Q&A / 

Cleaning Brass the Professional Way

DEAR TIM: I have been trying to clean some tarnished brass exterior light fixtures. I have purchased several different brass cleaning products and the results are ho-hum. It is a lot of work and no matter what I do I can not get a mirror like finish like the brass had when it was brand new. What is the secret? What am I doing wrong? Gayla T., Barre, VT

DEAR GAYLA: Been there, done that. I remember thinking I could completely polish and re-coat a brass door handle set in an afternoon. After rubbing and rubbing for hours, I got parts of the brass very clean, but small cracks and crevices were either full of cleaning compound, tarnish or a combination of the two. My frustration forced me to contact a professional metal polisher. It was one the best time and energy saving ideas I think I have ever had.

Converting a tarnished piece of brass to one that shines like a beacon can only be done with professional tools, equipment, solvents, polishing compounds and coatings. A vast majority of those shiny new polished brass candlesticks, door hardware, and accessories that you see at stores have all been polished and finished by automated equipment. Some of the new brass fixtures available in stores today actually have a tarnish free alloy skin. But older brass suffers once the protective clear finishes erode and the brass is exposed to air. Contaminants in the outdoor air or indoor pollutants from aerosol products can also rapidly tarnish brass. The oxidation or tarnish is actually a natural process. The brass is simply creating its own stable protective finish, albeit an unattractive one to many!

Professional metal polishers can polish, buff and colorize brass fixtures very quickly, efficiently and affordably. The first step is to remove the old protective clear finish as well as the tarnish. Removing tarnish requires that you actually remove an ultra thin layer of the brass metal. When done by hand, this first step is very hard. The clear protective finish can be very difficult to remove. Once through it, then you need to rub and rub to break the molecular metal bonds. A high speed polishing wheel that has special polishing rouge can cut through these films in seconds. This first step almost always produces fine scratches in the brass.

The buffing stage removes these scratches. Another high speed buffing wheel coated with a different polishing compound removes the scratches and creates a mirror like finish. To accomplish this by hand could take one hours while a professional can do it in less than a minute. The final step employs another high speed spinning pad that burnishes the brass and gives it the deep luster and color that is so characteristic of true polished brass. Achieving these results by hand is nearly impossible.

All of this work needs to be done wearing gloves. Perspiration and body oils on your skin can leach into the freshly polished brass. In fact, even harmful chemicals from food spices can be transmitted to the brass via perspiration. Once the brass is colorized, it is time to clean it with industrial strength lacquer thinner. This removes all contaminants and traces of the polishing rouge. Working with lacquer thinner is extremely hazardous and dangerous because it is highly flammable. Do not even think of doing this yourself.

You might think the best clear coating is clear lacquer. The metal polishers that are on the cutting edge have found that acrylic urethanes are far superior. Once a brass item has been coated with an acrylic urethane, it can remain tarnish free for many years, even when placed outdoors. This is the only clear coating I would use to protect my brass pieces.

Metal polishers can be found in most areas. Some of them offer mail order service. You simply send them a photo or series of photos and they can give you a quote to perform the work. You ship them the items and the craftsmen begin the transformation task. Once complete, the brilliant brass objects are shipped back to you in perfect condition. It is affordable and allows you to spend your time doing what you are good at.

Companion Articles:  Cleaning Brass, Brass Cleaning Companies, Brass Cleaning Tips. Cleaning Brass Products


5 Responses to Cleaning Brass the Professional Way

  1. My husband and I have spent 7 to 8 hours cleaning an old porcelain and brass chandelier. Now, before we hang it, I would like to have this chandelier professional sealed before hanging. Any help or suggestions of where I can find such service will be gratefully appreciated.

  2. If you want mirror like brass without paying outrageous dollars, check out Eastwood.com... They sell kits specifically for brass which includes everything you need including the buffing wheels, compounds, safety gear and instruction. It is surprisingly affordable and it will pay for itself the first time you use it. I am not affiliated with the company - just a huge fan because they have saved me over $1000 in commercial polishing.

  3. i went through your website and your expertise in brass and copper polishing/shining knowledge.
    i require a small tip or suggestion from your experience, i have huge quantity of small pieces of parts in brass what have become black/semi black and i want to shine it.
    as the parts are in big quantity and very small pieces i cannot polish one byone taking hand for labour cost will increase. thus please suggest me some chemical or home made mixing in which i can only DIP and take out and it should shine.

    your response will be highly appreciated sir.

  4. For some parts and large quantities I purchased a shaker that you can put corn hulls or walnut hulls in, turn it on and let it do all the work, hour or 2 later you have shinny new parts. I have found that larger or heavy parts it doesnt seem to work on because the parts aren't moving around as needed. I'm thinking of doing what some people have said about sending them off to get done because the final coating is critical to its everlasting shine.

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