How to Clean Brass

by Rena Klingenberg.

How to Clean Brass

Looking for ways to safely remove tarnish and dirt from brass, and bring out the shine (or as much shine as you desire) in this lovely jewelry metal?

I’ll share several methods below – but first, some important tips for getting the best and safest results when cleaning brass.

How to Clean Brass

Tips for Best Results

  • The brass cleaning methods below are intended for cleaning ONLY brass. They may damage gemstones, cameos, shells, or other components that may be part of the brass piece.
  • Whenever you clean, wipe, or polish brass, be sure to work in the direction of the metal’s natural grain as much as possible – instead of rubbing in circles.
  • Brass really retains water spots – so always dry it immediately and thoroughly.
  • Don’t use any of the cleaning methods here for old or genuine antique brass, as they may also remove some of the lovely patina coloring of aged brass. Instead, wash old brass items gently in soapy water as described below, rinse and dry thoroughly, and rub the surface with olive oil.
  • For brass with an “antiqued” finish, I would use only the soapy-water method described below, followed by olive oil well rubbed in. Use a Q-tip to test-wash a small area on the back side of the item first before washing the entire piece.
  • When using the cleaning methods below, use only containers, spoons, etc. that you won’t be using for food – since who knows what kind of yuck or toxins they’ll be cleaning off of the brass.

How to clean brass
jewelry, findings, wire, and more.

Okay, now for how to clean brass at home, using things you probably have in your kitchen:

First, Remove
Dirt, Oils, and Pollutants

I find that I get more uniform results when I start with this quick, easy cleaning as a first step; in fact, sometimes this is all the cleaning you need to do:

  • Use warm water and a small amount of mild liquid dish soap to remove any accumulated dirt, pollutants, skin oils, etc. from the metal.
  • Use your fingers or a soft toothbrush to de-grime all surfaces of your brass item with the soapy water.
  • When you’ve finished washing the piece, thoroughly rinse off all soap residue. You’ll know the brass is completely clean of all gunk when the water runs smoothly over it without beading up.
  • Dry the metal well.

Then, if you desire more polishing, brightening, or tarnish removal, use one of the following natural methods for cleaning brass:

How to Clean Brass with
Ketchup or Worcestershire Sauce

This is a simple, non-toxic method for removing dullness and tarnish, and restoring a nice shine to brass:

  • Smear ketchup or worcestershire sauce on your brass item.
  • Use your fingers or a soft toothbrush to give the sauce a quick rub across all surfaces of the metal.
  • Let the smeared item sit for a minute.
  • Thoroughly rinse off all ketchup / worcestershire residue.
  • Decide whether your piece is done, or if you want to give it one more round of sauce for more tarnish removal and shine.
  • When your brass has reached the desired appearance, rinse it well to completely remove all traces of ketchup / worcestershire sauce.
  • Thoroughly dry the piece.

How to Clean Brass
with Lemon Juice

    • Pour 1 cup of water into a glass or plastic container.
    • Squeeze the juice of half a lemon into the water.
      • Add 1 teaspoon of salt, and stir till salt is dissolved.
      • Place your brass item in the mixture and let it sit for a few minutes. Don’t walk away – keep an eye on it so you can remove the brass item as soon as it’s reached the desired appearance.
      • Thoroughly wash your item in water to remove all traces of lemon.
      • Dry completely.

How to Clean Brass
by Rubbing with a Lemon

The salt in this method is mildly abrasive, so you may not want to use it to clean delicate brass items. However, it’s safe for most other brass pieces.

      • Cut a lemon in half.
      • Sprinkle salt on the cut side of one of the lemon halves.
      • Rub the salted lemon over the brass, in the direction of the metal’s natural grain.
      • You may want to use a soft toothbrush to help the lemon reach into small crevices of your brass piece.
      • When your item has reached the desired appearance, wash it thoroughly in water to remove all traces of lemon.
      • Dry thoroughly.

How to Clean Brass
with Vinegar and Salt

Warning: I recommend doing this procedure outdoors.

Although vinegar fumes aren’t toxic, they are quite pungent and can really make your house smell bad!

The salt in this method is mildly abrasive, so you may not want to use it to clean delicate brass items. However, it’s safe for most other brass pieces.

        • In a glass container, mix 1 cup of white household vinegar and 1 tablespoon of salt.
        • Heat the mixture in the microwave until the liquid is quite warm, but not too hot to touch.
        • Give the mixture another stir, and add your brass item.
        • Use a soft toothbrush to scrub the item, and then let it soak for a bit.
        • When the brass has reached the appearance you desire, remove it from the mixture.
        • Rinse the item thoroughly in water to remove all traces of vinegar, and dry it completely.

How to Clean Brass
with Ammonia

Caution: Wear goggles and rubber gloves to protect yourself from ammonia splashes.

        • In a glass container, mix 1 part ammonia with 8 parts water.
        • Add your brass item and swish it around in the liquid.
        • Use a soft toothbrush if necessary to scrub the item a bit and clean any crevices.
        • You can then let your brass item soak for a short time – but don’t walk away! I recommend standing right there and keeping an eye on it so you can remove it from the ammonia as soon as it reaches the appearance you desire.
        • Remove the brass item from the mixture, rinse it completely to remove all traces of ammonia, and dry it thoroughly.

Finishing Step (Optional)

Use a soft, dry cloth to rub a small amount of olive oil or Renaissance Wax into the surface of the brass.

This provides a protective layer that helps the brass item maintain your desired finish for a longer time.

Olive oil is a safe, natural item most of us have on hand in the kitchen.

Renaissance Wax is a safe, longer-lasting protective layer, especially on surfaces that will come in contact with skin oils.

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  • Willi Glenn says:

    I’ve found that a baking powder paste cleans most metals quickly and well, but it tends to leach dye so I don’t use it on stones. I’ve never had problems with cleaning metals this way.

    I always wax metal before I sell it but wax doesn’t last forever. I’m thinking of cleaning and waxing pieces for free on a yearly or semi-yearly basis as a marketing tool to help get e-mail addresses and reconnect with old customers.

    I’ve never considered olive oil to protect metal, but it may be of interest to customers who need a quick fix.

    Thanks for the information.

  • Thanks so much for these natural options. I don’t like using astringent chemical metal polishes so I am keen to try these more natural alternatives.

  • I prefer the traditional method of using vinegar and salt for brass cleaning. I must confess that you have simplified the process of cleaning with these easy tips else I have always found it difficult and irksome. Thanks for sharing insight, Glad reading 🙂

  • Alice Olsen says:

    Thank you for these ideas. I usually use tarn-x for copper and brass but it sometimes takes the sheen off so I have to polish it. I’ll try these methods and will share with my customers. I love your newsletter.

  • Judy Bjorkman says:

    If you are traveling, a handy way to clean brass (and other jewelry metal) is to use toothpaste (not the gel kind). Just rub it where needed, then rinse and dry well. Be sure to take an old toothbrush, as well, to scrub toothpaste out of crevices in the jewelry and out from underneath your fingernails.

    Rena, I love your newsletter! Thank you always!

  • Kim says:

    DO NOT USE TOOTHPASTE! Your piece may look o.k. in the short run, but will quickly re-tarnish and tarnish deeper. It will get progressively harder to clean. Take you pieces to a jewelry store to clean, invest in a small ultrasonic cleaner, or purchase Wrights Silver Polish, Brasso (for brass) or Penny Brite (for copper).

  • Judy Bjorkman says:

    I still say, TOOTHPASTE is a handy brass cleaner to use when traveling. I do not suggest that it would be good for daily use. Take along a silver polishing cloth to get a nice bright surface on the jewelry, after the rinsing and drying.

  • WOW! I used the mix of pickle and hydrogen peroxide … just now… and boy does it work and fast! Thanks so much!

  • Carol, I’m glad it worked so well for you! 🙂

  • sharon says:

    explain please the amount of each and how long it takes. Thanks

  • Hi Sharon, just start with a small quantity, and work with it until you get the results you want. If you’re not getting the results you want, you may need to use one of the other methods mentioned above. I hope this helps! 🙂

  • Colin says:

    I have two very old jam pans, brass with steel handles. Been in the garage for years. Love to get them shining again. My experience with cleaning brass goes back to my Army day’s.
    Anybody have any ideas please.

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