Some homeowners with older houses like the darkened patina that results as brass doorknobs, hinges, and other hardware begin to tarnish. It's even possible to artificially age new brass to get this antique look. But 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.
Tarnished brass hardware can be difficult to clean. It's easier when you use the right product or technique. There is a single product that can effectively clean brass hardware and other metals such as copper and stainless steel in a matter of minutes. Bar Keeper's Friend is a popular and effective metal cleaning product, but there is 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 in situations where you want to remove some but not all of the patina.
Before You Begin
Carefully remove the hardware, making sure you do not strip the screws or damage the metal. If the screw slots are plugged with dirt or paint, you may need to scrape out the slots so that the screwdriver can grip the screw. A manual screwdriver works better than a drill driver to back out screws since brass is a fairly soft metal that is easily damaged.
Next, try to identify the type of metal. If it looks like brass, you'll need to figure out if the hardware is solid brass, or brass-plated. If it is solid brass, you will not have to worry as much about damaging the plating with an abrasive cleanser.
One simple method is to test with a magnet. Brass is a non-magnetic metal, so if a magnet is attracted to your hardware, it's likely comprised of a thin brass plating over an iron-based metal. In this case, you will need to be extra gentle in your cleaning and polishing to avoid abrading through the brass.
Equipment / Tools
- Toothbrush and/or other soft-bristled brush
- Magnet (for identification of metal)
- Small bucket or old bowl
- Dish detergent (if needed)
- Bar Keeper's Friend or another metal cleaner
Clean the Hardware With Lukewarm Water
With the hardware removed, wipe off any dust or debris with a lint-free cloth. Submerge the items in lukewarm water and let them soak for a minute or two. If the hardware is very dirty, mix in a mild dish detergent to loosen the grime. After you remove the hardware from the water, move immediately to the next step without drying it.
Sprinkle the Hardware with Powdered Cleaner
With the hardware fully wet, sprinkle on a powdered cleaning product so the metal is completely covered.
If you are using vinegar and baking soda, first brush the hardware with a layer of vinegar, then sprinkle on baking soda. The mild chemical reaction of vinegar combined with baking soda is what loosens the tarnish. When it starts to fizz, you will know it is working.
Use a soft-bristled toothbrush to gently buff the surface. The cleanser will become paste-like and begin removing the tarnish. If there is a heavy tarnish build-up, it may take repeated scrubbing; 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.
It will be obvious as the tarnish starts to come off, but if you want to retain some of the antique patina, focus the toothbrush on the high points and avoid the crevices and edges.
Rinse the Hardware
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.