How to Clean Brass

How to Clean Brass 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:

How to Clean Brass 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!

How to Clean Brass I started off by cleaning my brass pieces with hot soapy water and a soft-bristle toothbrush. I then used a soft cloth to wipe down the piece and allowed it to fully dry.

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.

How to Clean Brass 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…

How to Clean Brass abeautifulmess.comHow to Clean Brass 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

  • The antique brass table I have has delicate Indian designs on it. It is over 100 years old and I want to clean and preserve it the best way I can. I cleaned it with Brasso (my favourite) . Now it needs a little TLC. Hope you can give me some suggestions.. Thank you.

  • Over the years the best method for me has been Tarn-X and a wet soap pad. I place a small amount of Tarn-X in a ceramic bowl. I dip soap pad in liquid Tarn-X and rub on the brass. Use a little elbow crease. You must take one layer off at a time, but takes only seconds for the Tarn-X to work. The brass will get lighter and lighter in a minute. I either clean the brass all the way or leave crevices to show the age. It works for me every time. I just purchased two very old engraved brass cups and within 20 minutes they were both shiny. I wash the brass off with dish soap and rub with cotton cloth to shine.

    • i tried to clean my brass hardware on my bag and on some spots it truned slightly pink,what should i use now?

  • Thanks for this post. I’ve actually used ketchup and was impressed with the results, though I didn’t leave it on for any length of time. Just wiped it on and wiped it off.

  • I agree with one of the other comments. I , too, have used ketchup on brass with great results, but I only put it on for a few minutes and rubbed it and then rinsed off.

  • For larger pieces, or things you just don’t want to clean all the time, it’s worth taking them to a professional who can clean the pieces and then give them a coating so they stay shiny.

  • Oh, ketchup. I tried that a few years ago when I was looking for something with less nasty fumes than brasso. It turns the brass pink because it etched the metal slightly. When you etch brass the incised lines are pink, it reveals the copper somehow.

  • I replied below, too, but just in case you don’t see that one…when I was a kid, my dad used to polish our copper-bottom pots with ketchup. It worked really well. Maybe it works better on copper than brass…

  • I remember my dad shining up our copper-bottom pots with ketchup when I was a kid. It was pretty impressive! Perhaps it works better on copper than brass.

  • Amazing post! You have made cleaning brass items so easy… xo

    Geetika |

  • Great tip – thanks for doing the trials for us!

    I noticed that in the last picture of the newly shined, super stylin’ unicorn bookend that the book directly next to it is “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance”… I hope you have read it. I read that book in my early twenties and it changed my life for the better. I would actually say it has a strong DIY bent and that it’s very sweetly ironic to see it here on a DIY blog article. Devils in the details. Well done.

    Shine on, girl!

  • I have been procrastinating on cleaning my brass bamboo cutlery, but dying to use them I am going to try this vinegar paste right away! thanks for the tip!

  • Love the way this turned out! I’m definitely gonna keep it in mind for when I find some brass pieces of my own. Did you just find the brasso at a local store or did you buy it online?


  • Ketchup actually works on copper not brass. Test it out on a penny – you will be happy with the results.

  • You saved my life! I have brass figures all over my place ´cause my husband love brass in decor, thanks a lot for the tips

  • Great info – thanks guys!!
    Could you do one on silver too?
    The Macadame. xx

  • This is such a pratical blog post! Thanks for sharing!

  • Yeah I tried a bunch of methods then finally bought Brasso…sooo much better. And I’m crazy jealous of your unicorns. If you ever get rid of them, email me.

  • hahahaha I first read the title as “how to clean bras”! I was wondering how someone wouldn’t know that…

  • Great post! Very helpful tips. Now how about tarnished copper? Flour & vinegar paste doesn’t seem to be doing the trick on my old copper kettle.
    -Sue 🙂

  • All you really need is suuuuper fine steel wool. It doesn’t scratch and makes everything shiny

  • Ketchup as a cleaner? Well, that’s a new one! I’m glad the Brasso worked, because the end result looks really nice. I’ll have to hit up my local flea market this weekend, and maybe I’ll find some treasures!

  • Great info, thanks! Have a brass door handle to clean up – might give the flour/ vinegar paste a try first and if that fails, good ol’ Brasso 🙂

  • Brasso sounds so good!

  • Super helpful!! Thanks so sharing 🙂
    xx- Erica (giveaway on my blog today!!!)

  • Those unicorn bookends are just awesome! I have been trying to find ones I love and now you have encouraged me to get out and scour my antique shops more frequently.

  • Weird–I used ketchup to clean up brass once before and it worked awesomely for me–but I only left it on for about 5 minutes? Perhaps that’s the difference.

  • I’m so surprised that ketchup was even in the running. Bleh! Glad you tested that one out and not the rest of us. :]

  • Thanks for the wonderful tips and what great finds!

  • I don’t have anything made of brass (yet!), but this is good to know. I also like that you left the items just a bit weathered. More character indeed!

  • Thank you! I LOVE cleaning tips…I don’t have any brass at the moment but I think I will be looking for some 🙂

  • Thanks! I have two brass lamps that desperately need cleaning and I’ve been procrastinating. At least you’ve done the legwork for me so I don’t have to figure out the best way to clean them.

  • Thanks, this is really helpful! I scored a vintage brass vase (with an allover honeycomb pattern) at an estate sale and it needs some cleaning. I’ll give Brasso a try!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.