Brass and copper are two of the most beautiful metals used in antique or vintage building pieces. Over time, however, these metals can become tarnished, or develop a patina that changes their natural color. While some prefer the look of this aged patina, others prefer their metals to remain bright and lustrous. If you have a piece you’d like to keep looking bright, or if you’ve found a piece in our gorgeous selection of decorative metal items that you’re hoping to restore, continue reading below for our tips on polishing up your copper and brass.
Before removing any existing patina from brass or copper pieces, it is important to have them appraised by an expert. In some cases, removing the patina from a vintage or antique piece can seriously lower the value of the piece. Consider coming by one of our Olde Good Things, locations and letting us take a look at your item to ensure that your items retain their full value.
If your piece is brass, you’ll first need to check if it’s solid brass or simply brass-plated. This is easy to test using a magnet. If the item is only brass-plated, the magnet will stick. In this case, you should only complete the first step below. Over-cleaning any item that is plated brass can remove the finish. If your piece is made of modern copper, it will have had a lacquer applied to its surface to protect the piece. These should not be scrubbed, and there is no need for a commercial cleaner.
The first step in cleaning any copper or brass item is a simple wash with hot water and a mild soap. Use a soft cloth to wipe the piece down, and then a clean, dry, soft cloth to dry. This will usually remove most deposits. Once your piece is dry, you can choose to use a commercial cleaner and polish, or you may choose a gentler option. It is quite easy to make a simple polish that works well on either copper or brass using items from your own kitchen.
If your piece is solid brass, a simple buff with a jeweler’s cloth will remove most mild tarnish. You may need to remove the lacquer from a solid brass item in order to polish it well. This should NOT be done for copper items, however. If you wish to use a polish, or for copper items with only a bit of tarnish, a simple paste made of equal parts vinegar, salt, and all-purpose flour will work quite well. Plain toothpaste (without any mouthwash or other additives) will also work well. Using an old, clean toothbrush will help you reach any small crevices where dirt and tarnish often collect. When applying the polish, wear cotton gloves to avoid canceling out your polishing work by leaving fingerprints. Apply the paste to your item with a clean, soft, cloth. Once the piece is covered, rinse the paste away and buff your piece with a separate cloth until it achieves a brilliant, rich shine.
For copper pieces that have more moderate to sever tarnish, a stronger cleaner can be made using equal parts real lemon juice and salt. Rub onto your piece with a clean cloth briskly, and then rinse. Dry with a clean soft cloth and buff the piece briskly. Tomato ketchup or paste also makes a very effective cleaner for stains or tarnish. If these methods don’t help to remove the tarnish, you may have to consider purchasing a commercial cleaner. Once your piece is polished, if you removed lacquer from your brass items, you will need to be sure to reapply the protective coating.
Olde Good Things has a HUGE selection of brass and copper items in out inventory, and if you find one you love, don’t let a little tarnish keep you from buying and using that item in an awesome home remodel or decorating project.