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  • Writer's pictureSarah

Reviving Vintage Brass: A Guide to Caring for Your Collectables


Vintage brass objects are perfect for adding a traditional elegance to your surroundings. Heavy brass candlesticks at dinner, a striking brass planter with tumbling green leaves at the window or the faithful brass toasting fork by the fire; brass ornaments can be functional and refined.


Brass itself is a non-ferrous alloy of copper and zinc that sometimes contains other elements such as lead, tin, or aluminium. The proportions of copper and zinc in the alloy can vary depending on the desired properties of the brass, such as its colour, hardness, and corrosion resistance.


From musical instruments and decorative objects, to electrical components and plumbing fixtures, brass is valued for its attractive appearance, malleability, and ability to resist corrosion. The colour can range from a bright golden hue to a muted yellow or reddish-brown, depending on the exact composition of the alloy.


While a certain amount of tarnishing and verdigris is part of the vintage charm, from time to time brass does need a little attention to keep it looking its best.



There are a few different methods to clean vintage brass, depending on the level of tarnish, the age of the brass, and the type of finish on the brass. Some common methods to clean vintage brass are listed below:

Brasso

Skip to the cleaning steps, or continue reading for a little bit of history on Brasso.

Brasso is a popular metal polish that has been used for over a century to clean and shine various metals, including brass, copper, and stainless steel. The history of Brasso dates back to the early 20th century, when a British chemist named William C. Hollway developed the formula for the polish.

Hollway, who worked for a company called Reckitt & Sons in Hull, England, was tasked with finding a solution to the problem of tarnishing on brass and copper surfaces. He developed a mixture of solvents and abrasives that effectively removed tarnish and restored shine to metal surfaces. The product was originally marketed as "Brasso Metal Polish," and it quickly became popular in the UK and other parts of the world.

During World War II, Brasso gained widespread use in military settings, as it was used to polish and maintain equipment and weapons. After the war, the popularity of Brasso continued to grow, as consumers used it to clean and polish various metal surfaces in their homes.

Over the years, Brasso has undergone several changes in its formulation and packaging, but its popularity as a reliable metal polish has remained constant. Today, it is owned by the multinational consumer goods company Reckitt Benckiser and is sold in over 50 countries worldwide.

How to Clean Vintage Brass with Brasso

Gather your materials: You will need a soft, lint-free cloth, Brasso, and a bowl of warm water. Use gloves if you can and work in a well ventilated area. Brasso comes in two different formats: bottles of cleaning fluid or tins of wadding.


If buying online, you can purchase Brasso, cloths and biodegradable protective eco gloves at an excellent price with efficient delivery from Amazon using these links below (see our note below on why we have provided Amazon links).

Shopping List


Steps

  1. Dust the brass: Use a soft, dry cloth or duster to gently remove any dust or debris from the surface of the brass.

  2. If using Brasso cleaning fluid, apply a small amount to a soft cloth and begin to rub it onto the brass. Make sure to cover the entire surface of the brass with the Brasso.

  3. Wait a few minutes: Let the Brasso sit on the brass for a few minutes to allow it to penetrate and dissolve any dirt or grime.

  4. Buff the brass: Using a clean, dry cloth, GENTLY buff the surface of the brass in a circular motion. If using Brasso wadding, you can skip straight to this step. This will remove any dirt or residue and polish the brass to a shine.

  5. Repeat if necessary: If your brass is heavily tarnished or dirty, you may need to repeat the process to achieve the desired level of shine.

  6. Rinse and dry: Rinse the brass with warm water to remove any remaining Brasso residue. Dry it thoroughly with a soft, lint-free cloth.

Note: Before using Brasso on your vintage brass, please do test it on a small, inconspicuous area to make sure it doesn't damage the surface. Also, avoid using Brasso on brass-plated items (how to tell), as it can strip away the plating.



Quickshine Brass and Copper Bath


Quickshine Brass and Copper Bath is a commercial metal cleaner that is specially formulated to clean and restore the shine of brass and copper surfaces. The product comes in the form of a powder or liquid, which is mixed with water to create a solution for soaking the metal items.

The active ingredients in Quickshine Brass and Copper Bath vary depending on the formulation, but they typically include a combination of acids and surfactants. These chemicals work together to dissolve and remove tarnish and other impurities from the metal surfaces, leaving them clean and shiny.


To use Quickshine Brass and Copper Bath, the metal item is typically submerged in the solution for a set amount of time, depending on the level of tarnish and the specific product instructions. After soaking, the item is rinsed with water and dried with a soft cloth.


Quickshine Brass and Copper Bath is often used for cleaning vintage brass items, such as candlesticks, figurines, and other decorative objects. However, it is important to note that this product should not be used on plated or painted brass surfaces, as it may remove the finish (how to tell). Always read and follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully when using Quickshine Brass and Copper Bath or any other metal cleaner.


Steps

  1. Prepare the solution: Read the manufacturer's instructions carefully and mix the Quickshine Brass and Copper Bath solution in a plastic or glass container, using the recommended amount of water.

  2. Submerge the brass item: Fully submerge the vintage brass item in the solution, making sure that it is completely covered. Use a plastic or wooden utensil to gently agitate the solution and ensure that the item is evenly coated.

  3. Wait for the solution to work: Leave the brass item in the solution for the recommended amount of time (usually between 5-30 minutes, depending on the level of tarnish).

  4. Rinse and dry: Remove the brass item from the solution and rinse it thoroughly with warm water. Dry the item with a soft cloth, being careful not to rub too hard and damage any delicate parts.

  5. Buff and shine: After drying, use a soft cloth to buff the brass item and restore its shine. If necessary, repeat the process to remove any remaining tarnish.

Some additional tips for cleaning vintage brass with Quickshine Brass and Copper Bath:

  • Wear gloves to protect your hands from the solution, as it can be harsh on skin.

  • Work in a well-ventilated area to avoid inhaling fumes.

  • Do not use the solution on plated brass, as it can remove the finish.

  • Test the solution on a small, inconspicuous area of the brass first to ensure it doesn't cause any damage or discolouration.


Quickshine Brass and Copper Bath also comes in a handy wipe format. The wipes are a convenient alternative to the liquid or powder cleaner, and they are designed to clean and restore the shine of brass and copper surfaces. Here are the steps to use Quickshine Brass and Copper Bath wipes:


  1. Begin by removing any loose dirt or dust from the brass item with a soft, dry cloth.

  2. Take one Quickshine Brass and Copper Bath wipe and gently rub the surface of the brass item in a circular motion, covering the entire area you want to clean.

  3. If the tarnish is particularly stubborn, apply a little more pressure, but be careful not to damage the brass surface.

  4. Once the tarnish has been removed, wipe the surface of the brass item with a clean, dry cloth to remove any remaining residue.

  5. If needed, you can repeat the process with another wipe until the item is clean and shiny.

  6. Dispose of the used wipe properly.


Quickshine Brass and Copper Bath wipes are convenient for quick touch-ups, but they may not be as effective on heavily tarnished or dirty items as the liquid or powder cleaner.

As of the time of writing, Quickshine Brass and Copper Bath is limited with the wipes more readily available than the solution. The wipes are available here





Alternative Methods


There are also several alternative ways to clean vintage or antique brass using more natural products:

  1. Lemon and salt: Cut a lemon in half and sprinkle salt on the cut side. Use the lemon to scrub the surface of the brass, applying light pressure to remove any dirt or grime.

  2. Vinegar and flour: Mix together equal parts of white vinegar and flour to create a paste. Apply the paste to the brass and let it sit for 15-20 minutes. Rinse the brass with warm water and dry thoroughly.

  3. Baking soda and water: Mix together baking soda and water to create a paste. Apply the paste to the brass and use a soft-bristled brush to gently scrub the surface. Rinse the brass with warm water and dry thoroughly.

  4. Ketchup: Apply a small amount of ketchup to a soft cloth and use it to buff the surface of the brass. The acid in the ketchup helps to remove tarnish and restore shine.

When using any of these alternatives, test them on a small, inconspicuous area of the brass first to make sure they don't damage the surface, then following cleaning, rinse the brass thoroughly with warm water and dry it completely to prevent water spots from forming.



How Tell if a Brass Collectable is Solid or Plated


It can sometimes be difficult to tell whether a brass item is plated or solid brass, but there are a few things you can look for:

  1. Check for wear: Plated brass items may show wear or discoloration over time, especially in areas of heavy use. If you see signs of wear or discolouration on a brass item, it may be plated.

  2. Look for a seam: Plated brass items are often made by coating a base metal with a thin layer of brass, so they may have a visible seam or edge where the brass coating ends.

  3. Check the weight: Solid brass items are generally heavier than plated brass items, since they are made entirely of brass. If the item feels unusually light, it may be plated.

  4. Look for a hallmark: Some brass items may have a hallmark or stamp that indicates the manufacturer or the metal content. If the item is marked "EPBM" or "Electroplate Brass on Nickel Silver," it is definitely plated.

If you're still unsure as to whether a brass item is plated or solid, you may want to take it to a professional appraiser or antique dealer who can help you determine its authenticity and value.



If the brass is very old or delicate however, or if you are unsure of the best method to use, consider taking it to a professional cleaner who specialises in antique brass.



A note on the links we've provided: these are affiliate links that we have set up with Amazon. We have done this as they will enable us to earn a very small commission if anyone purchases using these links. We do this as we are a (very!) small business to help with our website running costs. We understand that, in many cases, people are purchasing from Amazon anyway and this can help with sustainability. However if not, the Amazon links give excellent product detail information, which you can use to note down and purchase elsewhere - we highly recommend seeking out an independent business on your local high street.





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