How to Clean Brass and Make it Look Brand New

Brass brings a warm layer of gleam to common household items. Its light golden color elevates the look of furniture and accessories.

Vintage lamps, cabinet pulls, decorative vases, flatware, and coffee tables instantly look posher with a bit of brass. Unfortunately, as time passes, brass loses its beautiful glow and becomes tarnished. Water, oxygen, and other elements can make brass corrode or tarnish.

However, it doesn’t take much to restore its divine brightness. With the right products and know-how, you’ll be able to make your brass pieces look brand new again with our guide on how to clean brass so it sparkles like it did when you first bought it.

Before Cleaning Brass

Before you grab that rag and start buffing away, there are a few things to keep in mind before cleaning brass. You’ll want to make sure that you determine whether you’re working with brass-plated or solid brass material.

There’s a super easy trick to figuring this out. Put a magnet on it. You can grab a refrigerator magnet and it will work. If the magnet does not stick to the surface, it’s brass.

But if your magnet does stick to the surface, that means it’s only brass-plated. A magnet will not stick to solid brass.

2 magnet
Notice how the magnet isn’t drawing in the brass-infused coins. A magnet won’t stick to solid brass. When you put your magnet on your brass item and it doesn’t pull and stick to it, then you know it’s solid brass.

So if you’re dealing with a brass-plated surface, then you can clean it using soap and warm water. Dry it thoroughly. You won’t need to polish it because doing so could scratch off the plating.

That’s why is very important to test the material before you start cleaning anything. Another thing to check is whether or not your piece has been lacquered.

Lacquer prevents tarnishing so if there is tarnish on the brass already, that means it most likely has not been lacquered. If your piece has been lacquered you’ll be able to see shiny, thin coating coming off in some spots.

Many brass objects have a lacquer finish. These pieces should be cleaned with hot, soapy water. But if it is heavily tarnished, you will need to do more than that.

You’ll have to remove the lacquer with a paint or varnish remover. Your next step will be to clean and polish the brass. The last step will be to re-lacquer the piece.

Unfortunately, if you’re not a pro at doing this kind of thing, you might damage your lacquered brass. Your best option may be to leave your lacquered brass in the capable hands of a professional.

What Mistakes You Should Avoid

Once you determine that you have the green light to clean your brass piece, it’s important to make sure you’re setting yourself up for success by avoiding costly mistakes.

Start off by washing your brass item with water and mild soap to knock off dust or other debris before polishing. Also, if you decide to use a commercial cleaner make sure that you use a high-quality one. Use it sparingly.

Commercial brass cleaners are abrasive. If you use them often, you can scratch the surface of the brass. Only use a soft cloth to wipe down the surface.

Don’t use steel wool, abrasive cloths, or metal-bristled brushes on your brass piece because it will scratch the surface. To reach crevices, use a toothbrush to scrub.

3 harsh scrubbers
Don’t use harsh materials like the ones you see pictured here. Stainless steel and wool scrubbers or rough sponges will only scratch your brass item. Use soft, microfiber material cloths instead.

Whether you use a natural or commercial cleaner, always test the cleaning method first in a small area that no one will notice. Avoid the mistake of trying to clean light fixtures, hardware, locks, and hinges.

It’s better to go to a professional for help. You don’t want to mess up wiring. Plus, those types of pieces tend to involve a level of mechanical complexity that your DIY skills may not be able to handle.

Also, if you’re dealing with an expensive item or just one you’re not sure about, don’t hesitate to take it to a professional.

Now that we have the practical stuff out of the way, it’s time to take a look at some of the great brass polishing options on the market. Here are six great ones to get you going.

Brasso 10 Multi-Purpose Metal Polish for Brass

Since 1905, Brasso has been restoring a beautiful shine to hard-to-clean metals such as brass. It is a cleaner, polish, and protection solution in one.

It’s super easy to use so buffing up lackluster brass feels like a walk in the park. Shake the bottle well. Soak a clean cloth with Brasso metal polish cream, and rub it thoroughly onto your brass item.

4 brasso
Creative Commons Shiny by Stewart Black / CC by 2.0

Brasso turns dull pieces of brass like the one you see the man polishing into beautiful gleaming works of art.

Buff it again with a new clean cloth and you’re done. There’s no need to do further washing, rinsing, or polishing.

Bar Keepers Friend Powdered Cleanser

Bar Keepers is a bleach-free product that can easily remove rust, tarnish, mineral deposits, and tough stains from brass surfaces. This cleanser has been reviving dull brass since 1882.

It still delivers premium cleaning power. It can easily remove rust, tarnish, mineral deposits, and tough stains. One active ingredient in Bar Keepers Friend is oxalic acid, an extremely strong chelating agent.

Oxalic acid is a powerful chemical. You wil need to use gloves and avoid getting the cleanser in your mouth or eyes.

Nevr Dull Polish

Nevr-Dull is an extraordinary cleaning wonder that shines all metals with sparkling ease. Each can comes with a generous supply of specially treated cotton wadding cloth to clean your brass item.

This beauty cleans and polishes. Start by using the cloth to clean the brass item. After the wadding turns black, replace it with a fresh piece.

Take a towel and polish it off to avoid a white residue. Make sure you wear gloves. Otherwise, it will dry out your skin.

Cameo Copper, Brass, Porcelain Cleanser

Cameo gets rid of tarnish in seconds. It leaves a like-new shine that is long-lasting and requires less frequent cleaning.

You don’t have to do any hard rubbing. Plus, it leaves no gritty residue behind. This gem can clean and shine your brass items as well as copper pots and pans.

5 lady cleaning
Creative Common by Nettoyage au Brasso by Jean-François Renaud  / CC by 2.0

Get the most out of your brass cleaning session by taking your time like this woman. She has her brass items out and is focused just on cleaning. Notice the soft cloth she’s using too. This woman knows what she’s doing. She’s working that polish into the brass and you can bet that when she’s done, those items will look brand new.

W. J. Hagerty 100 All Metal Polish

W.J. Hagerty’s polish works wonders. It knocks out tarnish, dirt, corrosion, rust, lime, and water stains from brass, aluminum, copper, and chrome.

Plus, it helps provide a bright finish on your metal surfaces. The super-concentrated cream formula contains R-22, Hagerty’s patented tarnish-preventative. It also has corrosion inhibitors for added protection.

Blitz Brass Shine Metal Polish

Blitz’s brass shine polish cleans and restores your brass pieces to their original brilliance. It’s a non-toxic and environmentally friendly product.

It contains no alcohol, ammonia, acids, V.O.C., or abrasives. However, if you’d prefer to use all-natural products from your pantry you can go the DIY route.

How to Clean Brass Naturally

Cleaning brass the natural way is easy if the tarnish isn’t bad. If it’s light, then using a soft microfiber cloth to clean the brass with warm, soapy water can do the trick.

You’ll need to cover the surface thoroughly, using a clean toothbrush to get into the nooks and crannies. Afterward, you must rinse your item using warm water.

Dry it thoroughly and you’re done. But when you’re faced with a tougher cleaning job, you’ll have to step it up a notch.

Baking Soda and Lemon Polish

Mix a teaspoon of baking soda with the juice of half a lemon. Stir the ingredients so it forms a paste. Next, apply the paste to the brass piece with a soft cloth.

6 baking soda
Don’t be skimpy with your baking powder. You want to get a full teaspoon. Make sure it’s a heaping spoonful like the one you see in the picture above. Creative Commons by Close-up Of Baking Soda On Spoon by Aqua Mechanical / CC by 2.0

You may need to let the paste sit on the item for about thirty minutes if it’s heavily tarnished. Rinse the paste off with warm water and let the piece dry. Repeat these steps again if it’s necessary.

Lemon and Salt Polish

Cut a lemon in half. Remove the seeds. Sprinkle salt on top. Run the salted lemon over the tarnished brass. Squeeze it to get the juices flowing.

Add more salt as needed to the cut lemon. Rinse the item with warm water. Wipe it down with a soft cloth. This is a good time to buff the brass and make it sparkle.

Salt and Vinegar Polish

Make tough stains disappear with the combined power of salt’s abrasiveness and vinegar’s acidic property.  Mix one teaspoon of salt with a half cup of vinegar.

You want to stir the mixture until the salt dissolves. Add roughly two tablespoons of flour to thicken your mixture so that it forms a paste.

Next, rub the paste onto your brass item. Let it dry for fifteen minutes. When the time is up, rinse the paste off and wipe the brass clean. Use a clean, soft cloth to thoroughly dry your brass item.

Tomato-Based Polish

Tomatoes have an acid that helps to get rid of dirt and tarnish on brass. Using a tomato-based product can transform your dull brass into a gleaming thing of beauty.

7 tomato

Tomato based products are perfect for removing tarnished spots on brass. You can use a crushed tomato product like the one you see pictured. Or you can use tomato paste, juice, or ketchup. They all work equally well. Creative Commons by top view of chopped tomatoes sauce in a bowl by Marco Verch Professional / CC by 2.0

Tomato juice, paste, and sauce all work well. So does ketchup. Apply a thin coat to your brass with a soft cloth and leave it on for an hour.

Then clean with warm, soapy water. Dry the item with a clean cloth.

Don’t feel like applying coats of ketchup to your brass item? Soak it in a bowl of tomato juice for a few minutes – longer if they’re quite dirty. Rise with warm, soapy water, and dry thoroughly.

Toothpaste Polish

Grab a tube of plain, white toothpaste and apply a thin layer to your brass object. You’ll need to use a bit of elbow grease for those tough spots.

You may also need to add extra dabs of toothpaste to stubborn areas. Let it sit for a few minutes.

Next, polish your piece with a soft, clean cloth. When the gleam starts coming back to your liking, rinse your piece with cool water. Dry it with a microfiber cloth.

Tips to Keep Brass Looking Brand New

To nip future tarnishing in the bud, apply a thin coating of linseed oil or mineral oil to clean brass with a soft towel. Using a soft cloth is essential to prevent scratches on the surface when cleaning or polishing.

Keep your hands off the brass piece since your skin’s oils can contribute to tarnishing. Wear gloves to regularly clean and polish your brass piece.

You can get rid of any discoloration by applying polish with a soft cleaning cloth or an old soft undershirt. This will also help keep dirt and dust away so your beautiful brass piece can shine in all its lovely brilliance. Routine upkeep will help your brass keep its beautiful gleam for years to come.

clean brass