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.
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.
1/4 cup salt
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.
I needed a stronger solution so I turned to an option that used vinegar.
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.
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:
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.