Vintage brass items are one of my all time favorite styling/collecting items. But often they’re really vintage, covered in tarnish, and not as pretty as they used to be. Luckily, most of that tarnish and age can be safely (and gently) removed with a little scrubbing and two ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen. And just like that your brass can be looking almost as good as new. Almost.
What you’ll need: 1/2 of a lemon (unless you’re cleaning something HUGE), a small bowl, a spoon for mixing, and baking soda (we ended up using about 4 tablespoons). And of course, your brass object.
First make sure your object is real brass, otherwise you might actually end up tarnishing the material further, rather than polishing. The easiest way to tell if something is real brass versus brass colored is to take a magnet to it’s surface and see if it sticks, since a magnet won’t stick to real brass. Once you’ve determined you’re working with real, honest brass it’s time to get scrubbing.
Step 1: Juice your lemon half into your mixing bowl, spooning out the seeds if they pop out. We wouldn’t recommend using lemon juice from concentrate (you know, the juice you can buy in the lemon shaped bottle) only because we’re not sure how any added ingredients or preservatives might interact with the baking soda or brass surface.
Step 2: Start adding in baking soda, a table spoon at a time, and mixing until a paste forms. You’re going for a “toothpaste” like consistency. We ended up using about 4 tablespoons in all, but it will vary depending on the juiciness of your lemon.
Step 3 & 4: Apply a small spoonful to a soft cloth and begin rubbing your brass object with the cloth and paste. Don’t be afraid to really scrub some of those tough tarnish spots, or use your fingers for tiny detailed areas.
Step 5: Rinse the paste off your brass object with warm water, and immediately dry with a soft towel.
That’s it. Two ingredients is all it takes to safely and gently clean all your favorite brass items. No dangerous chemicals, gloves, or face masks needed. We even made a quick “how to” video to show you just how easy it really is:
And just in case you don’t have any of your own brass items (yet), we’ve rounded up a few vintage brass objects we love from around the internet (including our very own Flea). They’re each one of a kind so grab ’em while you can. Your shelves, coffee tables, and desks will thank you.
1. Brass Planter | 2. Brass Bolt Paper Weight | 3. Brass Letter Holder | 4. Brass Bamboo Tray | 5. Brass Ash Tray | 6. Brass Tennis Racket Memo Holder | 7. Brass Pineapple Ice Bucket | 8. Solid Brass Ruler
Thank you! Filing away.
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At a flea market, I recently bought a brass bowl with intricate etchings. I tried baking soda and lemon juice, plus a little vinegar, which helped some. But the indentations from the etchings were still filled with black tarnish. Eventually, I ended up boiling the bowl in water + vinegar for at least ten minutes. It made a big difference. Flakes of black tarnish rose to the top of the water, and more came off with repeated scrubbings of baking soda and lemon juice (I used my hands and also a toothbrush). There’s still a little tarnish, but not much, and it can’t be seen from where the bowl is now displayed on my bookshelf.
I typically use Brasso but I don’t enjoy it as it feels slimy and doesn’t smell that great. I’ll definitely try the baking soda and lemon juice technique along with the boiling in vinegar trick the above poster mentioned for the tough ones!
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Just a reminder that some items are more valuable with their original patina (not just brass items). You should research your items before doing something like this in case you to irrevocable damage to the value by removing the patina and or some artists only signed their brass pieces (in the 1960’s) with felt marker so you could be removing the signatures as some a very hard to find or partially worn away.
What a cute video! Love love love!
These how-to’s are great! Keep ’em coming! Thanks for the info EHD team 🙂
Ooh! While I’m a fan of a good patina, my brass wall birds look rather fingerprinty. Lemon concoction to the rescue.
Hi, I recently was given a pair of vintage, mid century brass pendants that unfortunately have white paint on them. I am wondering if there is a way to safely remove paint from brass?
Related question: I bought an amazing brass bottle opener in the shape of a lady’s leg from my local antique spot, but they (of course) slapped the price tag right on top and the tag goo is just not coming off. Does the EHD team have any advice for getting that kind of stuff off? Thanks!
I’d try a little olive oil to deal with the adhesive, followed by the baking soda and lemon juice treatment to remove any remaining residue. You can also use salt with or instead of the baking soda, if you need something a little more abrasive.
I’m not sure if your pendants are too big for this, but some people swear by boiling brass hardware in water (maybe with a little vinegar) to remove paint from brass hardware.
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