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I’ve been working on a fun desk the last few days and decided I better tackle cleaning the tarnished brass hardware. Cleaning hardware has never been my favorite and as I scrubbed away my morning I couldn’t help thinking that there had to be a better way! So, I did some internet sleuthing and came up with several ways to clean tarnished brass. I grabbed my supplies and set up a little experiment lab in my laundry room to test each method.
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Cleaning Tarnished Brass Hardware
This is what my old tarnished brass looked like before my little experiment.
These are straight off the piece, no cleaning or polishing.
I tried 7 different methods for cleaning my tarnished brass.
The first product I tried was Bar Keeper’s Friend Soft Cleanser. The knob on the left was cleaned with Bar Keeper’s Friend Soft Cleanser and the knob on the right was scrubbed with Brasso. You can see that the soft cleanser kept the traditional yellow brass color. It left a small amount of tarnish, but overall gave the hardware a beautiful warm look. This took a lot of scrubbing, but I’d totally use this method again.
Next I tried Bar Keeper’s Friend Scouring Powder.
You can see in the pic below that it definitely cleaned the hardware, but left a good amount of tarnish behind. I had to really scrub hard but it eventually worked.
I found a pin on Pinterest that said toothpaste made a great brass cleaner. Lies. #pinterestfail
The toothpaste barely took off any of the tarnish and I scrubbed that sucker hard! I wouldn’t recommend this method unless you owned a toothpaste factory and had absolutely nothing better to do with your sweet time.
Another Pinterest gem said to mix lemon juice + salt into a paste.
I’m not going to say this was a fail, because it did work but I had to scrub for a VERY long time and it didn’t lift a whole lot of tarnish from the brass hardware. Plus it kind of reacted funny and left little spots. If you are going for an aged brass look, I think this method would be worth a shot.
The last two methods I tried were soaks. I soaked a pull in hot vinegar and a knob in ammonia. I let each piece of hardware soak for roughly 30 minutes then I scrubbed them with steel wool.
The hot vinegar worked just fine. I required some scrubbing but turned out pretty good.
The ammonia on the other hand blew my mind! With very little scrubbing the hardware became bright and shiny. My only complaint is that the hardware slightly changed color. I soaked just the top of the hardware to show you the crazy difference. I couldn’t believe how easily that took the tarnish off! The pull looked brand new! That being said, if you want a little bit of age on your brass I’d skip this method.
The last product I tried was Brasso.
You can see the knob I cleaned with it up above with the soft cleanser. This method was hands down my favorite. It required a little scrubbing, but it worked amazingly. A bottle is cheap and totally worth keeping in your cleaning arsenal. When I clean hardware in the future, I will reach for this product before anything else.
After a whole lot of scrubbing and some very sore hands, here’s a side by side of what they all looked like after.
I used a toothbrush and a 0000 steel wool to scrub with.
- Bar Keeper’s Friend Soft Cleanser
- Bar Keeper’s Friend Scouring Powder
- Hot Vinegar Soak
- Lemon & Salt Scrub
- Ammonia Soak
Tips and Tricks
These cleaning tips are for brass hardware. To test if your hardware is real brass, try to stick a magnet to it. If it magnetizes to the hardware, it’s brass plate. What’s the difference? Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc, along with some added metals like lead. Brass plate is a thin layer of brass over steel. Keep in mind that brass plate isn’t as strong as brass so it can’t withstand really vigorous scrubbing.
Steel wool will scratch brass plate hardware, so make sure you test first to make sure it’s real brass and not brass plate. Use the fine 0000 steel wool to scrub with. You don’t want to risk scratching your hardware.
All the methods I tested cleaned to some degree, some just worked much better and a whole lot faster than others. But like I said above I’d skip the toothpaste, that was a total bust and not worth my time.
My top 3 picks:
- Bar Keeper’s Friend Soft Cleanser
- Ammonia Soak
Ok, y’all here’s my final thoughts on my little cleaning experiment. Hands down, I pick Brasso above all the others. It gives a beautiful finish, didn’t require too much scrubbing, and is inexpensive. The Bar Keeper’s Friend Soft Cleanser required more scrubbing but it’s multi-use so you aren’t stuck with a cleaner you won’t use again. Ammonia is easy, cheap, and really cleans well but stinks to high heaven. It also changes the color a tiny bit, if that bothers you.
Brass hardware is a classic and one of my favorites. There is just something about using original hardware that makes me happy. I love to use it on my furniture rehabs to give character, age and shine. I hope this little experiment helped answer your questions about cleaning the tarnish like it did mine!
Know of another method to clean tarnished brass?
Tell me in the comments below!