Brass is a mixture of zinc and copper, which may sometimes include other metals. It has been in active use for manufacturing and for ornaments due to its versatility and lustrous golden color. However, as with all metals, brass may corrode and tarnish over years of use. Proper care and cleaning can greatly enhance the luster of brass.
Consider some things before deciding to clean brass pieces. Not all tarnished brass items need to be cleaned. Tarnish may produce a desirable patina that enhances a decorative piece. This is particularly true for antique pieces, which may be quite vulnerable to excessive cleaning and abrasive cleansers. It might be more prudent to have a professional clean the piece.
You should also establish whether the item is truly made of brass. You can do this by holding a magnet next to the object. If the magnet sticks, the object may either contain no brass or may just be brass-plated. Using abrasive cleaning techniques to brass-plated items could wear through the thin plating.
After considering these points, one can now proceed to cleaning the brass item.
Materials and Tools Needed
- mild liquid soap;
- hot water;
- rubber gloves;
- soft cloth;
- old toothbrush;
- varnish or Lacquer remover;
- brass polish;
- old newspaper;
- cotton wool;
- paint brush; and
- clear Lacquer suitable for brass.
Basic Steps in Cleaning Brass
- Wash the brass piece with soapy water. Dirty or oily pieces are simply cleaned by wiping a soft cloth dipped in water mixed with mild detergent. An old toothbrush may be used to get into hard-to-reach places or inside delicate engravings. Make sure to brush gently to avoid damaging the piece.
- Remove the lacquer by applying a paint or varnish remover with a paintbrush. Lay down newspapers to protect one’s work area. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using these chemicals as these are typically flammable. Use rubber gloves for protection and work in a well-ventilated area.
- Polish the brass piece with a brass polish applied with a clean cloth. Use a dry second cloth to buff the brass into a dazzling shine.
- Heavily tarnished brass can be cleaned with hot vinegar. This is done by placing dirty brass pieces in boiling vinegar. This procedure should be done in a well-ventilated area as the fumes are strong, albeit not toxic. The acid in the vinegar will turn the brass into a reddish color, which can be polished off easily. This procedure is effective in removing heavy tarnish and the green residue from older pieces.
- Re-apply lacquer to give the brass piece a protective coat that will help keep its shimmer. Apply an even thin layer of lacquer using a paintbrush or cotton ball. Make sure to wipe up any drips before they dry. Do not touch the brass piece until the lacquer is completely dry.
- Wipe off the brass piece with a soft dry cloth as needed. The piece would only require regular dusting once it has regained its natural shine.