Restoring tarnished brass in London home

Ever glanced at your brass fixtures and felt they looked a bit…under the weather? That’s what tarnished brass looks like. Brass tarnish is a common issue, especially in a bustling city like London. Humidity and pollution can speed up the process and turn the once shiny metal into a tarnished mess.

But what exactly is tarnish, and how can you tell it’s time to roll up your sleeves? We’ll delve into the causes of brass tarnish, how to clean heavily corroded brass, and how to restore its shine. Whether it’s that cherished antique or your everyday hardware, we’ve got you covered!

In this article:

  • Understanding brass tarnish
  • Signs your brass needs attention
  • Preparing to clean your tarnished brass
    • Identifying the type of brass
    • Lacquered or unlacquered?
    • Brass plating
    • Antiques and heirloom
    • What you'll need
    • Setting up your cleaning area
  • Step-by-step guide to cleaning tarnished brass
    • Vinegar, salt, and flour
    • Gentle cleaning with soap and water
    • Cleaning brass with ketchup
    • Polishing tarnished brass with toothpaste
    • The lemon and salt method
  • Maintaining Your Brass’s Shine
  • When to Call the Professionals
  • FAQs
    • How to clean heavily corroded brass?
    • How to clean badly tarnished brass?
    • How do you clean badly tarnished brass?
  • Conclusion

Understanding brass tarnish

So, what’s brass tarnish? Brass tarnish is a chemical reaction that occurs when brass (an alloy of copper and zinc) is exposed to air and moisture. You’ll know if this reaction has occurred because when it does, brass becomes dull and discolored.

Brass items in London often get a tarnish ticket faster than you can say ‘fish and chips’. The city’s unique mix of high humidity and urban pollution can accelerate the tarnishing process but fear not, it’s reversible!

Signs your brass needs attention

Wondering if your brass is crying for help? Here are some common signs that it is:

  • Dullness and discoloration – the once bright and shiny surface turns dull and loses its golden hue. It often appears brownish or gray.
  • Greenish-black spots – these are tell-tale signs of advanced tarnish. It’s often the result of prolonged exposure to moisture or corrosive substances.
  • Uneven texture – the smooth surface of brass may feel uneven or gritty. This is an indication that tarnish has started to eat away at the metal.

If your items have lost their mojo and look like they’ve seen better days, it may be time to clean your badly tarnished brass.

Preparing to clean your tarnished brass

You know I’m going to say it, so here it is – victory loves preparation. So before we get to how to clean your badly tarnished brass part, we first need to prepare properly.

Identifying the type of brass

First and foremost, you need to identify the type of brass you’re dealing with. I know, I know – metallurgy is hardly most Londoners’ favourite hobby but bear with me.

It’s important to make some considerations before you start cleaning. Otherwise, you may end up ruining your brass instead of returning it to its former glory.

Lacquered or unlacquered?

This is the first question you need to answer. Lacquered brass has a protective coating which you can strip off if with vigorous scrubbing or acidic cleaners (like the vinegar or lemons we suggest below). Unlacquered brass has no such coating.

Brass plating

Is your brass item even brass? It’s entirely possible that it’s brass-plated, meaning the item is not solid brass but brass over another metal.

If that’s the case, you can strip off the brass plating. A simple magnet can help you determine whether that’s the case or not – if the magnet sticks, it’s not brass.

Antiques and heirloom

As with all other cleaning methods, the ones below carry a degree of risk. So I don’t recommend using them on family heirlooms or antiques – that’s best handled by the professionals.

vintage brass trumpet restoration.jpg

What you’ll need

  • Basic supplies: Gather eco-friendly cleaning agents like white vinegar, salt, flour, and mild soap. For tougher jobs, lemon, baking soda, and toothpaste can be handy.
  • Safety gear: Don protective gloves and perhaps goggles if you’re sensitive to cleaning agents. Working in a well-ventilated area is also crucial to avoid inhaling fumes.
  • Preparation area: Choose a spot with good lighting and ventilation. Cover the surface with old newspapers or a cloth to protect against spills and drips.

Setting up your cleaning area

  • Space selection: Opt for a stable, flat surface in a well-lit room. Avoid areas with direct sunlight to prevent quick drying of cleaning pastes.
  • Surface protection: Use plastic sheets or old towels to safeguard your countertops or tables from potential damage by acidic cleaning agents.
  • Ventilation: Ensure the room is well-ventilated to dissipate fumes from vinegar or other cleaning solutions, preventing any discomfort during the cleaning process.

Step-by-step guide to cleaning tarnished brass

Here are several brass cleaning methods you can try step-by-step.

Vinegar, salt, and flour

vinegar salt brass cleaning method
  • Step 1: Create a paste. Mix equal parts vinegar and salt, then add flour to achieve a paste-like consistency. This paste is gentle yet effective for moderate tarnish.
  • Step 2: Apply it. Apply the paste liberally over the tarnished brass and leave it for up to an hour, allowing the acidic vinegar to break down the tarnish.
  • Step 3: Rinse and dry. Rinse off the paste with warm water and dry the brass thoroughly with a soft cloth to prevent water spots and further tarnishing.

Gentle cleaning with soap and water

  • Step 1: Create a mild solution. Mix a few drops of mild dish soap with warm water for a gentle cleaning solution. That’s perfect for lightly tarnished or delicate brass items.
  • Step 2: Apply it with a soft cloth. Dip a soft cloth into the soapy water and gently rub the brass in a circular motion, paying extra attention to heavily tarnished spots.
  • Step 3: Rinse and dry. Rinse the brass with clean water and dry immediately with a clean, soft cloth to prevent new tarnish from forming.

Cleaning brass with ketchup

  • Step 1: Apply ketchup. Coat the brass item with a thin layer of ketchup and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. For heavier tarnish, you may need to leave it on longer.

Note: You might think I’m daft, but hear me out. Ketchup has an acidic tomato base. Because of it, it can gently nudge that tarnish away.

  • Step 2: Rinse and dry. Rinse off the ketchup with warm water and buff the brass with a soft cloth to reveal a bright, shiny surface.

Polishing tarnished brass with toothpaste

  • Step 1: Apply non-gel toothpaste. Apply a small amount of toothpaste to a soft-bristled brush or cloth and gently scrub the brass in a circular motion.

Note: The mild abrasives in non-gel toothpastes can help remove tarnish without scratching the brass surface. This method can help you clean silver, as well.

  • Step 2: Rinse and dry. Wash the brass item with warm water and dry it thoroughly to prevent water marks.

The lemon and salt method

lemon salt brass polishing

The acid in lemon juice combined with the abrasiveness of salt makes a potent mixture for removing stubborn tarnish.

  • Step 1: Salt and lemon. Sprinkle salt over the cut side of a lemon half and rub it over the tarnished brass. Reapply salt as needed.
  • Step 2: Rinse and dry. Rinse the brass with water and dry it immediately with a soft cloth to achieve a brilliant shine.

As you can see, most of our methods are relatively simple and involve items you already have at home. If that doesn’t help, you can always try a commercial brass cleaner.

You may also enjoy:
Cleaning with white vinegar
Cleaning with White Vinegar: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Maintaining Your Brass’s Shine

To keep tarnish at bay, regular wipes with a damp cloth and occasional polish can work wonders, especially in London’s moody weather. If you’re using a home cleaning service, it’s best to instruct the cleaners about your brass preferences.

Make sure to steer clear of harsh chemical cleaners that can strip the protective layer off the brass, making it more prone to tarnishing.

Finally, consider applying a thin coat of carnauba wax or a specialized brass lacquer to shield your items from the elements, especially in high-pollution areas 

When to Call the Professionals

If DIY methods fail to remove deep-seated tarnish, it’s time to seek professional help. If your brass is still looking glum, it might be time to call in the cavalry – professional cleaners.

Not to sound like a broken record, but for heirlooms or expensive brass pieces, professional cleaners can offer safe and effective restoration without the risk of damage.

Finally, if your brass tarnishes frequently despite regular care, a professional assessment can help identify and mitigate underlying issues.

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How to clean heavily corroded brass?

Start with gentle methods, but for heavy corrosion, professional help might be your best bet.

How to clean badly tarnished brass?

The vinegar, salt, and flour method or lemon and salt can tackle tough tarnish.

How do you clean badly tarnished brass?

Patience and elbow grease with the right method will usually get you shining results.


Restoring the shine to tarnished brass is satisfying, and with these tips, you’re equipped to tackle even the most stubborn tarnish.

Remember, regular care keeps the tarnish scare away, but when things get tough, we’re never more than a phone call away.

Samyx Cleaning - Branding Consultant, Author - Atanas
Author: Atanas Dzhingarov

Hi, I’m Atanas - brand consultant and writer. I’m helping Samyx Cleaning create the best cleaning company blog on the Internet. Join us on our journey and learn how to live a cleaner, healthier, happier life in the process.