Brass knobs, hinges and ornamental fixtures offer the look and feel of quality when they are clean and tarnish-free. Unfortunately, the lacquer applied to shiny brass objects yellows over the years and the brass beneath tarnishes, although much more slowly than it would without the protective lacquer. As long as the lacquer remains, it is impossible to polish the brass. Luckily, removing the lacquer isn’t too difficult.
Remove the object from its surroundings, if possible. This means detaching brass finials from curtain rods and beds, taking the hinges and brass knockers from doors and disassembling items with only a small amount of brass, such as the hands in old clocks. If you doubt your ability to reassemble the object, take it to a professional for cleaning.
Prepare yourself before using a commercial lacquer stripper. Strippers work well and if your object is large, such as a trumpet, it is the only way to remove the old lacquer. However, stripper fumes are highly toxic and a drop of the stripper can burn your skin. Wear solvent gloves, protective eyewear and make sure to ventilate the room adequately.
Brush the stripper on with a stripper brush, designed to withstand the chemical. Most lacquer strippers are thick and slightly lumpy, so use the tip of the brush to work the solution into cracks and crannies. Allow the stripper to remain on the object for the required amount of time before testing a small area.
Use clean rags to wipe away all of the stripper and the old lacquer will come off with it. If the lacquer sticks in any area, apply a little more stripper. Use narrow strips, cut from the rags to pull back and forth over indentations to remove old lacquer.
Bypass the chemicals with a homemade solution of baking soda and water for cleaning the lacquer from small brass objects. Bring water to a boil in a pot large enough to submerge your brass item. Add baking soda at the rate of 2 tbsp per quart of water. Place your brass object in the boiling water and allow it to simmer for 15 minutes.
Use heat proof prongs to remove the object and place it on a soft rag. Carefully, with gloved hands, peel the lacquer from the brass. If tiny bits remain, repeat the process.
Consider applying a new coat of lacquer after cleaning or repairing the brass object. Brass tarnishes quickly when exposed to air of the acids in human hands.
Work in a well-ventilated area.