Made from a combination of zinc and copper, brass is a popular metal found in cookware, jewelry, musical instruments (brass band, anyone?) and home decorative objects. If your house is of a certain age, many of your doorknobs may be brass.

Like the metals from which it is made, brass also tarnishes easily. What is the best way to clean brass? First, you need to determine if your item is, in fact, made of brass. Hold a magnet to your item. If it sticks, the item is not brass, but most likely brass-plated. Use only water and mild detergent to clean brass-plated items, as anything more abrasive could damage the plating.

If you have a tarnished or dirty brass piece that needs cleaning, how you do so depends on whether it is lacquered – i.e. coated with a protective glossy finish – or non-lacquered brass. Lacquered brass can be cleaned simply by wiping with a damp cloth.

Cleaning non-lacquered brass requires more elbow grease. Though there are chemical brass cleaners on the market, try using some of these natural ingredients to clean brass, most of which you probably already have at home:

  • Ketchup: The housekeeping guru who has been writing the syndicated “Hints from Heloise” column for more than 30 years recommends this kitchen staple. Squirt some ketchup on a clean cloth and rub over tarnished brass. Then wipe clean with a damp cloth and buff dry.
  • Soap or Mild Detergent: If your brass item is dusty or dirty rather than tarnished, submerging it in warm soapy water and cleaning with a soft cloth could do the trick. Use a toothbrush to gently scrub extra dirty areas.
  • Vinegar, Salt and Flour: These versatile home staples can be combined to make a paste to clean tarnished brass. Dissolve 1 teaspoon of salt into one-half cup of vinegar, and add flour until the mixture becomes a paste. Rub into the brass, leave for about 10 minutes, then rinse with warm water and buff dry.
  • Water: Heat a pint of water, and add 2 tablespoons each of salt and white vinegar to create another natural recipe for polishing tarnished brass. Rub the mixture onto the brass, then dry with a clean rag.
  • Lemon Juice: Straight lemon juice can be used to clean brass and bring back shine. After cleaning with lemon juice, wipe with damp cloth and buff dry.
When might you want to leave your brass piece tarnished? If the brass is an antique, take it to an appraiser before attempting to clean it. The tarnish could add value to your piece, or detract from it if you disturb the item’s natural finish.

And if you are disappointed to discover that what you thought was brass is simply brass-plated? Take heart that it is easier to clean – and still can look as shiny as the real thing.

Have other ideas for how to clean brass? Leave us a note in the comments below.

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