Today I went thrift shopping and hit the jackpot with brass finds! There were bow details on candle sticks and a tray with bamboo trim- swoon! But they were badly tarnished. I decided to give them a good cleaning and thought I’d document the process and share how to clean brass.
the beauty of brass
I love adding brass into my house. It creates a warmth and a bit of sparkle with the deep yellow gold tone. I think brass is beautiful and have brass items in my home from whimsical accessories to door knobs, cabinet pulls, and light fixtures.
One of my favorite things about brass is that it’s an easy to find item at thrift shops. I routinely keep my eye out for accessories made from brass since they’re such a great accent item.
Brass is made from zinc and copper. It is inexpensive to create while still being strong.
But, since it is metal, it can become dull and tarnished over time.
what causes brass to tarnish
So what causes brass to tarnish? Consider this a list of things to avoid coming in contact with brass items if you want to keep them shiny-
- salt water- which can also cause pitting
- cleaning solutions that contain ammonia- which can also cause pitting (ammonia can be in window cleaners, all-purpose cleaners, oven and toilet bowl cleaners)
- oil from skin (so avoid touching if possible)
- dust and dirt (keep brass items clean)
brass from India
I’ve noticed that most of the brass I’ve collected has a “made in India” sticker on the bottom. I wondered why so I looked into it.
There is a city in India called Benares that is located in an area that naturally has copper (one of the main ingredients in brass).
Benares is a pilgrimage site which means for hundreds of years, its hosted many visitors. Brass items like utensils, artifacts, and oil lamps were manufactured to be sold as a business to these travelers.
Trades were established with an apprentice program. Eventually, a school was built in Benares to teach brassware. And so, India has a rich history with creating brass.
Side note, the above picture is from my brass tray. How great is it that it was made for the Taj Mahal?! I assume it was a souvenir. I love the history of this little piece that now lives in my home! This is what’s so great about thrifting!
how to clean brass
Start by creating a paste with the powder Barkeeper’s Friend powder and warm water.
Use a microfiber towel to scrub the brass. A soft sponge would work too.
Use a cleaning brush to get in the details. I bought this brush off of Amazon for cleaning stains on laundry. It’s a great medium bristle (not too hard, not too soft) and was perfect for getting in the cracks and crevices.
An old tooth brush would work fine too.
Rinse with water when done cleaning. Using gloves would probably be smart too- this really dried out my hands.
Here’s how the tray looked once clean. It exposed some imperfections I can’t get off. But as a friend on Instagram reminded me, little issues show history. This has been used and loved and has had a whole other life. Isn’t that beautiful?!
And now it lives on my night stand. A touch of sparkle to corral my plant and decor. I love it!
One thing you can’t tell from these pictures is how much shinier the tray is after cleaning. The tone also changes. Instead of a deep goals, it shows more of the copper and is a bit of an orange gold.
keep an eye out for brass plated items
Next, since the tray was so satisfying, I decided to clean the handle on this thrifted veneer nightstand.
It’s pretty much black, but you can kind of see that there’s some hints of metallic.
So I followed the above steps- make a paste with bar keeper’s friend, scrub and look what magically happened!
After rinsing with water, it got most of its old sparkle back!!! It was so exciting!
But, I did make one mistake with this handle, I tried using a stiff cleaning brush and it did damage to a few curves.
Make sure to avoid using stiff brushes (especially metal ones), steel wool, and abrasive scrubbing cloths- these will scratch and damage the brass.
Before cleaning brass, check to make sure it really is brass. It could also be another metal like zinc, steel, or cast iron that is brass-plated.
How to check if an item is brass–
- put a magnet on the item in question
Why? Magnets won’t stick to solid brass! If the magnet hangs on, it is in fact brass-plated
Clean brass-plated items differently-
Simply use hot soppy water. Rubbing and scrubbing them too much can remove the brass plating.
A magnet didn’t stick to my drawer pull so I wonder if I just damaged the brass?
I think lots of people spray paint handles before checking if they’re brass. Try cleaning them first!
let it soak
I decided to clean all the brass I could find- it was kind of fun to get it to sparkle! One thing I learned is to apply the bar keeper’s friend paste and let it sit for a few minutes. Then scrub and it’ll come clean quicker. That way you need less elbow grease.
Another way to clean brass is with ketchup! Just spread it on, cover the brass, wait and rinse it off. There’s less scrubbing needed and most people have ketchup at home.
I ended up hanging my little bow candlesticks on either side of my drapes with a framed piece of art. The frames were thrift store finds too! $0.99 each! The candlesticks were $4 each. Which I think is a great price as well.
While thrifting, I also got this $10 piece of art. I love how it looks next to the laundry room. I’ll be finishing that space and debuting it on Sunday so check back then for the reveal!
I hope these tips were helpful on how to clean brass! May you’re brass be shiny and bright! 😉
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