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The Junk Parlor

How To Clean Brass

I will be the first to admit that I NEVER clean brass, silver plated pieces, basically any metal with patina! So why would I want to know how to clean brass? Well, sometimes there is dirt and grime on top of that old cool patina. And, once you start cleaning the surface dirt off, you are bound to start cleaning off the patina. No one wants a half shiny, while half patinaed piece of brass decor, it just looks weird. So, the only solution is to clean the entire brass piece, removing the patina and making it shine again.

Brass Urn in it's found condition.

Buying The Urn

While I have been buying and selling “junk” for 15 years or so, I have only cleaned a handful of brass pieces. Those were small pieces and I used Brasso. Brasso STINKS!!! I’m talking about the smell, not the quality of product. But, I’ve only used Brasso as a way to “barely” clean small pieces. It does not work like the cleaner I am sharing today!

Recently I purchased a big brass urn from Thrifty Flea Market. The urn was large, had great patina, and a great price! I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with it when I purchased it, because it seemed a little bit big to ship. But, again at the price (I’m thinking it was $10) I couldn’t pass it up. As I was checking out, Gary informed me that the piece stunk really bad. He said that he had tried to clean it a few times, but couldn’t get rid of the smell. So, this told me that the piece was going to need a deep cleaning.

When I got it home, I had the idea to find a top for it and turn it into a side table for our front porch. But before I did that I needed to get it cleaned up. I knew that it would take a lot of bottles of Brasso to get this thing cleaned up. And while I like Brasso for smaller things, I didn’t have much confidence in it’s ability to actually clean this piece and remove any smells.

Over the years I’d seen a lot of “recipes” for cleaning brass with items you have in your own home. THAT! was what I was hoping to find! A recipe for cleaning brass using things I already had!

Brass Urn in it's found condition.

The Recipe

After doing a little searching online I narrowed it down to this recipe…

  • 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 1 tsp table salt
  • all-purpose flour

Mix the vinegar and salt together in a bowl. Then add a spoonful of flour at a time until you get a paste. I used a rag to smear the paste onto the urn in a circular motion. Let the paste sit for up to an hour and then remove with warm water.

There was a lot of green tint while cleaning the brass. My white rag turned greenish too! But, don’t worry I think this is part of the cleaning process!

Please note, that this is to clean SOLID brass pieces, not pieces that are coated in brass. My piece had the original SOLID BRASS sticker on the bottom. But if you are unsure, test it with a magnet. If the magnet sticks, then it is just coated in brass and you shouldn’t use this cleaning technique. If the magnet doesn’t stick, then it is solid brass and you are good to proceed!

ingredients I used to clean brass

What I Learned

I let the paste set for at least an hour, just because I forgot about it! So, I suggest that you turn a timer on! If you let it set too long then the vinegar can damage the brass. This is also why you want to rinse the piece very well. After I rinsed the urn, I could see swirls in quite a few places. So, I repeated the entire process a second time, but didn’t let the paste sit as long.

This method can only be used on SOLID brass.

Repeating the process seemed to do the trick. Now, there are some spots that didn’t shine up the brass. I believe this is because of what had been used previously to clean the brass. I’m guessing something harsh was used and it caused the brass to turn green.

There were runs going down the piece that I could not clean, but I’m okay with that. I got rid of the smell and I am hopeful that eventually the piece will become patined again!

One of the reasons I cleaned the brass was because the urn stunk. I could not pin point where the smell was coming from. Originally my focus was to just clean the outside of the urn. But, the second time I put the mixture on the urn, I included the inside as well. It probably could have used a second cleaning, but I decided not to worry about it. First of all, I couldn’t smell anything. Secondly, I didn’t need the inside to be clean for any reason. I knew that it would either be repurposed as a table or I would stick a plant in it!

Repurposing the Brass Urn

I have been looking for an inexpensive piece to use as a top for the urn so that I can use it as a table. I’m keeping my eye out for a round grate, mirror, tray, or piece of glass when I go thrifting each week. I did find a cute round table I may use on my front porch when I went to the Pec Thing flea market. If I don’t use the urn on my front porch I might just use it for my fiddle leaf fig! I’d love for you to watch the video and let me know which table option you like best!


Go Thrifting With Me


Finished Product

Here is what the urn looked after two coats. Not perfect, but a lot better than it was! A third coat may have helped or, because of what has been used to clean it previously, it could never come clean! But I was happy with my results!!

I am also sharing how to clean brass on Hello Iowa this month! I picked some smaller items to clean LIVE, so we’ll see how that goes! Below are the pieces I will be using on Hello Iowa! The photo on the left are what they originally looked like and on the right after cleaning them with the above recipe! Watch that episode with Megan Reuther HERE!

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how to clean brass naturally with the Junk Parlor Pinterest Pin

This post may contain affiliate links for the products I use and recommend. I am not paid to promote these products. If you purchase using my affiliate links, I could make a small commission at no charge to you.

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Hi, I’m Brooke. Welcome to The Junk Parlor.

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