How to Restore The Luster Of Brass

There's something about brass that will heat up the coldest of hearts.

Whether it be a tray or vase, or something larger like a fireplace fender or a pair of andirons, something brass emits a wonderful glow that enhances the starkest of decors. That is, if it's not tarnished. Tarnish often happens in homes heated by coal furnaces that cause brass to tarnish easily. Then, it will lose its luster, and most must people prepare themselves for an afternoon of scrubbing to restore their brass pieces to their glowing best. But it doesn't need to be that hard! Here's how to restore the luster of your brass.

Check first to see if your brass items are lacquered. The easiest way to tell is if the pieces have been lacquered is if they appear to have water spots or are dark in some areas. Under no circumstances should you polish those objects because the polish will only react to the lacquer, and make the problem harder to deal with.

Do a little at a time, but more often. Cleaning brass is one of the least favorite things many people do. However, if you wait until your brass is almost black, you will need to use harsh cleansers which will often damage your brass, over time. The trick is to do fewer pieces, but do them more often. What's interesting is you'll actually cut the time you need to do this chore, as your brass items will not have had enough time to begin corroding.

Choose your cleaning solution carefully. Commerical brass cleaners like Brasso have been a staple of most houses for decades; but like most cleaners, Brasso contains ammonia. If you have especially detailed brass pieces, the cleaner will eventually eat through the item. Rather than use them, or spend major money on cleaners that neutralize the amonia, make your own using a heaping tablespoon of salt mixed in a half-cup of vinegar. The salt's abrasion will help you clean away some dirt, while the vinegar will rid your brass of less built-up tarnish.

Wash the brass object in hot, soapy water (regardless of the cleanser you use). If you see light green patches, they're probably made by polish previously applied but not removed. Dry the object, then apply a small amount of polish. Allow the brass piece to dry, then wipe off the polish and rewash the item. If you notice that tarnish remains, reapply the polish in those area, and then allow to dry. Remove when finished.

Some pieces are too unwieldy to handle easily. Think about spreading newspapers in the kitchen or taking the item outside. If you stay inside, open the doors or windows. A chemical reaction will occur as you clean your brass. Thus, you should limit your exposure to fumes.

Things You Will Need

  • Soap
  • Water
  • Vinegar
  • Salt
  • Bowl


  • Other pieces of brass, like door knobs, are affixed and must be cleaned in place. Consider masking painted areas with tape and using Q-Tips to reach detailed, hard-to-get-to areas.

About the Author

Bill Herrfeldt specializes in finance, sports and the needs of retiring people, and has been published in the national edition of "Erickson Tribune," the "Washington Post" and the "Arizona Republic." He graduated from the University of Louisville.