How to Clean Brass So It Looks Shiny and New

You can make your hardware and antiques sparkle with just a few household ingredients.


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Brass can make a big impact in home decor as a warm-tone metal alternative to chrome and stainless steel finishes. An alloy of copper and zinc, brass has been used for centuries to create hardware for doors, buttons, musical instruments, and decorative objects. However, as much as brass has a timeless place in home interiors, the material itself can get worn down as the years go by.

When uncoated brass comes in contact with oxygen or oils from our skin, it tarnishes. While the tarnish isn't usually corrosive, it darkens and dulls the surface, making the brass look more dated and sometimes dirty. While some may prefer the vintage look of unpolished brass, it's worth knowing how to clean brass so that you can achieve a freshened up look. And the good news is that you probably already have all the products you need to clean brass and make it shine like new.

Considerations Before You Get Started

Before you start cleaning, make sure you know exactly what you're working with. Is your item solid brass or brass-plated? Does the brass have a protective finish like lacquer or polyurethane sealer?

Solid brass withstands years of cleaning and polishing without excessive wear. Not sure if you're dealing with solid brass or not? Hold a magnet to the surface and see what happens. A magnet won't stick to solid brass.

Brass-plated items, on the other hand, have only a thin layer of brass over another, usually less expensive, metal. A magnet test works here, too. If a magnet sticks to the item in question, then the brass is just plating. Use care and a light touch when cleaning brass-plated pieces.

Lacquered or sealed brass should only be dusted or wiped with a damp cloth to prevent damage and chipping to the coating. Damage to the coating will allow oxygen to reach the metal and tarnish to appear.

How Often to Clean Brass

Brass that is handled often is going to tarnish more quickly. To keep brass hardware on doors, cabinets, and sink fixtures shiny, clean and polish them monthly. Decorative objects should be cleaned at least yearly or as tarnish appears. Lacquered brass items only require dusting and gentle wiping with a damp cloth as needed.

What You'll Need

For cleaning brass with a lemon and salt:

  • Liquid dish soap
  • Lemon
  • Table salt
  • Sponge
  • Microfiber cloth

For cleaning brass with baking soda and vinegar:

  • Liquid dish soap
  • Baking soda
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Microfiber cloths
  • Toothbrush

How to Clean Brass With a Lemon and Salt

hands wiping brass candlestick with cloth

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If you've ever polished a copper pot with a lemon dipped in salt, you can do the same with brass. Since brass is an alloy that contains copper, the citric acid in a lemon breaks the bond of the tarnish on the surface of brass while the salt acts as a mild abrasive. You can use a fresh lemon or make a paste with bottled lemon juice.

Step 1: Wash Away Surface Dust and Grime

Submerge the brass item in warm, soapy water (using liquid dish soap) to remove dust and grease. If the piece cannot be submerged, dip a cloth in the soapy water and wipe away loose dirt.

Step 2: Make a Lemon Scrubber

Slice a lemon in half and dip the cut edges in table salt. Rub the salt-coated lemon over the surface of the brass. Reapply salt as needed.

Step 3: Prepare a Lemon Juice Paste

Make a paste with one cup of salt with one-fourth cup of lemon juice. Apply the paste to the brass with a sponge or cloth and let it sit for 30 minutes before scrubbing the item clean with a damp sponge.

Step 4: Rinse and Buff

When the tarnish is gone, rinse the piece thoroughly and buff the brass dry with a lint-free microfiber cloth.

How to Clean Brass With Baking Soda and Vinegar

hand wearing red glove wiping brass faucet

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Step 1: Remove Surface Soil

Submerge the brass item in warm, soapy water (using liquid dish soap) to remove dust and grease. If the piece cannot be submerged, dip a cloth in the soapy water and wipe away loose dirt.

Step 2: Prepare a Baking Soda and Vinegar Paste

Make a paste of one cup of baking soda and one-fourth cup of distilled white vinegar in a bowl large enough to accommodate the fizzing.

Step 3: Cover the Brass With the Paste

When the fizzing stops and the paste settles, spread it onto the brass with a sponge. Allow the paste to remain on the brass for 30 minutes, but no more than one hour.

Step 4: Remove the Tarnish

Use a damp cloth to gently rub away the paste and the tarnish. If the brass has detailed carvings, an old toothbrush works great to get into small crevices and remove the tarnish.

Step 5: Rinse and Buff to a Shine

Thoroughly rinse off the item in warm water and buff it dry with a lint-free microfiber cloth.

If you don't have lemons or vinegar on hand, combine some baking soda with ketchup to make a paste, then follow the cleaning steps above.

How to Keep Brass Clean and Shiny Longer

  • Don't handle brass objects any more than necessary. The oils in your hands cause brass to tarnish.
  • Dust decorative brass pieces regularly to prevent tarnish from pollutants in the air.
  • Prevent spotting and tarnishing of brass kitchenware by drying the items thoroughly after washing.
  • Avoid harsh cleaners like dishwasher detergents or ammonia that can damage the finish.
  • Consider using a polyurethane coating to keep decorative brass finishes free of tarnish after polishing.
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