How To Clean Brass And How To Polish Brass

This article will explan how to clean brass and how to polish brass, and how to tell when you should do one or the other.

how to clean brass
Photo courtesy of Paul Keleher
Brass is an alloy made of copper and zinc, and is commonly found in the home on bed frames, musical instruments, lighting fixtures, lamps, candlesticks, and decorative pieces.

Unlacquered brass can easily tarnish, and needs to be polished every few months. However, lacquered brass should not be polished, but instead cleaned and dusted regularly.

Lacquered Brass - How To Clean Brass

If brass is lacquered it should not be polished, but instead cleaned. You can tell if brass is lacquered because it will be coated with a clear layer, and tarnish will only show up if a crack appears in the lacquered surface.

The most important step in cleaning brass is to dust it regularly using a soft cloth.

You will generally not need to wash lacquered brass. If, however, you need to wash something off wet the surface with a mixture of water and mild dishwashing liquid in slightly warm water. (Do not use hot water as this can damage the lacquer.)

Get the brass only as wet as needed to clean the surface, then wipe with a clean wet cloth to remove all soap residue and dry thoroughly.

Unlacquered Brass - How To Polish Brass

Unlacquered brass tarnishes easily, and if you want your brass to stay bright and shiny you will need to polish it every couple of months.

Warning - Polishing Antique Brass May Lessen Its Value

Some antique brass, such as handles on antique furniture, or other very old items will have a distinctive patina from the tarnish they have accumulated over the years.

Antique dealers and collectors look for this patina to assess age, condition, and determine value. Polishing and removing tarnish may cause these items to decrease in value.

If you have any doubt about the historical significance of an item, before you polish it you should take it to a professional for evaluation and appraisal.

To polish brass you will need the following:

  • Cotton cloths
  • Brass polish (some commercial products are shown below)
  • Toothbrush
  • Cotton gloves (optional, but recommended)


1. Make sure that the brass is clean of all surface dust and debris before you begin polishing it. (See above on how to clean brass.)

2. Put on your gloves (optional) and then place your brass polish on the cotton cloth and begin rubbing the tarnish off the surface of the brass.

3. If you choose to use them the gloves protect your hands from the polish and also the brass from the oils and dirts on your hands which can cause more tarnish.

4. You will use the toothbrush to gently rub the hard to reach areas, such as grooves in the brass, which are tarnished.

5. Once all the tarnish is removed rub and buff the brass to remove excess polish, and to make the brass shiny.

Note when polishing things such as brass handles, you need to remove the handles from the furniture before polishing so you do not accidentally get brass polish on wood furniture. After polishing, you then replace the handles back onto the furniture.

Be Gentle When Polishing Plated Brass

Items which are merely brass plated (meaning a thin layer of brass over another metal, generally), should be polished gently and carefully.

Some abrasive commercial polishes may remove the brass plating. This is especially likely to happen with brass pots.

I recommend that you use a homemade brass polish when cleaning brass pots, because this brass cleaning recipe is also nontoxic.

How To Polish Brass - The Video

Want to learn even more about how to clean brass, and polishing brass? Watch this short video.

(Note that they use the commercial brass polish, Brasso, in the video.)

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