Brass candlesticks, door handles and other findings are coveted for their durability and warm golden glow. Over time, however, once the protective coating wears away, brass tarnishes to a dull brown due to oxidation. You have several ways to successfully remove tarnish, and some work more quickly than others. Heavily tarnished items may require more time and labour.
Authenticate the Metal
Identify the metal to find out if it is genuine brass. Before attempting to remove tarnish, there is a simple test to find out whether the item is brass or brass plated. Place a magnet near the item. The magnet will not be attracted to genuine brass.
Heavily tarnished brass can be cleaned with a mixture of 1 part ammonia and 8 parts water. Allow the brass items to sit in the solution for 10 minutes at a minimum. Rinse them off with clear water, and dry with a soft cloth. Ammonia fumes are quite strong, so work in a well-ventilated area.
Dipping brass pieces into a vinegar bath is another quick way to remove tarnish. Bring a pot of vinegar to a boil, and place your brass items in the pot. The brass may turn slightly red but will regain its natural colour once it is rubbed with a soft cloth. Ventilate the room well when boiling vinegar as it may release strong fumes.
Commercial Brass Cleaner
Manufacturers of commercial brass cleaners claim that their products work almost instantaneously. In truth, a few separate attempts may be required to achieve the desired results. The solvents in commercial brass cleaners dissolve the lacquer coating first, and then other chemicals go to work to remove oxidation. Use brass cleaner in small amounts, and rub firmly with a soft cloth. Use an old toothbrush for intricately detailed items. If the desired results are not achieved, add a little more brass cleaner and continue rubbing until the tarnish is removed.
Tumblers and Buffers
Tarnish can also be removed from brass fairly quickly by mechanical means. If the brass pieces are small enough, throwing them in a rotary tumbler with some steel shot, lemon dishwashing liquid and water should bring them back to their original shine within a few hours. Alternatively, professionals often use a high speed rotary polishing wheel to remove tarnish followed by a buffer to clear away small scratches created by the polishing machine. This is a speedy method to restore the finish but requires some skill to perform it successfully.
Once the tarnish has been cleaned from the brass, it will return fairly quickly if the brass is not sealed. Apply a thin coat of lacquer or acrylic urethane to protect the finish.