What Should I Know About Cleaning Brass?

Mary McMahon

Cleaning brass properly can restore the luster to the metal, bringing back the warm golden color which makes brass so popular for things like door knobs and candlesticks. Improper cleaning can actually increase the tarnish, blackening or discoloring the brass, or it can simply end in a lackluster cleaning result, in which much of the film and tarnish is intact. Fortunately, cleaning brass is not very difficult.

Vinegar may be used for cleaning brass.
Vinegar may be used for cleaning brass.

Before you start cleaning brass, you should confirm that you are really working with brass. True brass is not magnetic, so if you bring a magnet up to a “brass” fixture and the magnet sticks, the metal is not brass, and it will need to be cleaned differently. Once you have determined that you are working with real brass, you should see if you need to remove a film of dust and dirt, or a tarnish in the metal itself.

Rinse off tarnish remover with warm soapy water.
Rinse off tarnish remover with warm soapy water.

Brass is typically lacquered to reduce tarnish, because it tarnishes very easily when exposed to the air. If you just have a film of dirt, wash the brass in mild soapy water, with a few drops of vinegar added for stubborn stains. You can also use rubbing alcohol to polish brass.

If the brass is discolored because of tarnish, you will need to strip the lacquer. Some commercial brass cleaners remove the lacquer, or you can use a varnish remover. Polish the tarnish away with vinegar, salt, or a commercial brass tarnish remover, wash the brass with warm soapy water, and allow it to dry completely before applying a fresh coat of lacquer to prevent tarnish.

Regularly cleaning brass fixtures with a soft cloth is an excellent idea, as it reduces the chances of allowing a film to build up. Regular polishing also allows people to keep an eye out for early signs of tarnish, so that rapid action can be taken to clean up the tarnish and relacquer the brass before it becomes damaged. Commercial brass polishing products can also be periodically applied to polish and buff brass, although these should be used sparingly to prevent the brass from blackening.

There are some special tools which can be used for cleaning brass, such as brass buffers which will penetrate into cracks and crevices of brass fixtures to remove tarnish and cleaning materials. In the case of an especially soiled, tarnished, or complex brass fixture, it may be a good idea to take the brass to a professional for cleaning and relacquering, and to polish it more regularly in the future to prevent a buildup of dirt.

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Discussion Comments


When we were getting ready to move and sorting through all of our stuff, I came across an old brass bugle that belonged to my brother.

This horn had been sitting in a box for years, and I figured it was time to shine it up and display it. This was the first time I had cleaned anything with brass, but it was really easy.

Since this was a small item and there weren't very many small pieces or edges I needed to worry about, it was clean in a short amount of time. I have noticed that I need to do this every 6 months or so to keep it shiny. There are few things more eye catching than a shiny, brass object.


I used to have a brass bed that looked so beautiful when it was clean and shiny. Over time it began to have a dull look to it and you could see fingerprints on it.

Even though it took time to clean each part of the bed, it was worth it when I was done. It always ended up looking like a brand new bed when I was done.

I just used a brass cleaning solution that I bought at the store along with a soft cloth. I never found a short cut when it comes to cleaning brass and had to clean each individual piece.

If you are going to have something that is made of brass, you just know it is going to take regular cleaning to keep it looking like it is supposed to.

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