As someone that loves finding treasures at vintage stores and flea markets, I end up doing a lot of internet searching when I bring things home to answer questions about how to repair, fix, clean, or hang something. I had been eyeing a pair of brass unicorn bookends at a local flea market. And my husband brought home two brass camels from his last trip to India, so my latest fact finding mission was centered around the best way to clean brass items. Here’s what I found out:
When deciding to clean a brass piece, you’ll first want to discover if the piece is sold brass or just brass-coated. You can determine this by placing a magnet on your item—if the magnet sticks, then it’s just a brass-plated piece (magnets won’t stick to brass). If your item is brass-coated, you may want to only clean the item with soap and water as polishing the item further could end up removing the plating.
After I made sure they were brass with the magnet test (it didn’t stick), I decided to try four of the most used methods on four different pieces of brass and see which one was the most effective. The cleaning methods that seemed to appear the most were; lemon juice, flour/vinegar paste, ketchup, and a chemical-based cleaner (like Brasso or Bar Keeper’s Friend). Ready? May the best cleaner win!
Once the brass was dry, I tried a different cleaning method on each piece—here are the methods and the results!
Lemon: Cut a fresh lemon in half and sprinkle a good dose of salt on the exposed lemon. Rub the lemon over the brass and added more salt to the lemon as needed. Once the whole piece is covered, buff with a soft cloth. Overall, I did feel that the lemon was able to clean and lighten the brass. It wasn’t, however, able to remove any of the dark buildup within crevices, and the surface appeared a little streaky once the brass was dry.
Chemical-Based Cleaner (Brasso): Apply Brasso to a soft clean cloth and buff into the surface of the brass. Once your whole pieces is covered, use a new clean cloth to remove the remaining cleaner and buff to a shine. The Brasso was able to lighten the overall color of the brass, get at the heaviest areas of buildup, and restore more shine to the piece as well.
Ketchup: Apply a thin layer of ketchup to the brass and let sit for at least an hour. Wash off the ketchup with hot soapy water and buff dry. This was a terrible method! Not only did the ketchup not clean the dirtiest crevices, but it actually turned a few areas of the bronze pink!
Flour/Vinegar Paste: Mix one teaspoon of salt into a 1/2 cup of vinegar. Add flour until the liquid becomes a paste and spread over the brass. Let the mixture sit for up an hour then rinse and buff the piece. This method lightened the color of the brass (there was actually some green tarnish left in the paste when I took it out) and did a pretty good job of cleaning the brass without leaving it streaky.
So which cleaning method was the winner? It was the chemical-based cleaner, Brasso! Out of all the options, Brasso lightened the color the most, removed more build-up from the crevices, didn’t leave streaks, and added a nice sheen to the brass. If you are looking for a non-chemical way to clean brass, I would suggest the flour/vinegar paste mixture as it seemed to be the best of the natural methods. I wouldn’t recommend the ketchup though—save that for your fries…
Overall, I’m really glad that I figured out a few good ways to clean brass. I didn’t clean all the darkness from the creases since I kind of like how it gives them a bit of character, but I think overall everyone is cleaner and happier since the cleaning challenge began. xo. Laura
Credits // Author and Photography: Laura Gummerman