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How to clean antique brass

How to clean antique brass


How can you achieve that highly polished look of antique horse brasses found in country pubs, and, even more than that, should you clean antique brass? Our latest blog post tells you how to clean antique brass.

We’ve all sat by the fire in a country pub and watched the light from the flames bounce off the polished brasses that frame the fireplace. But have you ever wondered how the publican achieves such a high shine and whether cleaning like that affects the value of the piece? In order to answer that, we must first look at what antique brass is, and what colour it should be.

What colour is antique brass?

Brass is composed of copper combined with zinc and other minor elements, and so its appearance will depend on the ratio of copper to zinc in its make up. Generally speaking, however, antique brass is not the bright, shiny, golden-yellow colour of the fireside ornaments, but rather a deep golden-brown, with a pleasing mellowness.

Antique brass and patina

Patina is the phrase used to describe the finish on the surface of an antique wooden or metal item that has aged naturally. What the item is made from will determine the appearance of the patina and in the case of brass (and bronze), the copper content creates a blue/green patina over time, often referred to as verdigris. For the specialist dealer or collector, this verdigris adds to the authenticity and therefore value, of a piece and should be left intact and untouched. Everything you need to know about antique patina has lots more information. 

Before cleaning or polishing brass, antique or not, it’s important to establish whether your item is solid brass, plated brass or lacquered brass. A magnet will not stick to solid brass but will be attracted to the base metal beneath brass plating. Lacquered brass has a layer of lacquer to reduce the need for frequent cleaning and was often used for antique brass lighting. A lacquered piece will show no signs of tarnishing. Plated and lacquered brass should be cleaned and polished differently. The same principles of cleaning should be applied to these items, as home made recipes could strip the lacquer or plating away.

Should I clean antique brass?

Fingerprints and surface dirt can be cleaned easily and should be tackled with a solution of mild soap in warm water and a soft, lint-free cloth. Dip the cloth into the solution and apply to the item, rinsing with clean water before drying thoroughly and polishing with a soft cloth. For tricky, hard to reach areas, uses a clean, soft toothbrush to apply the solution. Never submerge the brass item into the soap solution. Cleaning antique brass with this method will preserve any natural patina without damaging the surface of the brass and is the preferred method of experts.

What to avoid when cleaning antique brass

Search the internet and you will find a raft of homemade recipes to use for cleaning brass. They include lemon juice, bicarbonate of soda, vinegar, salt and even ketchup and toothpaste! While these methods may be suitable for cleaning modern brass, they are too harsh and abrasive for antique brass and could seriously damage its surface and therefore affect its value.

Should antique brass be polished?

This really comes down to personal preference, with many preferring the highly polished finish to their brass, regardless of age. Where you want to polish brass to a shine, always use a commercially available polish. These are formulated just for brass and will work quickly so that you don’t have to labour too long scrubbing which will damage the surface. Use the product sparingly and always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.  

Antique brass for sale at Hemswell Antique Centres

Browse hundreds of antique brass items online, from decorative brass trench art to functional brass candlesticks and brass kitchenalia, or why not experience the finer details of our dealers’ brass wares in person? With four buildings of fine antiques and collectables, our centres have something for everyone and offer a great day out for the family.

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