Brass objects are everywhere. From vintage lamps to doorknobs, they can be found all around us. However, like all metals, brass ages as well. When aging, brass doesn’t rust; that is an iron-specific condition. However, it does tarnish. Tarnishing results from the metal coming into contact and racing with particles in the air like oxygen, nitrogen, or sulfur.
The best way to remove tarnish and restore the old gleam and shine of brass is by polishing it. This process might seem like a complicated one for someone who hasn’t done it yet, but I can assure you, it is usually really simple. In this article, I have compiled a step-by-step guide to polishing your brass items which are also full of information on general brass care and cleaning. If you have some furniture with a brass piece on it or have an instrument that needs some polishing, this article is for you! Read on if you are interested!
Step 1: Determine if the Brass You are Cleaning is Lacquered or Not
One of the first and most important steps in cleaning your brass item is to determine whether there is a protective layer of lacquer on it or not. There are a couple of reasons people finish a brass product with a layer of this shiny substance which we will go into more detail about, but this step is definitely not one you should skip if you want to avoid potentially damaging your brass item.
One of the reasons people put a layer of lacquer on their brass items is to protect them. Whether the device is brass-plated or completely made out of brass doesn’t really matter, since the lacquer serves only the purpose of protecting the outer layer of the metal from the air, moisture, other chemicals, dust, and ultimately, from tarnishing.
The other main reason is for aesthetical reasons. Lacquer increases the shine of the brass objects, making them look more elegant and high-end. From the perspective of our topic today, this aspect isn’t all that important, but it is worth mentioning.
So, why does it matter whether it is lacquered or not? Well, the reason for that is that if you have a brass item that isn’t lacquered, you can probably polish it on your own, however, if you see lacquer on it, it probably means you won’t have the tools and skills required to polish the item up. This is because if a brass object tarnishes even with a layer of lacquer on it, it probably means that the condition the item is in is not very good, or that the item is very old. Either way, you can damage the item by trying to polish it with lacquer still on.
A professional metal refinisher can remove the layer of lacquer before even touching the brass, making sure that the polishing process is extended to every nook and cranny of the item, and that there is no piece of lacquer remaining on the item to compromise the polishing process. Also, a professional can re-finish your item with another, even layer of lacquer to protect and preserve the brass object for another couple of hundred years even.
Step 2: Determine Whether the Object is Brass-Plated or Made of Brass
This is another one of those steps which could determine the steps to come, so make sure you don’t skip it. Before you actually polish the brass object, try to make sure that you know what kind of object you are dealing with. Is it a brass object or is it just brass-plated?
There is actually a pretty simple way to find this out, and that is with the help of a magnet. Since real brass does not attract magnets, if your item is made of brass throughout, a small magnet should fall off the surface of it when you try to place it on. However, if the magnet attracts and then sticks to the surface of the item, you are probably dealing with a brass-plated object instead of a fully brass one.
As mentioned, this step can determine where the rest of the process will go, seeing as the treatment for either of these is different. If you have a brass object, you can jump right into cleaning and polishing it without a second of doubt. However, if you happen to have an object which is only brass-plated, you will probably have to take it to a professional if you want to get it polished.
If you don’t, on the other hand, want to take it to a professional, but still want to polish it, you might be in trouble since polishing brass-plating is tricky. You might easily scratch the surface of the brass-plated object, damage it and even peel off the brass plating. For the sake of your and your item’s safety, itis better if you don’t try polishing brass-plated objects at home, but rather keep that for the professionals.
Step 3: Choose Your Brushing Tool
At this step, you have to choose the tool you are going to work with. There are several different options available, and you are the only one who is able to make the right decision apart from a professional since you are the one who can see the condition of your brass item. Nevertheless, I am going to outline some basic guidelines which can help you pick the right brushing/polishing tool.
The first is a simple, cotton cloth or rag. This has to be soft and supple, and it should be able to take up quite a lot of water or brass-polishing liquid. You should use this as your main tool whenever you are doing a yearly or 6-monthly polishing of your brass items, or if the given object has very little discoloration and imperfection. The cotton material is very unlikely to reshape the metal in any way or remove any surface layer of corrosion, so it is only useful in really low-intensity maintenance.
The next step you can use is a simple foam sponge that is soft and doesn’t have any big holes. This is for corrosion which has built up somewhat more, which needs a little bit of brushing and perhaps some pressure applied for it to come off. You can soak up a bunch of polishing liquid with these sponges and they can really give a smooth finish to your brass items.
The next one is very fine steel wool, which should never be over grade 00 since those can leave visible scratches on the surface of the brass item. Any steel wool which is finer than 00 grade is great, and it can remove some of the most stubborn and thick layers of tarnish. This is the most commonly used item for polishing brass since, by the time someone even gets the idea to polish their brass items, they have probably developed a layer of tarnish. The other two tools mentioned above are usually used as the first step in actually polishing, which is to spread the brass polishing liquid over the surface of the brass item, which is what we will talk about in the following steps!
Step 4: Get a High-Quality Brass Polishing Liquid
Probably the most essential item you are going to need in order to clean, polish, and condition your brass item is a high-quality brass polishing liquid. These liquids are cleaning agents that will remove tarnish from the surface of brass (or other metals, depending on the one you buy), give it a great shine, and also leave a thin protective layer that will extend the amount of time needed for the brass to tarnish again.
Using one of these products is going to enable you to effectively clean and condition your brass products even without necessarily having to use steel wool or other abrasive materials for the polishing process.
At the end of this article, there will be a list with a couple of the best metal polishing liquids you can get now on Amazon, so if you are looking for products that can help you get the job done effectively and properly, you can just choose one of the listed items!
Step 5: Clean Your Brass Item
The first step to actually polishing your brass object is going to start with a cleaning process. Warm, soapy water (with dish soap) is going to be more than enough for this process. Here, all you are aiming to do is just to remove the dirt and the dust from the item, and thus reduce the risk of scratching the surface of the item with some unnoticed particles of dust, glass, wood, dirt, etc.
Take a soft cotton cloth, or a very soft sponge, and soak it in warm water with dish soap added to it for a couple of seconds. Take the cloth or sponge out, and then lightly brush the surface of your brass item with this warm, soapy liquid. This should remove all the dirt and dust accumulated onto the object and also give it a clean look when you are done with it. Make sure you try to get every nook and cranny, so as to not leave any dust and dirt behind.
Take extra care for products that are sensitive to water, such as electrical devices or items with sensitive materials like unfinished wood or fabrics. If you are polishing such an item, make sure to squeeze much of the sappy water out of your cleaning cloth to minimize the amount of water and chemicals potentially dropping onto the sensitive areas of your object.
Step 6: Start Polishing
First, you have to let the water dry off from the cleaning process. You can use a soft towel or paper towels even, to minimize the amount of time you might have to wait after cleaning brass. When the brass is completely clean everywhere, it is time to start the actual polishing process.
Start by taking a foam sponge or cotton cloth and gently applying the brass polishing liquid to the surface of the brass you want to polish. Make sure to spread it on the whole item for maximum effectiveness.
After having spread the brass polisher, it is time to use either a foam sponge or fine steel wool, depending on the severity of the tarnish, to carefully rub the surface of the brass object to remove the signs of aging. Make sure not to make many short strokes back and forward or to press too firmly. Remember, you are only polishing this item, too much force is unnecessary.
Once you have brushed the tarnish off with the remover and the wool or sponge, it is time to check the label of the brass polisher or tarnish remover for the next action. Either you will have to rinse off the chemical solution with warm water, or more frequently, you can just leave the solution on, and it will provide a protective layer for your brass object which will protect it for months to come, if not years.
Polish brass in an area where there is a slight draft-like air movement so that the water dries faster and doesn’t age the metal, and so that the brass-cleaning liquid dries and sets faster.
Step 7: Repeat the Process Regularly
If you want to keep brass in top shape, you will need to repeat this process with any brass object or item you have quite regularly. This way, you can keep your brass surfaces tarnish-free for decades, and you probably won’t ever even need to call a professional to help you, since the items won’t deteriorate to that level.
Polish any brass surface once every 6 months or at least once every year in order to optimally extend the life of these metal objects, and to keep them shining like the day you bought them.
Best Brass Polishing Liquids
Weiman and Copper Polish and Cleaner 8 Fl Oz
This brass polishing liquid is one of the best-rated on Amazon, and also one of the most well-known brands in the industry. You cannot go wrong with this one, so if you are interested, check it out by clicking on this link!
Wright’s Brass and Copper Polish and Cleaner – 8 Ounce
Another product that is similar to the previous one in its rating, quality, and popularity, the Wright’s brass and copper polish will also gently remove the tarnish from any brass surface, leaving no scratches or marks of abrasion and corrosion. This product is available in three different sizes, the largest one being a 60 FL ounce bottle. Check it out by clicking on this link if you are interested!
Rolite – MTMPC45z Midas Touch Metal Polishing Cream
An Amazon’s Choice product, the Midas Touch metal polishing cream is a universal metal polisher that is great for everything from steel and copper to bronze or gold. It is also great for brass, and you can get it in all different sizes and packages for your convenience. Check it out on this link!
DIY Brass Polisher Alternatives
Many people might not be able to afford brass polisher liquids, or they might live in areas where this item just isn’t shipped. Whatever the reason, many people would benefit from knowing that there are some alternatives to the store-bought, higher-end brass polishers, and here I have a shortlist of them:
- Lemon and Baking Soda Paste. Using some of the most basic items, found in every household, a lemon and some baking soda, you can create a highly effective brass cleaning paste for free.
Combine the juice of a lemon with two teaspoons of baking soda and then combine and mix until it forms a paste-like substance. Spread this paste over the brass surface with a soft, cotton cloth or foam sponge, and leave it on for 30 minutes if you are dealing with heavy tarnishing. Otherwise, start to scrub it gently once applied to the surface to remove tarnish and restore shine to your brass item.
- Vinegar, Salt, and Flour Paste. If you don’t have lemon or baking soda at home, you can also use these items, which are also some of the most common household items all over the world. It is rare to find a home without these items, so if you are really short on cash or just don’t want to use a professional polishing liquid or paste, you can form one out of these as well.
Take equal amounts of all three ingredients and combine them into a paste, then spread the paste out on the surface of the brass item you wish to clean. Let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour (or more if you are dealing with very heavy tarnish), then rinse with warm water and let it dry.