and mild soap. Buff dry with a soft cloth.

Baking Soda and Lemon

Cleaning with baking soda is a good alternative. Mix three tablespoons of lemon juice with two teaspoons of baking soda and stir to create a paste. Using a soft cloth, rub the paste on the brass item, allowing it to sit for up to 30 minutes if the piece is very tarnished. Because baking soda can be very abrasive, avoid scrubbing. Simply wash off with gently soap and water and buff dry with a clean, soft cloth. You can make more of this recipe for larger brass items.

Baking soda, lemon, sponge and towel for cleaning

Vinegar, Salt, and Flour

You can also clean with vinegar, which is acidic enough to destroy the tarnish. Add equal amounts of salt, vinegar, and flour to a dish and stir to combine. Apply the paste to the brass, leaving it on for an hour. Then wash it off with mild soap and water and buff dry to polish.

Keeping Your Antique Brass Looking Bright

From antique metal bed frames to decorative items and brass doorknobs, you can keep the item looking great by keeping it clean. Regularly wipe away fingerprints and oil from any brass item using a soft cloth, and keep grime away with a little mild soap. Keeping it clean means less work for you later in terms of polishing, and your antique brass will look great for years to come.

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How to Clean Antique Brass and Preserve Its Beauty