Hemswell Antique Centres

How can we help?

How to clean antique brass lighting – our 5 top tips


Antique brass lighting is a thing of beauty and there is a wide choice of examples available, from antique brass ceiling lights and antique brass wall lights, to oil lamps and antique brass pendant lights. Before cleaning your brass lighting, first ascertain whether it is solid brass or brass plated and whether or not it has been lacquered.

The difference between solid brass and brass plated

The majority of antique brass pieces are solid brass but sometimes they can be made from a cheaper bass metal that has been coated or wrapped in a thin layer of brass. Solid brass is NOT magnetic so a magnet will not stick to it. If a magnet does stick to your item, it is brass plated and the magnet is attracted to the base metal.

How to tell if brass has been lacquered

Many antique brass items were lacquered to prevent them from tarnishing; the clear coating formed a barrier against air, natural oils in the skin and moisture which cause tarnishing. In the case of antique brass lighting, a layer of lacquer would also reduce the need for constant cleaning and polishing, not always practical with lighting. A lacquered piece can be identified by the lack of tarnishing, showing only dirt and fingerprints.

How to clean lacquered or plated antique brass

Abrasive cleaners or any home-made cleaning pastes that have vinegar or bicarbonate of soda in them will be harsh on the lacquer or the plating and could result in damaging it or even removing it. Instead, use a solution of liquid soap and warm water applied with a soft cloth. For hard to reach or intricately detailed areas, use a toothbrush to apply the solution. Wipe clean with a damp cloth before drying with a soft, dry, lint-free cloth. Avoid submerging coated brass into the solution.

Should you polish antique brass?

As this depends on the finish you prefer your brass to have, it is always better to leave the item in its untouched state when buying or selling. Serious collectors always prefer objects in their current condition and there is a risk that a retouched item may be devalued considerably. Collectors prefer the natural patina (wear, oxidation and dirt) that forms over time as it adds to the character of a piece and speaks of its history. It is also worth noting that with antique brass lighting, original wiring can be useful to date and/or identify a maker so where the piece has been upgraded for modern use, keep the original wiring when selling the item on. 

How to clean antique brass items

Antique brass looks at its best when polished regularly and this should be done by hand. Using a commercial, specialist brass polish which should be applied with cotton wool, work the polish gently into the surface of the piece before removing with a soft, yellow duster. Avoid any homemade recipes that can be found online; these often include vinegar, lemon juice and baking soda which will destroy the patina, and avoid cleaning antique brass in water as this can corrode any antique solder.

At Hemswell Antique Centres, our antique brass lighting includes some spectacular examples and our expert dealers also have a superb variety of antique brass and copper, which you can browse online. However, to really appreciate the pieces in all their glory, why not come and spend a day with us, taking a break in one of our restaurants for some lunch or an afternoon tea?

Back to articles