Sunday, September 12, 2010

How to de-tarnish brass

This weekend, despite my general rage regarding some of the bogus violations we received from our latest HOA inspection, I decided to tackle what seemed like the smallest and most necessary project: de-tarnish our brass door hardware. Last weekend I successfully de-tarnished our brass outdoor light fixture (imagine it looking almost black, and me nursing it back to health).

For some reason, though, the door hardware tarnish is out of control.

Warning: don't be mistaken; this is not a "small" project. Many hours later, my labor is complete.

I've never de-tarnished brass before, so I looked up some helpful how-to's in Home Comforts, a book my buddy Sam thoughtfully sent me when I started this blog. This book is great, and it has helped me in several areas already, which I'll highlight in later posts.

Home Comforts told me to:

1) mix equal parts white flour and salt (I used table salt) with enough white vinegar to make a paste. (Oh, white vinegar, is there anything you can't do?)

2) Apply the paste to your brass surface and let it sit for an hour.

3) Remove the paste using a rag, and you should notice that the brownish tint has been replaced by a rose tint that can then be polished using standard metal polish.

There unfortunately does not appear to be a good non-chemical metal polish out there. If you know of a home remedy, I'd love to hear about it! So, I purchased 8 ounces of Brasso at Home Depot for $3.49.

Our outdoor light fixture only required one coating of the homemade paste before it was de-tarnished, but this door hardware was especially stubborn and required two applications.

Here's the hardware before
And a close-up for purposes of comparison
Here's how the hardware looks when covered in the paste
Here's the hardware after one application of the paste
And all clean, many, many hours of polishing later
The before-and-after close up
And here's the stupid thing I did: I failed to cover the lock when I was applying the paste the first time. So, the paste hardened inside the lock, and then we couldn't get our keys in the lock. Tired and running out of options and needing to lock our door and needing to get some items at Home Depot anyway, I asked a Home Depot employee what he thought I should do. Get a tiny file? Just buy a new lock? He said, to my surprise, take a hair pin and some WD-40, and that should do the trick. Genius! He was completely right, and I was fairly stupid.

Why didn't I just buy a new light fixture and new door hardware, or spray paint them black, and call it a day? Well, two reasons:

1) to be as green as possible, I generally try to operate under the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality, and in this case both items are fine and fully functioning


2) apparently the only acceptable finish for light fixtures and door hardware in our neighborhood is brass, so spray painting was out. Add that to the Draconian list.

The Brasso directions recommend polishing brass once every three months. So that I never have to spend a Sunday afternoon polishing brass again, I am going to get in the habit of maintaining these brass finishes once every three months on the same day I change our air filter.


  1. I just discovered your blog, and I cannot get enough! It's great! Can you do a post about how you organize both digital & printed photos?

  2. I just found out that ketchup does the same thing but haven't tested it yet if it doesn't work gonna use ur method for sure