cleaning brass

Gloved hand cleaning brass with a cotton swab.

Cleaning brass at home doesn't have to mean bringing in the harsh chemicals.

This lovely golden alloy of copper and zinc has built-in germicidal and antimicrobial benefits that scientists credit to its copper component.

So it naturally resists germs. (Now if it only resisted tarnish, too...)

To make up for what chemical nature didn't provide, these tips for cleaning brass can bring back the sassy shine you love.

Give Brass The Spa Revival Treatment

Let's start by giving your brass pieces a spa treatment - one that begins with an (acidic) bath soak and ends with a soft cloth polishing. It's one of the best ways to clean brass.

Start by putting as many brass pieces as you can fit into a pot, pan or plastic container (or all three) for cleaning. Fill to the brim with Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce or ketchup until the pieces are submerged.

If you don't have these ingredients in abundance, use vinegar or lemon juice, both of which also have the acidity to remove oxidation (tarnish) and hardened polish. Soak at least two hours to overnight for stubborn pieces.

Next, give surface designs, legs, and rims a good cleaning with soapy water and a soft fingernail brush or toothbrush under cold running water.

Remove from water and dry with a soft cloth to prevent scratching. Finish by rubbing a cloth moistened with olive oil to minimize new tarnish and buildup.

When it comes to commercially-available brass cleaners, one of the best I've found is Weiman Brass Polish. It effectively removes tarnish without scratching, and is ideal for fine, unlacquered brass items like candlesticks, rails, and fixtures.

Cleaning Brass with Vinegar and Salt

Many people mistakenly believe that the more polish slathered on brass and other metal, the better protected they will be.

One of the best ways to clean blass of heavy polish buildup - without removing the surface itself - begins with filling a bucket about half full with warm water. 

Squirt in some hand dish-washing liquid and mix to form soapy suds. Dampen a soft sponge in your mixture of choice, then press it to the brass for several seconds before you begin rubbing. 

The pause allows the cleaner to loosen the buildup, making it easier to remove — sponge-rinse and clean brass.

Next, attack any remaining caked-on crud. Dampen your sponge (or a cotton swab) in hot vinegar (wear gloves to protect your hands), then dip it in a bowl of coarse salt. Rub it on your brass.

It could take a few times, so be patient and keep at it until the brass looks its very best. Remove from water dry with a polishing cloth. For clean brass and less polishing in the future, apply several coats of car wax.

Finally, if your brass still looks weathered after all this, chances are your lacquer finish has been eroded over the years.

If so, you'll need to remove all the lacquer finish and restore the finish with a specialty cleaner such as 3M Marine Metal Restorer and Polish, Never-Dull, or Brasso Multi-Purpose Metal Polish. Or, it's time to find a replacement.

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