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How to Clean Brass So It Shines Like New

bathroom with brass accents

Brexton Cole Interiors

Classically trendy brass can give any space an elegant, old world vibe, so it's no surprise it's such a favorite for drawer pulls, door knobs, and other accessories. But the beauty of brass is matched by its reputation of being especially persnickety to clean.

However, cleaning brass isn't really that difficult. Yes, it needs a little extra TLC, but cleaning your brass is an easy (if involved) task, made possible with the help of elbow grease and pantry staples you probably already have. Keep reading to learn about how often you should clean your brass, the different ways to clean it, and how to keep brass clean longer.

bathroom with brass hardware

Cathie Hong Interiors

How Often Should You Clean Brass?

Over time, dirt and grease can dull brass and cause it to lose its luster. It may start to look darker, tarnished, and grimy. This can happen faster depending on how exposed your brass is or how often it's used.

Once you've noticed that your brass hardware has lost its shine, it's time to clean it. However, if you're trying to develop a patina on your brass, stay away from an abrasive cleaning paste and instead use a damp cloth.

Things You'll Need

You probably already have all the things you'll need to clean brass. All you'll need to get your brass in tip-top shape again are a few pantry staples (and some elbow grease). Here's what you should gather up before you begin:

  • Small bowl
  • Gloves
  • Scrub brush
  • Flour
  • Salt
  • White vinegar
  • Clean cloths
  • Ketchup or tomato paste (optional)
  • Brasso or Bar Keeper's Friend (optional)
brass candlesticks

Amy Bartlam Photography

Step 1: A Few Considerations

Before you start scrubbing your brass until it's sparkling clean, make sure what you're cleaning is actually brass. Many items only have a brass coating and are not fully brass. To test this, place a magnet on the brass piece. If it doesn't stick, it's brass.

Additionally, if your brass is vintage or antique, be careful about polishing off the patina. Household or commercial abrasives can damage that centuries-old look. Use a microfiber cloth instead, or take it to a professional.

One more thing: if your brass is lacquered (many newer brass hardware are), all you'll need to do to clean it is to rub it with a damp cloth soaked in warm water.

Step 2: Create Your Cleaning Mixture

After you've made sure that your brass is brass, and that it's not especially old or new, it's time to get started. Grab a small bowl and mix a teaspoon of salt into a 1/2 cup of white vinegar with enough flour to make a sticky paste.

kitchen with brass faucet

Amy Bartlam Photography

Step 3: Test It Out

Before you apply your cleaning paste all over the brass, test in an inconspicuous spot. Rub some on and leave it for 10-15 minutes before removing, rinsing, and drying. If everything looks good, head to the next step.

Step 4: Apply The Paste

Using thin gloves and a scrub brush, rub the cleaning paste all over the brass, but don't go too crazy with the amount—less is more. Once this is done, let the paste sit on the item for 10 to 15 minutes.

Step 5: Clean It Off

After the paste has been on the brass for long enough, rinse it off with warm water. Then, use a clean cloth to dry it, buffing it in circular motions. Now, time to admire your like-new brass.

Buffing is one of those words you may have heard time-and-time-again, but you may not be sure what it actually means. To buff brass, you'll rub a clean and dry cloth (think terry cloth or microfiber) against the items in small circular motions.

kitchen with brass hardware

Cathie Hong Interiors

Another Way To Clean Brass: Ketchup

Another stellar way to get your brass sparkling clean is to use ketchup or tomato paste. Rub a little bit of the sauce onto the brass, let it sit for an hour, then clean the item off with warm water and buff dry.

As weird as it may sound, the acidity of the tomatoes makes them an ideal cleaning agent for particularly tough tarnishes.

The Store-Bought Way To Clean Brass

If you'd rather not create a kitchen concoction or spread ketchup on your treasured heirlooms, you can use a store-bought cleaning agent too. Consider tried-and-true cleaning favorites like Bar Keeper's Friend or Brasso.

They're both under $10, and you'll use them much like you'd use a DIY paste—apply, scrub, wait, rinse, and buff. Make sure you wear gloves when applying these.

bathroom with brass accents

Brexton Cole Interiors

6 Tips To Keep Brass Clean Longer

Cleaning brass may not be that difficult, but it's not a walk in the park either. Create less work for future self by following these tips to keep brass clean longer.

  1. When using brass bowls and pans, clean them ASAP after using them. Leaving them dirty can damage the metal and cause it to tarnish.
  2. Assuming your brass isn't a doorknob or handle, try to touch your brass as little as possible. The fewer fingerprints your brass encounters, the less grease and oil that build up on it.
  3. Keep your brass from tarnishing by applying a thin layer of linseed or mineral oil with a soft terry cloth after cleaning the item.
  4. Regular buffing and dusting with a microfiber cloth will keep your brass dust-free and minimize tarnishing.
  5. Maintenance cleaning will keep your brass from having to be heavily cleaned and scrubbed too often—doing this too much can make your brass tarnish easily.
  6. Whatever you do, don't put your brass in the dishwasher. A trip in the dishwasher is a one-way-ticket to tarnish-land for brass.