Do you own an antique item made from brass that desperately needs cleaning? Have you wondered what the best way to clean it without damaging it is? Are you looking for cheap, easy ways to clean your brass item at home?
Antique items can be delicate, so it is important to treat them carefully and ensure that any cleaning is done gently. There are several inexpensive ways to clean antique brass at home with minimum effort using common household products or store-bought cleaners.
This article should teach you how you can achieve this without causing any damage to your precious antique item.
Inspecting the Brass
The first step when you are about to clean the item is to inspect it closely. You need to figure out whether the object is solid brass or has been brass plated, and whether or not it has been lacquered.
How to Determine Whether Brass Has Been Lacquered
Lacquered brass can be identified thanks to the clear layer on the surface of it. Lacquered brass doesn’t tarnish unless some form of damage has been done to it, such as a crack appearing after it has been dropped.
The purpose of putting a lacquered layer on brass objects is to protect it from damaging elements in the atmosphere. It also helps it retain the bright shine that is characteristic of the metal.
If your antique item is made of lacquered brass, it is unlikely that it will need to be cleaned with chemical or homemade products.
Blog site TBKS recommends a quick rub with a clean, soft cloth to dust and washing it gently with warm soapy water if it starts to look dirty. Otherwise, take the item to a professional to be cleaned.
How to Spot the Difference Between Solid Brass and Brass Plated
It can be difficult to know by sight whether an object is made of solid brass or is just brass plated. Both look the same, but brass plates are thinner and usually cover a different metal such as iron or steel.
According to Love to Know Antiques, a sure-fire way to test if your item is solid brass or brass plated is to hold magnet sticks against it. Brass has no magnetic field at all, so if the item is solid brass, the magnet will not stick to its surface.
If it is brass plated, the likelihood is that the metal beneath is magnetic, so the magnet will stick to the object. Brass plated objects can easily be cleaned with simple soap and water, as polishing would damage it.
On rare occasions, a brass plated item can be primarily made of zinc or copper, which are also not magnetic. You will only really know whether this is the case with your antique item after cleaning it several times, as the colour of the zinc will begin to show through.
A video showing the difference can be found here, thanks to the YouTube channel Mimsy & Company.
Solid brass objects can be cleaned using different methods provided they do not have a coat of lacquer, and I will explore both natural and chemical methods.
How to Clean Antique Brass in Natural Ways
Many people favour natural methods to clean vintage and antique brass items because they are less likely to accidentally cause damage. There are several ways to clean brass that use common household products.
Today, I will discuss five different methods, taking inspiration from the list compiled by Architectural Digest:
How to Clean Brass Using Ketchup
The first product we will look at is ketchup. This may seem odd, as ketchup isn’t exactly known for its cleaning properties, however it is the main ingredient in the sauce that provide an instant shine to brass products.
Tomatoes contain a specific acid that has been found to remove tarnish from metal surfaces. The method works equally as well when using tomato paste or tomato sauce in place of ketchup.
Follow the steps below to successfully create a ketchup-based polish:
- Get the ketchup and shake the bottle well
- Apply a layer of sauce over the tarnished metal
- Leave to soak for around an hour
- Wash the sauce off with warm water and mild dish soap using a soft rag
- Dry the object
Once you have completed the process, you should have a piece of shiny, tarnish-free brass.
How to Clean Brass Using Lemon
The second product that can be used are lemons. Again, lemons contain acid that clean tarnished metals, and you can craft your own homemade polish using them alongside ordinary table salt or baking soda.
Instructions for the lemon and salt method:
- Take a lemon and slice it in half
- Measure out a teaspoon of table salt and sprinkle it all over the lemon
- Rub the salted lemon over the tarnished brass, squeezing it lightly to release the juice
- Once you are satisfied that the brass is shiny once again, wash the juice off with a soft cloth soaked in warm water and dry it
Instructions for the lemon and baking soda method:
- Slice a lemon in half and squeeze the juice out into a glass, straining it through a sieve to remove seeds
- Add a teaspoon of baking soda to the lemon juice
- Stir the mixture until it resembles a paste
- Paint the paste over the tarnished brass and leave for half an hour
- Once the time has elapsed, clean the paste off with a soft cloth and water
- Dry the object, and you will see that the tarnish marks have gone
How to Clean Brass Using Vinegar
The next product we will discuss is vinegar. There are several types of vinegar, but white vinegar has been found to remove tarnishing best. White vinegar can also act as a general household cleaning agent when mixed with water.
To clean a tarnished piece of antique brass, you must mix white vinegar with flour and table salt. Instructions on this method can be found below:
- Gather the above ingredients and measure out an equal amount of each – for easier measurements, use a teaspoon or tablespoon
- Mix them together in a small bowl until they have formed a paste
- Place a layer of paste over the brass and leave for an hour
- Rinse the paste away with warm water and dry with a clean, soft cloth
How to Clean Brass Using Toothpaste
The final natural household product that can be used to clean brass is toothpaste. It is a non-toxic product regularly used and consumed in small doses and all households have toothpaste handy.
To use the toothpaste method:
- Take your toothpaste and squeeze out a small amount onto an old toothbrush, a clean cloth, or some paper towels
- Rub the toothpaste gently over the tarnished brass
- Let it sit for a few minutes
- Wipe it off with cold water on a damp cloth
- Dry the object
Store-bought cleaning agents are also a common method used to clean tarnished brass. The cleaning agents are usually a form of brass polish made with special chemicals that are designed to remove the dirt without damaging the metal’s surface.
Popular branded cleaners include Wright’s Brass Polish and Brasso, both of which are household names, and instructions on how to use them effectively can be found below:
- Clean the item with mild soap and a microfibre cloth before you apply any product to remove any dirt, and dry
- Put a small amount of polish on a clean, soft cloth
- Rub the cloth gently over the brass, making sure that you are evenly distributing the polish whilst targeting the worst-affected area
- Keep going until the brass looks clean
- To make it shiny again, use a section of the cloth that has no polish on and rub it over the item until it gleams
How to Prevent Tarnishing
To avoid the need to clean your antique brass object frequently, you can put measures in place that prevent tarnishing from happening. Hunker explains that tarnishing is caused by exposure to oxygen, so the only way to prevent it is by applying a lacquer.
This lacquer can be a simple layer of clear sealant made from polyurethane that protects the metal without affecting the colour of it.
To conclude, there are several ways you can clean antique brass at home:
- Check the type of brass you have before cleaning it
- For solid brass, use a store-bought cleaner and follow the instructions above
- Again, for solid brass, use toothpaste, lemon juice, white vinegar, or ketchup
- For brass-plated objects, use mild dish soap and warm water, along with a soft, clean cloth
- Take lacquered brass items to a professional to clean them, or simply dust it or use warm soapy water and a cloth.
We hope you have enjoyed this article and that you have learnt how to successfully clean your antique brass. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them in the box below and we will get back to you as soon as we can.