Some homeowners with older houses insist on keeping the original patina on all their metal hardware. However, even if you want the metal in your home to look antique, it does not need to look corroded and unsightly with caked on layers of tarnish and grime.
You can effectively clean brass hardware and other metals like copper and stainless steel in less than five minutes using only one product. However, tarnished brass hardware can be difficult to clean when you do not use the right product or technique.
Tools and Supplies
- Toothbrush and/or other soft-bristled brush
- Bar Keeper's Friend or another metal cleaner
Bar Keeper's Friend is a popular and effective metal cleaning product, but there are a variety of brass and metal cleaners available. You can also make your own metal cleaner using baking soda and vinegar; it's not as effective but will work if you only want to remove some but not all of the patina.
Remove Hardware and Determine the Composition
The first step is to remove the hardware carefully to ensure you do not strip the screws or damage the metal. If the hardware is painted, you may need to use a flat head screwdriver and a hammer to chisel away at the paint that is stuck in the screw holes. Then use a screwdriver instead of a drill to slowly back out the screw.
It is important to take the time to determine the type of metal that the item is. If it looks like brass, you need to figure out if it is solid or plated. If it is solid brass, you will not have to worry as much about buffing off or damaging the plating.
To figure out if you are working with solid brass, one simple method is to put a magnet up against the hardware. Solid brass components are not magnetic. If the magnet is drawn to the metal, you likely have brass-plated hardware. In this case, you will need to be extra gentle in your cleaning and polishing.
Dunk Hardware in Warm Water
Now that your hardware is removed and you are ready to clean, the next step is to wipe off any dust or debris with a lint-free cloth. Dunk the items in lukewarm water. Let the hardware soak for a minute or two. If there is a lot of dirt on the hardware, mix the water with a mild dish detergent to loosen up any gunk. After you remove the hardware from the water, do not dry it. Keep it wet for the next step.
Sprinkle on the Cleaning Product
Make sure your hardware is still wet to the touch. If it is not, rinse again with water. Since most of the metal cleaning products come in a powder, sprinkle on your brass cleaning product so the metal is completely covered.
If you are using vinegar and baking soda to clean your metal, first brush the hardware with a layer of vinegar. Then, sprinkle on the baking soda. The combination of the vinegar and baking soda is what will help remove the tarnish. Don't mix the vinegar and baking soda together in a bowl as the baking soda should hit the vinegar directly on the metal. When it starts to fizz, you will know it is working.
Rub the Surface Gently With a Toothbrush
Since you sprinkled on the cleaning product when the metal was wet, you should have the beginnings of a paste. Take a soft-bristled toothbrush and start gently buffing the surface, which will help the product become more paste-like and start removing the tarnish. You will have to go over the metal a few times if the metal piece of hardware had a lot of build up. Add more water and metal cleaner as needed.
If you are using the baking soda and vinegar method, dip your toothbrush in a bowl of vinegar and use that to buff the baking soda mixture on the metal.
You will notice when the tarnish starts to come off the metal. If you do not want all the tarnish and patina removed, focus the toothbrush on the high points of the metal and avoid the crevices and edges.
Rinse Then Buff With a Damp Cloth
Once the metal is cleaned to your liking, use lukewarm water to rinse off any remaining cleaning solution. Next, take a damp lint-free cloth or paper towel to buff the hardware. Make sure each piece is dried completely to prevent rust or tarnish issues.