Bring back the beautiful shine of your favorite brass items with these editor-tested cleaning methods. We'll show you how to use common household ingredients to remove grime and buildup.

By Katie Bandurski
Updated April 13, 2020
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Over time, your favorite brass pieces can lose their shine as oxygen, water, and other elements cause the metal to corrode or tarnish. Luckily, there are many simple ways to bring life back to your brass. With our editor-tested methods for how to clean brass, you'll only need basic household supplies and a few minutes of your time to restore shine to hardware, doorknobs, decorative objects, and more. Before you begin cleaning brass, however, make sure that what you're polishing is actually made with the material. Just because an item looks like brass doesn't mean that it's pure. Many items are simply brass-plated, and these cleaning methods could damage them. If you're not sure, try this easy test: Check the metal with a magnet; if it sticks, it's not real brass.

Before you start cleaning your brass item, you should also check to see if the brass has been lacquered. Lacquer is a thin, shiny layer that helps to prevent tarnish. Unfortunately, most cleaning methods will damage lacquered brass, so your best option is to take the piece to a professional.

You'll also want to understand what kind of stain, grime, or buildup you're working with. Always test the cleaning method first in a small, inconspicuous area. For stubborn stains, you can try several different cleaning methods on the same spot, just make sure to complete the entire process before moving on to the next method. If you have any doubts or the item you're trying to clean is high in value, consider taking the brass piece in for a professional cleaning.

1. How to Clean Brass with Ketchup

Who would have guessed that your favorite burger topping could double as a brass cleanser? Ketchup's mix of tomatoes, spices, and vinegar is a cheap, straightforward way to revive old brass. This simple cleaning hack requires just the condiment and a few clean cloths. Start by squirting a small amount of ketchup onto the brass in an inconspicuous spot, such as the bottom. Let it sit for a couple of seconds, then wipe clean with a damp cloth. Repeat on the remainder of the brass piece. Rinse thoroughly, then dry with a clean cloth.

2. How to Clean Brass with Vinegar

Three common household items unite for this brass cleaning method. To make tough stains disappear, combine salt's abrasive power, vinegar's tough acid, and all-purpose flour as a thickener. In a medium-size bowl, add 1 tsp. salt to 1/2 cup vinegar. Stir the mixture until the salt is dissolved. Then add enough flour to make a paste (about two tbsp.). Rub the paste onto your brass object and let dry for 10 minutes. Rinse, wipe clean, and thoroughly dry the brass with a clean cloth.

Adam Albright Photography, Inc.

3. How to Clean Brass with Lemon and Baking Soda

Lemon juice and baking soda are powerful natural cleaners on their own, but when united, this dynamic duo removes brass buildup with ease. Start by squeezing the juice from half of a lemon into a bowl. Add 1 tsp. baking soda and mix. With a clean cloth, rub some of the mixture onto the brass. Polish and buff away grime, reapplying the mixture as needed. Wipe away any leftover residue with a wet rag, then dry with a clean cloth.

Editor's Tip: Try this method on brass items that you can't easily soak, such as doorknobs and knockers. You'll revive the shine without having to remove any hardware.

4. How to Clean Brass with Soap and Water

Sometimes the simplest brass cleaning methods are the most effective. If you're short on cleaning supplies, try soap and water to clean tarnished brass. Make a warm bath for your brass in a clean container, then mix in a few tablespoons of soap. Soak the brass for a few seconds, then use a microfiber cloth or clean toothbrush to work out any stains. The warm water and soap will do some of the work, but this method may still require a bit of elbow grease! Once all of the tarnish is gone, remove the brass piece from the soapy water. Rinse and wipe dry with a clean cloth.

Brie Williams

5. How to Clean Brass with Toothpaste

Toothpaste helps whiten your teeth, and you can use that same cleaning magic on brass. To clean brass with toothpaste, first pick a plain, white toothpaste (you don't need any gels or fancy flavors). Then, apply a thin layer of the paste to your brass object. Let rest for a few minutes, then polish with a clean cloth. For tough spots, you'll likely need to use a little force. Feel free to apply extra dabs of toothpaste to particularly stubborn areas. Once the brass is polished to your liking, rinse with cool water and dry with a microfiber cloth.

More Tips for Cleaning and Polishing Brass

If you prefer to use a commercial brass cleaner, be sure to choose one that's specifically designed for brass, such as Brasso metal polish, Bar Keepers Friend cleanser, or Mr. Metal liquid polish. Always wash the item with mild soap and water to remove dust or other debris before polishing.

Brass polishes typically leave a protective coating on the surface, which helps prevent future tarnish and discoloration. To keep your brass looking shiny and clean, avoid touching the piece too often (the oils on your skin can accelerate tarnishing) and use a soft cloth when cleaning or polishing to prevent scratches on the surface. With regular upkeep, your brass will maintain its beautiful shine for years to come.

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