How to Remove Tarnish From Brass

Your kitchen cabinet probably has what you need

copper and brass items

The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska 

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 10 - 30 mins
  • Total Time: 10 mins - 1 hr, 30 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $5-10

It is normal for uncoated brass to tarnish over time. Brass faucets, drawer pulls, doorknobs, light fixtures, and candlesticks can develop dark spots when they come into contact with oxygen and the oils from our skin. While tarnish isn't usually corrosive, it dulls the beauty of brass.

Kitchen ingredients can be combined to make brass tarnish remover and restore the finish on brass items around your house. Here are three step-by-step methods to remove brass tarnish, plus tips to prevent brass from tarnishing.

How to Clean and Shine Brass Tarnish

The Spruce / Emilie Dunphy

How Often to Clean Brass

The cleaning frequency of brass items depends on their use. Brass jewelry pieces that are rarely worn will likely resist tarnishing for several months to a year. Brass hardware on kitchen cabinets may require tarnish removal monthly. Frequent use and cleaning of brass cookware helps to prevent tarnishing.

Before You Begin

First, determine whether the item you need to clean is solid brass. Some items that look like brass may be made from a base metal coated with a thin layer of brass plating. If a magnet sticks to it, it's plated. If it doesn't, it's solid brass. Why does this matter? If you're cleaning a plated piece, you'll need to be extra careful that you don't wear off the plating with excessive rubbing. While it may not be an issue during the first cleaning, it could become one with each repeated cleaning.

Tip

Do not use these methods to polish lacquered brass. Warm, soapy water should be sufficient to remove dust and grime. If the lacquer is in good shape, the metal shouldn't be tarnished.

2:06

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What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • 2 Microfiber cleaning cloths
  • 1 Old, soft toothbrush (optional)
  • 1 Sink or plastic tub
  • 1 Sponge
  • 1 Measuring cups and spoons
  • 1 Small glass bowl

Materials

  • 1 box Baking soda
  • 1 bottle Distilled white vinegar
  • 1 bottle Tomato ketchup
  • 1 bottle Lemon juice
  • 1 container Table salt
  • 1 bottle Dishwashing liquid
  • 1 Lemon

Instructions

How to Remove Brass Tarnish With Baking Soda and Vinegar

  1. Wash the Brass

    It is important to remove dust and grease particles from the brass item before you remove the tarnish. If the piece can be submerged, fill a sink with hot water and add a few drops of dishwashing detergent. Wash the brass piece with a sponge or soft cloth. Rinse well and dry with a lint-free cloth.

    If the item cannot be submerged, wipe the piece with a sponge dipped in hot soapy water, rinse with a cloth dipped in clean water, and dry well.

  2. Make a Paste

    Mix one cup of baking soda and one-fourth cup of distilled white vinegar in a glass bowl to create a paste. It will fizz for a minute. When it stops, spread the paste on the brass object with an old toothbrush or cloth.

    vinegar and baking soda
    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska 
  3. Rest, Rinse, and Buff

    Let the mixture sit on the brass item for at least 30 minutes or up to 60. Dampen a soft cloth and gently rub the brass to help loosen the tarnish, rinse well in warm water, and buff the finish with a clean, dry microfiber cloth. If the piece was badly tarnished, you may need to repeat the process.

    baking soda and vinegar scrub on tarnished brass
    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska  

How to Remove Brass Tarnish With Ketchup

ketchup, lemon, and salt as options for tarnish removal
The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska 
  1. Wash the Brass

    Remove dust and grime with hot soapy water before attempting to remove the tarnish.

  2. Cover With Ketchup

    The acidity of ketchup, tomato paste, or tomato sauce works to loosen the tarnish from the brass. Apply the tomato product directly to the brass using your fingers or a sponge.

    Tip

    If the brass is heavily tarnished, sprinkle some baking soda onto the tomato sauce to add a gentle abrasive.

  3. Rub, Rinse, Buff, and Dry

    Allow the ketchup to stay on the brass for up to one hour. Dampen a sponge and gently scrub the brass. Rinse the tomato product from the brass with warm water and buff it dry with a soft cloth.

How to Remove Brass Tarnish With Lemon Juice and Baking Soda or Salt

  1. Remove Dust and Grime

    Wash the brass with hot soapy water before removing the tarnish.

  2. Prepare Your Materials

    Use lemons or lemon juice to remove brass tarnish. You can slice a lemon in half and dip the cut edges in table salt or baking soda or make a paste with baking soda and lemon juice.

  3. Clean the Brass

    Rub the cut side of the lemon over the surface of the brass. As you clean, reapply the salt as needed. When the tarnish is gone, rinse the piece and buff dry.

    Mix one cup of baking soda and one-fourth cup of lemon juice to form a paste. Apply the paste to the brass and let it work for at least 30 minutes before gently scrubbing with a damp sponge. Rinse and buff the item dry.

Tips to Keep Brass Tarnish-free Longer

  • Consider applying lacquer or wax to prevent oxygen from tarnishing the metal. Keep in mind that these finishes aren't appropriate for brass cookware.
  • Don't touch brass items any more than necessary. The oils in your hands cause brass to tarnish.
  • Dry brass pots and pans as soon as you wash them to prevent spotting and tarnish.
  • Don't put brass kitchenware in the dishwasher. The harsh detergents can damage the finish.
  • Regularly dust decorative brass pieces to prevent tarnish from forming.
Originally written by
Erin Huffstetler
Erin Huffstetler is a frugal living expert who has been writing for over 10 years about easy ways to save money at home. She's covered money-saving advice and tricks for numerous publications, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Forbes, among others. She is the owner of "My Frugal Home," a money-saving, frugal living how-to guide.
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Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Is Brass Magnetic? Division of Information Technology, University of Maryland.

  2. Caring for Metal Objects. Government of Canada.