Clean Brass and Remove Tacky Tarnish

Brass and Remove pops up on everything from lamps and vases to coffee tables and flatware—and while brass is in style, tarnish isn’t. It’s critical to know how to clean brass so it gleams, sans grime.  Brass, like silver, tarnishes because its metal components—copper and zinc—are exposed to oxygen. This is a natural process. The oils in your skin also have an effect on brass, so the more an item is used, the more corrosion or tarnish can occur. Water can also contribute to aging your brass, so you want to make sure you aren’t submerging them into too much water. The more regular upkeep efforts you take, the easier and quicker it’ll be to restore your item. But just remember, aging and natural tarnishing are alright.

How do you clean badly tarnished brass?

Before you roll up your sleeves to clean brass, consider this: Sometimes the beauty of an antique brass object is its tarnish, in which case Sorenson recommends leaving it alone. “Oftentimes it’s best to forgo the polishing process altogether,” he says, noting that polishing antiques could significantly reduce their value. “Too often I see what would be a wonderfully patinated item significantly degraded by a bad decision to restore it to a like-new state.”

If you do want to banish the tarnish on brass, first determine whether it’s lacquered brass or not. The most obvious test is to check for existing tarnish. “The point of lacquer is to prevent tarnishing,” Hartman says. “But if there’s a thin, shiny coating that is coming off in places, then the piece has been lacquered and the only real option is to take it to a metal refinisher.”

What is the best homemade brass cleaner?

Of course, you don’t have to buy your brass polish. You probably have everything you need to make your own brass polish in your kitchen. Your ingredients will be all-natural, but fair warning: Hartman says, “The procedure is the same, but it takes a lot more elbow grease.” Here, four tried-and-true DIY cleaning solutions.

1. Lemon and baking soda polish

Combine the juice of half a lemon with a teaspoon of baking soda and stir until it becomes a paste. Apply the paste with a soft cloth. If the tarnish is heavy, let the piece sit with the paste on it for 30 minutes. Rinse with warm water and dry. Repeat if necessary.

2. Lemon and salt polish

Slice a lemon in half and cover the cut section with a teaspoon of table salt. Rub the lemon on the tarnished piece, squeezing it as you go to release the lemon juice. Rinse with warm water and dry.

3. Flour, salt, and white vinegar

Combine equal parts of all three ingredients to create a paste. Apply a thin layer of that paste to the tarnished brass and leave it for an hour before rinsing with warm water and drying.

4. Ketchup, tomato sauce, or tomato paste

When you wondered how to clean brass, you probably didn’t think ketchup would be involved, but—surprise—it is! Tomatoes contain an acid that helps to remove tarnish on brass and other metals; that’s why applying a tomato-based product can work wonders on brass. Ketchup, tomato paste, and tomato sauce all work equally well. Apply a layer to your brass and leave it on for an hour. Then wash with warm water and dish soap. Let it dry.

If you don’t have time to sit and polish brass, opt for soak, especially when it comes to larger items such as a bowl, candlestick holders, or something with a lot of detail. Combine one part white vinegar with two parts warm water, and let your brass items soak for at least four hours. Use this technique around your house in the same way as you would clean a showerhead, tying a bag filled with the solution. A bath of tomato sauce works equally well on small items like utensils and candlesticks.