Cleaning Antique Brass

Posted On January 9, 2016 at 8:54 am by / No Comments

Antiques are great to have and often are worth quite a bit of money when they are well maintained. Some antiques are easier to clean and deal with the upkeep than others are and each type of item has very specific ways they should be cleaned.


Don’t be afraid to take the antique to a professional cleaner which can be found online if you are uncomfortable doing it yourself.

The older the item is the more careful you should be when it comes to cleaning it. The last thing anyone would want to do while attempting to clean an antique is to tarnish it more or ruin it. Cleaning very old and antique brass can be a task that is very frustrating because, as mentioned, one small mishap can permanently damage the brass, its quality, and any value it holds. Some collectors may like the tarnish and rust however.

To prevent damage it is a good idea to make sure that you, or anyone else you may have cleaning your brass, know exactly how to clean it properly. It would be so upsetting to have it ruined due to simply not knowing proper care or having the proper care instructions provided. There lies a very good question. How to clean antique brass without damaging the metal? Well the answer to that is simple as long as you have what you need to do so.

Understanding Tarnish



First, lets take a moment to understand what brass is and how it gets tarnished. Because brass is a combination of copper and zinc it can tarnish due to oxidation. Tarnish is a very thin layer of corrosion that forms over the outermost layer of metals, such as brass and silver, and that top layer of metal then undergoes a chemical reaction. That reaction is the tarnish. Tarnish is very unsightly and when on items that may hold value, either sentimentally or monetarily, you may feel disgusted to look at it and want the tarnish gone as soon and as quickly as possibly. There are a few options to look at for cleaning the tarnish off of brass but be aware that any form of cleaning may decrease the value of the item so talk to an expert first if you can or want to.

Laquer on Items


The next step is to see if your brass has a layer of lacquer or not. If lacquer is not present feel free to skip this part. It is important to note that old and antique brass should not be lacquered and the lacquer would need removed before any real cleaning can be done.

Lacquer is a layer of protective shellac dissolved in alcohol. It protects brass from oxidation which causes tarnish. To remove the lacquer begin by gently pouring hot water directly over the brass. This should help soften the lacquer enough so it can just peel away. If the hot water fails and the lacquer remains present do not worry. There are other ways to get it off. Gently rub the brass with denatured alcohol or finger nail polish remover. This should work. Keep in mind that lacquered, and previously lacquered, brass will have a yellow tint to it.

Basic Cleaning Solution

The first way to clean brass is the basic cleaning procedure. For most brass the brass cleaners out there should do the trick.


Vinegar And Ammonia


For antique brass, however, try soaking the item for a full hour in undiluted white vinegar or clear ammonia. Both vinegar and ammonia are natural products that will help break down the tarnish. They are also both safe to use. These two items will leave the brass shiny and gleaming naturally. If the item is too big to fit in a place where it can soak safety, or some of the pieces are not brass, try the next form of cleaning. It is important to maintain your item correctly so it does not get ruined.


Lemon And Salt


Another way to clean brass is by using the salt and lemon method. The combination of lemon juice and salt has been known to break down tarnish caused by oxidation. This is because of the levels of citric acid and sodium chloride involved. To do this method cut a lemon in half and sprinkle salt over the brass. Scrub the brass with the lemon half as hard as you can. This will slowly remove the tarnish but it works.


Cleaning brass may seem like no simple task but it should not be too terribly difficult. Just make sure you use white vinegar or ammonia to soak or the salt and lemon method. To keep old brass from oxidation and to keep it looking new,  polish it once a week.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *