Spring Cleaning Volume 3: Brass Plate (Learn from my mistakes!)

I’m doing a little series on the blog this week, on tips and tricks I’ve used to clean household items.

Today we’re going to talk about how to clean brass and brass-plated objects.  All brass-looking objects are not created equally.  Trust me.

I hate having to write “learn from my mistakes” posts because they usually mean I really screwed something up.  In this case, the mistake was cleaning brass-plated drawer pulls with Brasso.

I should have known that breaking my golden rule (use what you have to clean things) would turn out badly, but look at what I was dealing with:

See that black spot on the left side of the handle I’m holding?  I knew there had to be a good way to rescue these drawer pulls from the state they were in.  With a name like Brasso, this cleaner seemed like the obvious solution.

I put some Brasso on a rag and wiped it onto the handles.  With a clean section of the rag, I gently polished it off.  At first it seemed like nothing was happening, so I rubbed a little harder…

Whomp whommmmmp!

Instead of restoring the blackened spot to a nice brassy finish, the Brasso actually removed the brass-plate from this section of the handle.  I quickly rinsed off the remaining Brasso to check out the damage.

It didn’t turn out as bad as I thought it would, but can you see where the spot on the left side of this handle is silver instead of gold-toned?  🙁

I KNEW I’d read somewhere that Brasso can actually be used to remove brass plating and turn a gold-toned object silver.  Here’s an example of what you can get from ugly ol’ brass:


That would have been excellent information if I was going for silver drawer pulls, but the piece these came from is 100% mid-century modern and silver wouldn’t work.

Turns out these were brass-plated drawer pulls and the black spot was rust, not tarnish.  I decided the spot wasn’t noticeable enough to get in a tizzy over, but here’s what I wish I would have known before my little cleaning experiment.

The Lesson: Brass and brass-plate are not created equally.  Brass will tarnish and brass-plate will rust.  To know how to clean the brass-looking object, you have to know if it’s real brass or not.

The Test: Stick a magnet to it (Sound familiar?  Check out my How to Clean Stainless post!).  If it sticks, the object is NOT real brass.


The Cleaning Process for Brass-Plate: After a Google search, I found a great blog called How to Clean Things.  They recommend cleaning brass-plated objects with mild dish detergent, water, and a soft rag.  The key here is being gentle with the finish so you don’t remove the plating.

The Cleaning Process for Brass: The same site also includes additional tips for cleaning brass if the dish detergent method doesn’t work.  You may or may not have to remove a clear coat of laquer from your brass object before you can polish away the tarnish, so boiling the object can help you remove that laquer.  They also give tips on how to make a lemon juice + baking soda polish that will really bring the luster back to your brass.

Household Products Used to Clean Brass: Can you tell this is my favorite part?  No more buying specific products to clean specific objects if I can find a solution in my fridge!

Before you run out and buy brass polish, try one of these:

  • Lemon juice + baking soda (or salt)
  • Ketchup
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • White vinegar + salt
  • Yogurt!
  • Boiling milk + water

Pretty amazing right?  For more info, check out the blog How to Clean Things, and good luck shining up that brass (it’s coming back, you know)!

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22 Responses to Spring Cleaning Volume 3: Brass Plate (Learn from my mistakes!)

  1. Oh no! Well, it isn’t too noticeable, thankfully! Good to know about the magnet test, thanks.

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  3. Cheryl says:

    hey meredith!
    Hope you are doing well. Not sure if you frequent susie harris’ blog or not, but I know you were looking for something to keep fingerprints off your new fridge and have it be non toxic as well. Susie shared what she used and you might be interested in giving this proudct a try. Good thing is that this product is that it is sold at Sears,Target and Lowes and smells like citrus. Here is the link to Susie’s blog about the post.

  4. Melissa says:

    I, unfortunately, made this same mistake times 1000. I recently scored a campaign desk for $10 on craigslist and the brass hardware was horrible. Dark brown to black with only a few goldish tones peeking out. I also used brasso and it peeled most of the finish off. A lot of the pieces also look pink now. Not the look I am going for. Would you suggest using them as is (the “antiqued” look)? I am leaning towards spray painting them gold since they seem pretty ruined anyway.

    • Meredith says:

      Oh Melissa, I feel your pain! How awful!
      I think you’ve got the right idea to spray them gold since the brass plating is mostly gone. I know if you make sure they’re really clean before spraying and consider using a clear coat on top, your painted finish should be almost as strong as the brass plate that was on them to begin with.
      Total bummer, but at least the desk was only $10 and not $100, right? I bet it wil still turn out great when you’re done!
      Good luck girl!

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  6. Adrianne says:

    I just bought a brass bar cart (solid brass and plated combo – great) and brass bookshelves (plated) and have been searching how to clean them! Most brass plated cleaning stuff I’ve seen assumes you want to go back to silver. So helpful – thanks!

  7. Heather says:

    I JUST did this very thing. Ran across your site trying to find out why my brass drawer pulls revealed a silver metal after I used brass cleaner on them! I never knew there was such a thing as brass plating!

    Oh,well. Live and learn. Since these pulls are ornate, I now have a combination of shiny silver and dark! Thinking I will go with painting them at this point!

  8. Fran Epple says:

    thanks so much for the tip with the magnet. I wasn’t sure how to clean my brass bed
    and now I know. I love to goggle to find out answers to SOOOO many of my questions. You are the greatest.

  9. Valerie Wright says:

    I was delighted to read your advice. We are redoing kitchen cabinets which have brass plated hinges. We tried the box stores to purchase brushed nickel hinges that would fit our doors without success. By accident I thought maybe I can get advice on line about removing the brass finish and reuse our existing finish. What luck–I stubled upon your advice. Many thanks

  10. delia says:

    I cleaned my tarnised silver earings with brasso and it turned shiny brown what can I do help!

  11. Dee says:

    Hi, I was jut reading your post and wanted to let people know that if the item is brass plated aluminum the magnet trick will not work. A Magnet will not stick to Aluminum either.

  12. Hi, have some brass plated service 20 century Baroque chargers, made by Godinger silver, they were made in Hong Kong in 1991. Years ago i cleaned then with brass cleaner which seemed to destroy the finish and now has a silver look. Would like to use them for the holiday. How can I restore or what solution do u have to bring them back to life Thanks.

  13. Bob says:

    For those who may have accidently removed brass plating from items, all may not be lost. Look in your local yellow pages or web search for a local plating shop. Usually these folks can replate an item for you and you’d be surprised at very reasonable costs.

  14. cory says:

    Ok so my roommate wouldn’t listen to me an totally rubbed all the brass finish off the weights of an old 59s pharmaceutical candy scales. they look nice an clean an silver now but, did she ruin the value of them?

  15. LARRY DAVIS says:

    I bought a heavily tarnished Brass Footrail for a bar. I did the magnet trick, it didn’t stick. I tried the flour, salt, vinegar bit also, it cleaned a little but not near enough to be able to use the footrail. Is there anything stronger that would clean this up to original (or close to) shape? Any help would be appreciated!

  16. Chris says:

    I feel your pain. I made the mistake of using Brasso to try to restore the tarnished rays on my Mid-Century Elgin starburst clock which is now pretty much ruined.

  17. Elva Smith says:

    I cleaned my brass chafing dish (purchased in Iran) with brasso. Now the are filled with blue funk, and I cannot remove it. What should

  18. Lynn Griffin says:

    Great ideas! I have a couple of brass bracelets that need cleaning. I don’t want to buy a special product, which one of the products you’ve listed above will clean them the best way? Greets!


  19. sillygirl says:

    I have a really old cabinet with drawer pulls that look a lot like your handles (I’m trying to identify the brand & tried looking for unique details) – I was cleaning the cabinet with Murphy’s oil soap & low-n-behold it cleaned those handles as if they were brand new!

  20. Marco Rodriguez says:

    Dear Heards, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and your mistakes. I’m so happy I found your blog on my very first search; I now consider myself an expert on polishing brass–LOL. Hardly, but I can now safely polish anything brass or brass plated without destroying it. And I didn’t have to spend 3 hours on the Internet looking through different blogs. Thank you very much.

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