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How To Clean Brass

Updated on March 2, 2011

Introduction

Whether you want to polish your brass, or add a nice patina to give your brass an antique look, the most important step you must take to make your finished brass look beautiful is to clean your brass.  In this article, you will learn how to properly clean your brass, and how to effectively remove dirt and impurities from your brass to make it look great!

Clean vs. Dirty
Clean vs. Dirty

Should You Even Bother?

Depending on the object you want to finish, sometimes it is better to leave the brass untouched. Often times, antique brass will lose its value if the patina and tarnish is removed, even if it looks beautiful when it is polished. While the brass can still be cleaned, this tarnish should not be removed. Because of the uncertainty that is involved when you clean brass (sometimes, the brass can react unusually and just wiping it with a cloth can destroy it) it might be best to let a professional clean the brass if it is an antique. Although your brass may be oxidized, the patina prevents further tarnish, so keep that in mind. If you are still ready to proceed, even if you want to add your own tarnish to the piece, you must also determine whether your object is really brass. Sometimes, a piece you thought was brass is actually brass plated. You can determine this with a magnet: brass is not magnetic, and a magnet should not stick to brass. If the magnet does stick, and you continue to try to clean the brass, you may end up removing the brass plating and destroying the object altogether. At this point, if you are sure the object is true brass, you can move on to the next steps.

Wash, Rinse, Repeat

The first step in cleaning brass is washing it off with a detergent and water.  This is effective in removing dirt and oil from a brass piece.  A personal tip I can give is to soak the brass in hot water that has a scoop full of Oxiclean added to it.  This will help release all dirt and oil from the brass object and get it very clean.  While your pieces are wet, it is also effective to use a nylon bristle brush to brush off stubborn areas, as well as hard to reach places.  Do not scrub the brass, especially around stamped or engraved areas - use a delicate touch to avoid mashing and destroying pieces.  Also, make sure to wear rubber gloves during this stage, as fingerprints on the brass can be as hard to remove as 100 year old dirt.

Remove The Lacquer

The next step in cleaning brass is to remove the lacquer coating on the brass.  Whether the piece is clean, tarnished, or polished with imperfections, this step is critical in adding a finish to your brass objects.  To remove the lacquer, first make sure to handle the piece while wearing rubber gloves.  Next, you can clean the piece with canned aerosol stripper, which works great to remove even the strongest clear coat lacquer finishes.  Make sure to lay the brass on a surface, such as an old rag, that can withstand getting these chemicals all over it.  If you don't want to use stripper, use canned lacquer thinner, and apply several coats with a sponge and paintbrush to remove the coating - another effective method is to simply soak the brass in lacquer thinner overnight to ensure that everything is removed.  Again, make sure to wear protective gloves, which protect your hands, and also protect the brass against getting dirty all over again.

Special Brass Cleaner
Special Brass Cleaner

To Polish or Patina - That is the Question

Regardless of how you want to finish your brass at this point, it is important to take the final step and use a specialized brass cleaner to effectively clean the brass.  After you apply the brass cleaner, you must remove all the residue that it leaves behind by washing it with more lacquer thinner or simple isopropyl alcohol.  At this point, the brass is as clean as it will get, and you can move on to adding a patina, or you can polish and reapply lacquer to the piece to lock in a lasting shine.

Conclusion

Cleaning brass properly is the most important step in adding a great finish to a brass object. This article should have demonstrated the most effective ways to clean brass, and should serve as a reference to getting your brass perfectly clean.

Another option entirely!

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