5 easy tips for cleaning and buffing brass

There are two kinds of brass to consider — brass with a protective lacquer coating (most common) and raw brass. Raw brass is the bigger challenge to care for, since this copper-and-zinc alloy oxidizes when it is exposed to air, resulting in tarnish.

5 easy tips for cleaning and buffing brass

1. To remove dirt from lacquered brass

  • Mix mild dishwashing liquid with warm water and apply it with a non-abrasive sponge or cloth.
  • Rinse with fresh water and dry thoroughly with a soft cloth.
  • Buff with an extremely soft cloth or chamois. Avoid using terry towelling and paper towels, because they will scratch the surface of the brass.

2. To remove tarnish from raw brass

  • Take a tip from antique dealers and the military: Use a metal that contains cleaners to eliminate the tarnish, abrasives for polishing and oil to protect the brass from the air.
  • Follow the instructions on the package.
  • Only use a thin layer of metal polish — more is not better.
  • To keep your unlacquered brass gleaming, polish it every few months.

3. To spiff up soot-grimed brass fireplace equipment

  • The cleaning techniques outlined above may not be sufficient. If they aren't, try rubbing the brass with extra-fine steel wool (000) or very fine emery cloth. But be careful because you're in abrasive territory now.
  • Rub the metal in one direction only — not with a circular motion.
  • Once the brass is clean, follow up with a commercial brass polish.

4. To remove a sticker from brass

  • Don't attempt to scrape it off — this could damage the finish.
  • Apply methylated spirits or a citrus-oil product to a soft cloth.
  • Wipe the solvent onto the sticker and let it sit for a few seconds.
  • Then wipe the sticker and its gummy adhesive away.
  • Buff with a clean, soft cloth.

5. When you don’t have a commercial brass cleaner

  • You can still remove tarnish from raw brass with a lemon. Slice a lemon in half, sprinkle the cut surface with salt and then squeeze the lemon over the brass that needs cleaning.
  • Wipe down the brass with one soft cloth and then buff it with a second soft cloth. The technique works equally well with lacquered and raw brass.
  • An alternative is to make a paste of bicarbonate of soda and water (or just use toothpaste, which is also a mild abrasive). Apply the paste to a soft cloth and then rub the brass.
  • Wipe clean with a fresh cloth.
  • Once it's clean, rub unlacquered brass with a light coating of paraffin oil, olive oil or lemon oil to protect it from further tarnish. Lacquered brass doesn't need this sort of protection.
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