How to Care for Metal Household Items

How to care for metal household items

Every household has a complement of serving pieces — from candlesticks to flower vases and fruit bowls — that are made of a variety of metals.  Follow these guidelines to keep metals well maintained and shining bright.

How to Care for Metal Household Items

You can take care of silver, silver plate or stainless steel serving pieces the same way you take care of flatware made of the same metal. For other metals, the care is somewhat different.  Always wear protective gloves when using polishes and solvents, and work in a well-ventilated area.

1. Copper

Small copper items can be cleaned by boiling for an hour or more in a pot containing a mixture of 250 millilitres (one cup) vinegar and 15 millilitres (one tablespoon) salt per litre/quart of water. Wash with soap and water, rinse and dry with a lint-free towel. Use commercial copper polish on larger items.

Just be sure to thoroughly wash the items afterwards with soap and water to completely remove all the polish residue. Otherwise, it will leave a green stain.

2. Lacquered finish

Brass candlesticks, copper vases and other metal objects are often coated with a clear lacquer to prevent air from tarnishing the metal. For pieces that are not used for cooking or regularly filled with water, this coating can keep the metal looking shiny for a long time.

  • Simply dust these items using a soft cloth and count yourself lucky. Once the lacquer starts to wear off, however, you will have to remove it all to keep a uniform finish on the metal.
  • Use acetone to take off the lacquer, clean the piece with the appropriate polish, wash it in soapy water, rinse and dry.
  • Lacquer is available as a spray or in liquid form from hardware stores or home centres, but it is difficult to reapply evenly. You might want to have particularly fine pieces relacquered by a professional.

3. Brass

Wash brass pieces in hot soapy water and dry before polishing. You can use a commercial polish on brass or try half a lemon dipped in salt. If the brass piece isn't used in cooking, you can slow the tarnishing process by applying a thin coat of paste wax. (This is particularly good for outdoor brass hardware such as doorknockers or locks.) Rub delicate brass items with a thin coat of lemon oil to slow tarnishing.

4. Pewter

Wash pewter dishes with hot soapy water, rinse and dry with a soft cloth.  Avoid abrasive cleansers or metal scourers, which can scratch pewter. Remove acidic foods — egg, salad dressing, oil, salt, fruit — immediately, so they don't get a chance to damage the metal. Polish with a commercial pewter polish. Pewter is soft, so handle it with care; it is easily dented.

Following these basic steps will help make your household metals last longer.

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