Wondering how to clean brass hardware? Want to shine up brass doorknobs, hinges, strike plates, or candle holders before guests descend for the winter holidays? Here are 5 methods to try and one that truly works on old, tarnished, lacquered brass. But first… is it worth your time and effort? (If you’re debating this, jump to my answer here!) Read on for the scoop!
How to Clean Brass Hardware Topics
How to Identify Brass Hardware
First, figure out what kind of metal you’re actually working with. Is it truly brass? Lacquered or unlacquered? You’ll need these answers before you start testing cleaning products.
Start with the magnet test. Real brass is not magnetic. Of course, a magnet might stick if there is steel, nickel, etc. underneath sheet brass plating. Here’s what the magnet test shows on this knob; it doesn’t stick to the knob itself, but it does stick to the backplate. That just means I’ll need to be cautious when cleaning the backplate, in case it’s not brass.
The Scoop from Pros
I found this scrap metal forum informative (and funny!) when I googled the question “Are cheap brass doorknobs really brass?” Because that’s what I’m cleaning, here at our new house. According to the folks on that forum, it’s likely that even our simple old knobs are real brass, which tracks with my magnet test.
Lacquered or Unlacquered?
Unlacquered brass ages with a lovely patina and turns a rich gold color. Lacquered brass, often called “polished brass,” has a clear finish to maintain the light-gold color over time.
If your brass is lacquered, you might damage the finish with harsh cleaners. First, try using soap and water to gently clean your metal items.
My brass hardware is lacquered, but the finish is already damaged from time, grease, and dirt. I’m trying to remove layers of gunk and it’s fine with me if the lacquer goes with it. It’s probably long gone underneath, anyway. The point is, some cleaning methods may work better than others, so use caution. I plan to eventually replace these knobs, so I experimented with how to clean brass hardware most effectively. I’ve got nothing to lose if I damage the finish further!
If you want to remove the lacquered finish and can easily remove the hardware itself, boiling brass in water with a tiny bit of baking soda should work. I’ve read that it’s very smelly and takes hours. You might want to try this on cabinet knobs, rather than doorknobs with interior components.
6 Brass Cleaning Methods
Oh, trust me, I started with the first five ideas, pulled from internet research. They might work for you, but they didn’t make a dent on my doorknobs:
- Hot, soapy water
- Lemon + salt
- Magic Eraser
- Bar Keepers Friend Soft Cleanser/Brasso
- Vinegar, Salt, and Flour Paste
- Bar Keepers Friend (powder)
A few notes about these methods:
Lemon + salt is a easy DIY method, nontoxic, and potentially the answer to your tarnish problems. When I tried this method, the original surface did shine up quite nicely, but the grimy areas remained.
Magic Eraser works for SO MANY THINGS, but it didn’t cut it on my doorknobs. Always be cautious with these melamine foam blocks and test the surface to be cleaned, first. They are essentially super-fine sandpaper sponges and can remove finishes, along with dirt.
The liquid version of Bar Keepers Friend works wonders on a stainless steel sink, but it couldn’t cut through this buildup.
I had high hopes for the vinegar, salt, and flour paste, but I checked it at the 30-minute mark, and there was no change. To try this DIY cleaner, dissolve 1/2 tsp salt in 1/4 c vinegar, and then add flour until it creates a paste. Smear on the brass surface and let it sit for 30+ minutes. Many internet sources swear by this method, but I ran out of patience.
Best Results (+ Most Elbow Grease)
After all of that experimentation, the original Bar Keepers Friend powder worked the best on my old doorknobs. It’s actually the only thing that worked!
CAUTION: Bar Keepers Friend powder removes lacquer – for better or for worse!
I tried making a paste of wet BKF and letting it sit on the knob for an hour. That was pointless.
Here’s what actually works:
How to Clean Brass Hardware with Bar Keepers Friend
The abrasiveness of the powder is key. Sprinkle some of the powder on a hot, wet rag and immediately scrub a section of the metal. As soon as the powder has dissolved, you’ll need to add more.
I found that BKF worked best in the first 10-20 seconds of scrubbing and then nothing further came off. This takes a lot of effort and you’ll need to scrub HARD, if you’re dealing with old lacquered brass, like mine.
Final result. Ta da! It took me 30 minutes of serious scrubbing to clean this brass doorknob, likely because I was literally scrubbing off the lacquer. Here’s how it turned out. I did not even attempt to scrub the backplate.
Ask Yourself – Is It Worth It?
Let’s pause. If you are dealing with old brass doorknobs that look anything like mine, I want to stop you right here. Is this worth your time? If not for this blog post, I would have given up on this project after the first 2 minutes.
If you have the budget, a better alternative is to just replace cheap, old knobs. You can even take your old knobs to a metal recycler and make a few bucks on the scrap metal. A basic door knob set costs about $10, or much less, buying in bulk. If you can afford it, I’ll bet your time is better spent installing a new doorknob than attempting to clean an old one that’s as stubborn as mine.
If you’re preserving vintage or precious hardware, that’s a different story, and I hope one of these methods works for you.
Have any tips on how to clean brass hardware that I should add to this post? Please let me know!
And now it’s time for a nap after all that scrubbing… good luck with your project!