How to Polish Brass
If you've been into the shop, you know we have a thing for brass, particularly brushed brass. So... when you take that gorgeous candleholder home, what’s the best way to care for your brass? And how do you keep that brushed look?
We'll just cut to the chase: Bar Keepers Friend is the best brass polish we've found - and the brass polish we use at FORD GREY.
Apparently the magic ingredient in Bar Keepers Friend (BKF) is oxalic acid. It works even the most gnarly tarnish - if you're willing to scrub a bit (or sometimes a lot). Worried about scratching your pretty object with BKF and the synthetic steel wool we recommend below? If your brass has a brushed finish, guess what? It's already scratched! That's what a brushed finish is!
Before and After Polishing with Bar Keepers Friend
Supplies You Need to Polish Brass:
- Bar Keepers Friend Soft Cleanser
- 3M Synthetic Steel Wool in a few grades. We recommend buying these three: 000 Extra Fine, 0 Fine and 2 Medium. In a pinch, the roughest, scratchiest pot scrubbing sponge you have will work.
- Small stainless steel detailing brush (only necessary for badly tarnished items)
- Small nylon detailing brush (an old toothbrush works just fine)
- Waterproof nitrile solvent gloves to protect your hands
- Soft, dry cloths for drying and final polish.
- Access to running water. Polishing with BKF can be a bit messy. We recommend using an outdoor sink or utility sink
With your gloves on, massage BKF onto the brass. If the item is small (like a single candle holder), you can slather BKF all over the entire item. If the item is large, like an umbrella stand, work in sections. BKF doesn't recommend leaving the product on brass for longer than a minute or two without thoroughly rinsing and removing.
Pro Tip: If your brass doesn't change color at all when you apply BKF, your brass might have a coat of lacquer. You'll have to remove the lacquer before you can polish it.
Rinse off the BKF and use the nylon brush to get all the BKF off the surface and out of crevices and hard to reach areas. You won't see it when it's wet, but any BKF left behind will turn white when dry.
If the brass looks great and you're happy with it, awesome, skip to STEP 4.
If your brass still needs work, you can now see clearly which areas need to be scrubbed with your 3M "steel" wool and brushes.
Cover the problem areas with BKF and start scouring any dark spots with the 3M and/or the stainless steel brush.
Pro Tip: When using synthetic stainless steel pads, always work from coarsest to finest. Stepping down gradually finer and finer until you have the look you want. Repeat STEP 2 and 3 until the brass is spot free and pristine!
Reapply BKF and scrub the entire piece with BKF and 0-Fine or 2-Medium synthetic stainless steel to remove any brush marks and to achieve a consistent brushed finish.
Do a final rinse and scrub with nylon brush to remove any remnants of BKF (otherwise you'll see white residue in the crevices when it dries; also the remaining BKF can mar the finish.)
Carefully hand dry your brass with a soft cloth. Voila, your brushed brass is now properly polished!
Pro Tip: Once finished, if you want to keep the piece pristine, try not to touch the brass with your bare hands. You won't be able to see the fingerprints right away, but in a week or two the oil from your hands will oxidize and leave tarnish spots.
This method will leave your brass with a brushed finish. If you're looking for a more traditional high polish instead, you can remove the really stubborn tarnish or spotting with the method above, but then finish the process with a higher end brass cleaner, like Skultuna's metal polish, which we carry at the shop.
This method doesn't work with lacquered brass. If you have brass pieces that you want to restore, you'll have to remove the lacquer first, which is a whole other post. We know some people like lacquer - it keeps the tarnish away, but when you seal up the living finish, you lose a lot of beauty. When we restore vintage brass, we always make sure to remove all the lacquer before polishing and scrubbing to get that brushed brass look.
- Always keep some Bar Keepers Friend on hand.
- Wear gloves when cleaning your brass.
- Use an abrasive material to scrub - like steel wool or synthetic steel wool.
- Use a small stainless steel brush to get into crevices and to remove the toughest tarnish.
- Clean and polish in well-ventilated area.
- Don't leave BKF on brass for more than a minute or two.
- Don't just rinse off BKF. Use an old toothbrush, or the like, under running water to get off ALL the BKF clinging to the brass.
- Dry your cleaned piece very well, or the water can leave spots.
We have other tips and tricks for polishing brass - some that don't require running water too - but this is the most effective way we've found to give your brass a deep clean and leave it with a gorgeous brushed finish.