How to Clean Brass and Restore Shine with Household Products

Bring back the shine of your favorite brass items with these editor-tested cleaning methods.

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 25 minutes
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $10

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 luster 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. However, before you begin cleaning brass, make sure that what you're polishing is actually made with the material. Just because an item looks like brass doesn't mean it's pure. Many items are 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 if the item you're trying to clean is high in value, consider taking the brass piece in for a professional cleaning.

book plant candlesticks atop gold buffet
Kim Cornelison

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

Cleaning Brass with Ketchup

  • Clean cloth

Cleaning Brass with Vinegar

  • Bowl
  • Soft cloth

Cleaning Brass with Lemon and Baking Soda

  • Soft cloth

Cleaning Brass with Soap and Water

  • Microfiber cloth
  • Toothbrush

Cleaning Brass with Toothpaste

  • Microfiber cloth
  • Clean cloth


Cleaning Brass with Ketchup

  • Ketchup

Cleaning Brass with Vinegar

  • Salt
  • Vinegar
  • All purpose flour

Cleaning Brass with Lemon and Baking Soda

  • Lemon
  • Baking Soda

Cleaning Brass with Soap and Water

  • Soap

Cleaning Brass with Toothpaste

  • Toothpaste


How to Clean Brass with Ketchup

Who would have guessed that your favorite burger topping could double as a brass cleaner? Ketchup's mix of tomatoes, spices, and vinegar is a cheap, straightforward way to revive old brass. This simple cleaning hack requires only the condiment and a few clean cloths.

  1. Test First

    Start by squirting a small amount of ketchup onto the brass in an inconspicuous spot, such as the bottom. Let it sit for a few seconds, then wipe clean with a damp cloth. If it works well, repeat on the remainder of the brass piece.

  2. Apply Ketchup and Wipe Clean

    If the test is successful, apply ketchup to the brass item and let it sit for a few seconds. Wipe the item clean using a damp cloth.

  3. Rinse and Dry

    Rinse thoroughly and dry with a clean cloth.

How to Clean Brass with Vinegar

To make tough stains disappear, combine salt's abrasive power, vinegar's acid, and all-purpose flour as a thickener.

  1. Combine Salt and Vinegar

    In a medium-sized bowl, add 1 teaspoon salt to 1/2 cup vinegar. Stir the mixture until the salt dissolves.

  2. Make a Paste

    Add enough flour to the salt/vinegar mixture to make a paste (about two tablespoons).

  3. Apply Paste

    Rub the paste onto your brass object and let it dry for 10 minutes.

  4. Rinse and Dry

    Rinse, wipe clean, and thoroughly dry the brass with a clean cloth.

white kitchen with mixed metal finishes and hardware
Adam Albright

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.

  1. Combine Ingredients

    Start by squeezing the juice from half of a lemon into a bowl. Add 1 teaspoon baking soda and mix.

  2. Apply and Buff

    With a clean cloth, rub some of the mixture onto the brass. Polish and buff away grime, reapplying the mixture as needed.

  3. Wipe and Dry

    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.

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.

  1. Mix Soap in Water

    Make a warm bath for your brass in a clean container and mix in a few tablespoons of soap.

  2. Soak and Scrub Brass

    Soak the brass for a few seconds. Use a microfiber cloth or clean toothbrush to remove any stains. The warm water and soap will do some of the work, but this method might still require a bit of elbow grease!

  3. Rinse and Dry

    Once all of the tarnish is gone, remove the brass piece from the soapy water. Rinse and wipe dry with a clean cloth.

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, pick a plain, white toothpaste (you don't need any gels or fancy flavors).

  1. Apply Toothpaste

    Apply a thin layer of toothpaste to your brass object. Let it rest for a few minutes.

  2. Polish Brass

    Then polish with a clean cloth. For tough spots, you'll likely need to use a bit more effort. Feel free to apply extra dabs of toothpaste to particularly stubborn areas.

  3. Rinse and Dry

    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. You can easily find these tried-and-true brass cleaners on Amazon and at a variety of other retailers: Brasso metal polish ($8), Bar Keepers Friend Cleanser ($8), and Mr. Metal liquid polish ($14). Always wash the item with mild soap and water to remove dust or other debris before polishing. Then follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully to clean and polish your brass item.

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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