Although durable and corrosion-resistant, brass is not impervious to tarnishing. Over time, tarnish can build up on brass, making the once-shiny surface dull and dark. Fortunately, the right cleaning methods can remove tarnishes from brass items and restore their original radiance, making them shine like new again. 

In this article, I’ll share tips and tricks I’ve picked up as the owner of a cleaning business for restoring the pristine finish of your brassware. 

Why Does Brass Tarnish?

Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. The copper provides a golden color, while the zinc increases durability and corrosion resistance. However, brass can still react with oxygen and moisture in the air, resulting in tarnish. This oxidized layer makes the surface of the brass discolored and lackluster.

Tarnish typically starts as a thin, cloudy film on brass. Gradually, it darkens over time, turning brown or black. Frequent handling and exposure to dirt, dust, and skin oils can accelerate tarnishing, and areas of brass not polished smooth are also more prone to tarnish.

How To Remove Tarnish From Brass

Now that you know how and why brass tarnishes, below we’ll present some DIY solutions for getting rid of tarnish on your brass objects.

For solid brass pieces with a protective coating, try cleaning first with mild dish soap and warm water. Use a soft cloth to gently wash away dirt and grime that may be contributing to the tarnished appearance. Rinse thoroughly and pat dry.

For uncoated brass hardware, white vinegar can help remove tarnish. Soak a soft cloth in undiluted vinegar and rub it onto the affected areas. Let it sit briefly before rinsing — the acetic acid in vinegar dissolves tarnish.

For solid brass pieces without protective clear coats, a homemade cleaner of lemon juice and baking soda often works. The citric acid in lemon juice dissolves tarnish, while the baking soda gently scrubs it away.

In a bowl, mix 3/4 cup lemon juice and 1/2 cup baking soda. Soak tarnished brass in the solution for 30 minutes. Gently scrub with a soft cloth or toothbrush until gleaming. Rinse and pat dry.

For lightly tarnished brass, rub it with a damp cloth soaked in table salt. The coarse grains provide light abrasion to lift the tarnish off the surface of the brass. Rinse thoroughly afterward and buff dry with a soft towel.

Special brass polishes remove tarnish while adding a protective barrier against future tarnishing. Well-known options include Brasso, Flitz, Wright’s, and BlueMagic. Apply a small amount of polish to a soft, clean cloth. Rub onto tarnished spots in a circular motion.

These polishes have mild abrasives to lift tarnish along with chemicals that dissolve it. Use sparingly and rinse thoroughly to prevent residue buildup.

For large brass pieces, make a thin baking soda paste with water. Spread paste on tarnished areas, then cover with aluminum foil. Let sit for a few hours before scrubbing off with a damp cloth or soft brush. Baking soda reacts with tarnish to cause it to dissolve.

Surprisingly, regular toothpaste (non-gel types work best) can clean tarnish from brass. Put a small amount directly on discolored spots and gently rub with a soft cloth. Rinse well afterward. Silica ingredients provide light abrasion to remove tarnish.

Heavily tarnished antique or vintage brass sometimes has accumulated old lacquer or coatings. Use a commercial paint or lacquer remover formulated for metal to strip the aged finish and reveal the brass below. The brass cleaner can then polish it up nicely.

When using removers and strippers, work in a well-ventilated spot and prevent skin contact. 

Tips for Polishing Brass

Want to shine your brass like the pros? Follow these tips when cleaning brass to help prevent scratches, wear, and future tarnishing:

  • Test cleaners on an inconspicuous area first to prevent damage or discoloration.
  • Use the gentlest method possible to avoid scratching or wearing down engraved or plated surfaces over time.
  • Don’t use steel wool or abrasive scrubbers that can leave fine scratches. Use soft cloths, brushes, or sponges instead.
  • Thoroughly buff off metal polishes to prevent residue buildup in crevices or details.
  • Regularly maintain brass by gently wiping it with lemon oil furniture polish to inhibit tarnish.

Now that you know these pro tips, you can install that high-end bathtub or top-notch faucet with brass fittings that you’ve always wanted but thought it would be too much work to keep sparkling clean.

Maintaining a Tarnish-Resistant Brass Finish

To keep polished brass looking its best for longer, follow these tips and tricks of mine:

  • Apply a protective wax, lacquer, or polymer coating formulated for metals.
  • Brass can be plated with nickel, chrome, or other metals to resist tarnishing.
  • Store polished brass in an airtight container with anti-tarnish strips or cloth. Anti-tarnish strips are small pieces of treated paper used to prevent air contact.

For Outdoor Brass

Outdoor brass requires a slightly different approach than indoor brass objects that are protected from the elements. A patina oil or clear acrylic coating provides durable protection for exterior brass fixtures. Patina refers to the aged finish some antique brass develops over decades.

With proper techniques and care, brass accessories, fixtures, and hardware can retain their beauty and brilliance for years. Cleaning brass in a commercial setting? Check out our pro cleaning tips for warehouse and industrial facilities.

So, Is Cleaning Tarnished Brass Challenging?

Although brass inevitably tarnishes over time with use and exposure, the good news is tarnish is relatively easy to remove so brass is restored to its original radiance. 

Today’s Homeowner Tips

Simple homemade cleaners, brass polishes available at most hardware stores, toothpaste, and baking soda can effectively eliminate tarnish without harming the brass below. With some elbow grease and care, brass can be kept looking freshly polished.

While you’re cleaning your brass hardware and fixtures, you may come across stripped screw heads or stuck allen screws. If this happens, our guide on the subject helps you get a grip on the problem.

If you don’t have the time to deal with your tarnished brass, consider choosing a home cleaning service with a good reputation in your area to tackle the issue.

FAQs About Cleaning Tarnished Brass

How can I determine if an item is solid brass versus brass-plated?

Solid brass will have a gold color throughout, while brass plating is only surface level. Use a magnet to test — if attracted, the item likely has steel or iron underneath the plating.

What about cleaning delicate brass jewelry?

Use care when cleaning brass jewelry. Avoid abrasives and use only mild, non-corrosive cleaners. Very gently remove lacquer coatings to avoid disturbing plating underneath.

Is it all right to clean antique brass?

Yes, just be very gentle and start with the least-harsh method possible, such as warm water and mild dish soap. Test polishes first, as some contain chemicals like ammonia that can damage patinas.

Can I use toothpaste on all brass?

Toothpaste is fine for uncoated solid brass, but avoid using it on antique brass pieces, engraved surfaces, or brass with any clear protective lacquer.

How often should brass be polished to prevent tarnish?

For frequently handled brass, polish monthly. For fixtures and decor, polishing two to three times a year is typically sufficient. In between polishings, maintain shine with lemon oil furniture polish safe for brass.

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Jordan Tyler Quinn Farkas

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Jordan Tyler Quinn Farkas is a globetrotting content writer hailing from the USA. With a passion for pest control, he brings a unique perspective to his writing from his early years working for one of the largest pest control companies in America. Throughout his early 20s, Jordan gained valuable experience and knowledge in the field, tackling pest infestations head-on and ensuring the well-being of countless homes.

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Lee Ann Merrill

Chicago-based Lee Ann Merrill has decades of experience writing and editing across a wide range of technical and scientific subjects. Her love of DIY, gardening, and making led her to the realm of creating and honing quality content for homeowners. When she's not working on her craft, you can find her exploring her city by bike and plotting international adventures.

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