Expert Tips. How to Clean Brass and Copper

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Keeping metal clean takes a bit of time, but the results are brilliant! What is more beautiful than a display of beautifully polished brass?

Everything from pots and figurines to tankards, jewellery to belt buckles, and coins to candlesticks. How do you clean and polish these metal items?

Learn some new tricks today for keeping brass and copper shiny and clean.

No matter what cleaning agent you use, you need a good cloth.

You can find specialised metal cleaners that can be used to clean copper and brass – just read the labels on these products to find the best one for you.

You can use store bought metal polishes or you can do it the easy way. All it takes is a few pantry staples to banish tarnish.

Has the Brass Has Been Lacquered

There’s a really easy way to determine the lacquer-related status of your brass: If there is already tarnish on the brass, it probably has not been lacquered. But if there’s a thin, shiny coating that is coming off in places, then the piece has been lacquered and the only real option is to take it to a metal refinisher.

Determine if the Object is Brass or Brass-Plated

If you want to know whether something is actually brass, place a magnet on it. If it doesn’t stick, it’s brass. If it does stick, it’s brass-plated—and if the object is just brass-plated, all you actually need to clean it is warm water and soap.  If you try to polish a brass plated object, you may scratch it.

That’s why it’s important to identify whether or not the brass is just plating before you embark on any brass cleaning project.

Test your Cleaning Product

Tarnished brass can take any otherwise lovely piece and make it look old and dingy. Just remember to test any cleaning product on a small area first, and to read the directions on the label before use.

How to Clean Copper

Copper products are durable and look luxurious, and copper is used not only for domestic but also decorative purposes.

While copper tarnishes over time, fortunately, you can return copper products to their original shine at home. Here are some of the best ways to clean copper:

  • Use lemons and salt to clean copper. Simply apply some salt (preferably sea salt or coarse salt) to a half of a lemon, and then use the lemon to scrub the copper surface. This mildly abrasive cleaner should swiftly make your copper bright again.
  • Rinse with warm water and dry with a soft cloth afterwards.
  • Another way is to rub it with a mixture of flour, coarse salt and vinegar, and then polish with a soft cloth.
  • It is also possible to polish the copper with a newspaper crumpled into a small ball – the timeless method our grandmothers used to use to clean windows.
  • You can also clean copper with tomato sauce. The vinegar in the sauce will help clean the copper. Apply a thick layer of ketchup on the product and let it sit for a few minutes, and then rinse with water.

How to Clean Brass

Brass is made of copper and zinc, and is used to make many different items – everything from doorknobs to musical instruments.

Here are some strategies for cleaning brass items.

First, try washing the brass item with washing up liquid and warm water. Do not scrub too hard – you may scratch the brass.

Like copper, brass will also respond well to tomato sauce. Apply ketchup to the brass and then rinse after leaving it for at least an hour – you will be able to see the difference.

You can also clean brass using the lemon and salt method described above.

Again, do not use abrasive products as a brass cleaner, as you might damage the surface.

Baking Soda and Vinegar

Mix baking soda and white vinegar together to create a paste. It’ll fizz for a minute, but will quickly settle down. Then, rub the paste into the copper or brass object that you wish to clean, using your hands or an old toothbrush. Let it sit for 30 minutes or so. Then, rinse, and buff with a dry cloth, and enjoy that like-new gleam.

Why This Works

The acetic acid in the vinegar and the sodium in the baking soda work together to dissolve the tarnish. And the baking soda provides just the right amount of grit to scrub all that tarnish away, without scratching the surface of the piece that you’re cleaning.

Lemon and Baking Soda Polish

Combine the juice of half a lemon with a teaspoon of baking soda and stir until it becomes a paste. Apply the paste with a soft cloth. If the tarnish is heavy, let the piece sit with the paste on it for 30 minutes. Rinse with warm water and dry. Repeat if necessary.

Lemon and Salt Polish

Slice a lemon in half and cover the cut section with a teaspoon of table salt. Rub the lemon on the tarnished piece, squeezing it as you go to release the lemon juice. Rinse with warm water and dry.

Flour, Salt, and White Vinegar

Combine equal parts of all three ingredients to create a paste. Apply a thin layer of that paste to the tarnished brass and leave it for an hour before rinsing with warm water and drying.

Ketchup, Tomato Sauce, or Tomato Paste

When you wondered how to clean brass, you probably didn’t think ketchup would be involved.  But it makes sense when you think about it. Tomatoes contain an acid that helps to remove tarnish on brass and other metals; that’s why applying a tomato-based product can work wonders on your brass. Ketchup, tomato paste, and tomato sauce all work equally well. Apply a layer to your brass and leave it on for an hour. Then wash with warm water and dish soap. Let it dry.

Now that your brass and copper are clean and polished, remember that it is easier to keep them shiny if you clean and polish regularly, so stock up with a few good cloths.

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