Kicked in the Brass


If you would’ve told me a year ago, even a week ago, that I would be refinishing brass instead of antiquing it or painting it oil rubbed bronze, I would’ve called you crazy.  I’m a child of the 80s and have thus seen way too much brass in my day so I never thought I’d be embracing it so soon.

Until I acquired this desk.

And painted it blue (more on that here).

Once it was painted, the hardware looked really out of place.  The modern look of the blue was screaming for some shiny hardware.  And who was I to tell it no?

So, I set off on a mission to turn the naturally-antiqued brass hardware into their former gleaming selves.

Attempt 1

I researched a few proven brass cleaning methods using everyday household items to save a trip to the store.

I found a method that only required a mix of salt and lemon juice.

Materials Needed:

1/4 cup salt

1/2 lemon


Toothbrush or old rag.  I used these set of Oxo cleaning brushes I had on-hand.

After measuring out the ingredients, the paste looked like this:

I dipped each of the handles in the paste, covered them, then scrubbed away.

Here’s how they turned out:

Yup.  It did nothing.  Onto the next option.

Attempt 2

I needed a stronger solution so I turned to an option that used vinegar.

Materials Needed:

1/4 cup salt

1/4 cup vinegar (I used red wine vinegar because it’s what we had in the pantry, supposedly any type of vinegar would do)

1/4 cup flour


Toothbrush or old rag

Here’s how the paste turned out:

And it proceeded to stink up the whole house.  I’m still gagging from the memory of the aroma.  I got to work scrubbing again.

Aaand… here’s the after.  Some of the tarnish was coming off but it also seemed to be turning red in spots.  Hmm… not exactly the goal.

Chris was convinced that we just needed to let it sit in the vinegar longer, which brings me to our next try.

Attempt 3

Materials Needed:


2 ziploc bags

We poured in the remainder of the red wine vinegar.

Moved the hardware to a ziploc bag (double bagged).  And let the bag sit overnight.

The next day, we were greeted by hardware that had now turned a salmon color.  Oooh boy.

At this point, I was ready to give up and just spray paint them back to a shiny brass state.  Obviously, our attempts were only making it worse.  Before I gave up, I had one last card to play.

Attempt 4 (seriously)

I had heard Brasso worked pretty well.  Then again, I also read that the lemon juice/salt paste worked just as well so I didn’t have much hope in this alternative but what did I have to lose at this point?

I picked up a bottle of Brasso from Home Depot and set to work for a fourth time.

Unfortunately, my camera and I are feuding at the moment and it seems to have deleted all the pictures I took of the process.  It’s not too hard (and is also written on the back of the bottle).  Just squeeze some Brasso onto an old rag then wipe onto the brass object.  Give it a few good rubs then wipe clean with a clean, dry rag.  Be sure to wear gloves!  A step I completely overlooked… I can’t seem to find any serious damage on my hands but they definitely tingled afterwards.  Oops.

Presto.  It worked and quickly at that!  I was shocked.  Why oh why didn’t I try the Brasso first?  Live and learn I guess.

There were still a few stubborn salmon-colored spots so Chris took out his Dremel and polished it out.

Look at those things shine!

Remember, they looked like this just a few minutes prior (shudders):

They completed the look of the desk perfectly.  Third Fourth time’s the charm!

And it looks great on the desk!

To see our transformation of the desk, click here.

So, to recap the results:

Lemon/Salt Paste:

Vinegar/Salt/Flour Paste:

Vinegar Left Overnight:

Brasso and Dremmel Polishing:


I like to consider myself something of a metallurgy hobbyist- I’ve studied the properties of everything from your “everyday” metals such as steel and aluminum to the more exotic metals such as titanium. I can give materials-selection advice based on the requirements of strength properties, weight, and cost. I know all the best methods of adhesion (welding, brazing, soldering), corrosion protection, and care. The problem is that nobody uses brass anymore. At all. So no, I don’t know anything about brass.

When Julie came to me asking how to clean brass, I assumed I knew- vinegar is highly acidic and therefore an excellent cleaning solution. I don’t normally soak metals in anything, but the last time I soaked brass in vinegar, it came out with a really bright finish. What I failed to notice was the amount of tarnish on the brass- the first time, the brass was completely covered, and a good soak simply ate away at the buildup. This time, there was a limited amount of surface corrosion, and once the vinegar wore it away, it began eating into the metal itself. Oops.

Anyway, lesson learned- don’t waste your time with home remedies. I had to bust out my Dremel and polishing wheel to buff out a few pink spots, but ultimately we ended up with some nice, bright handles.

Also, I’m sticking to steel from now on.



Filed under Before & After, Easy DIY Projects, Office

11 responses to “Kicked in the Brass

  1. Jaclyn

    You’re so dedicated. It’s impressive!

    • DO or DIY

      You’re telling me! These things didn’t stand a chance though. Not when the only thing on my mind was a shiny, new desk. You know how I obsess.


  2. Karen

    Oh geez, Julie! I always have Brasso under my sink. I don’t have the same pots and pans that my Mom had, but back in the day, one of my most favorite, self-invented chores was to polish the blrass bottom of her pans – a chore that my Mom never once even entertained. To this day when I go to her house, I look for that one pot to polish! Guess my anal retentiveness didn’t come from that side of the family tree . . . !

    • DO or DIY

      I know what you mean! It’s so satisfying watching the tarnish disappear! Guess we’re both suckers for cheap entertainment. 🙂


  3. The problem may have been the red wine vinegar…not sure where you got the tip from but you can’t use “just any” vinegar (because it will stain! as you found out). White vinegar is both more potent and won’t stain. Of course, Brasso works too 🙂

    • DO or DIY

      Ah, Jeanne! If only I had read that before! I read somewhere online that either red wine or white would work. We went with red wine because we had more of it to spare. Oh well, live and learn, right? 🙂 Thanks for the tip!


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  6. Joe

    Hi, Julie. I know that this is bit late in the game, but check out “Barkeeper’s Friend”. It can be found on shelves with other common powder cleansers. It is fast on brass, stainless steel, and copper. BTW, the desk looks fantastic.

  7. Glad you got the brass to stay as those are pulls in high demand. I have them on my dresser and love it. I choked when I saw you said you painted that BEAUTIFUL desk blue. It was so beautiful. But, I love the finished outcome and it really has a new feel meeting vintage. Great job

  8. Charad Murphy

    Good job on the brass handles. They look great! FFR, & for best results, the vinegar, salt & flour paste needs to be left over night to dry. Then buffed and polished the next day(in a pinch). However, the Brasso definitely looks like the way to go, from the get-go!!

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