Brass fixtures are often found in older homes, making for a beautiful decoration.
In older residences, you may see window handles, locks, doorknobs, and vent covers made from brass.
It is the perfect metal for such jobs, especially given its toughness, durability, and beautiful appearance.
Unfortunately, not everyone shares the same love of brass which is why you will also often find such fixtures coated in different paint colors and dyes.
When that happens, the natural color and effect of the brass fixtures are not present.
But if you want – it can be restored by removing the paint using the right materials, a little patience, and some elbow grease.
Removing Paint from Brass
What follows are a few tips and easy steps that will help you restore brass fixtures to their original state to look much like before they were coated with paint.
The one exception is brass screws – they should not be cleaned using the following technique (why? I will discuss in a minute below).
Step 1- Prepare
Remove a few brass fixtures at a time and place them into a stainless steel or porcelain pan.
Do not use an aluminum pan as it may not react well to the substances you add.
Be sure the pan is one you do not care much about, as it will be tossed away after the job is done.
Open the windows and turn on a fan to get a good flow of air through the room.
Otherwise, you are going to be overwhelmed by the odor that will be generated by the next step.
Step 2- Add White Vinegar
Pour white vinegar into the pan until the brass fixtures are covered.
Then place the pan over a stove burner and then turn on the burner.
Heat the pan until the vinegar reaches a slow boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer.
After a few minutes, the vinegar will soften the paint, which will start to separate from the brass fixtures.
Once you see that occurring, remove the pan from the burner.
If the brass fixtures stay in the heat too long, the plating may start to dissolve. This is especially true on plating that has been thinned over the years.
Step 3- Remove & Scrub the Brass
Once the pan has been safely removed from the burner, use a pair of tongs and pull one piece out and place it on a newspaper.
Be sure to wear thick rubber gloves to prevent any chance of burning your hands.
Next, scrub the fixture using #2 steel wool.
For any areas that are hard to reach, you can use a wire brush, toothpick, or bamboo skewers.
When the first piece is done, set it aside on another piece of newspaper and fish out the next piece.
You should only have three or four pieces maximum in the pan.
Once you have cleaned all the pieces, you can put in some more and heat the vinegar up again to a slow boil, then simmer.
After all the pieces are cleaned as you like, you can polish the fixtures using Brasso.
When you are done with all the work, throw the pan away as the paint that covers the brass fixtures has a high likelihood of containing lead.
Can Brass Rust?
Brass, a combination of copper and zinc, is a traditional metal used to make various house items, such as candlesticks, light fixtures, cabinet hinges, and other hardware.
When exposed to the air, brass usually oxidizes to the bluish-green patina, called verdigris. The patina gives the brass a unique aged look that will keep it from looking shiny and clean.
Metals like copper, brass, and bronze do not rust – because they all have negligible iron in them – which can cause iron oxide or rust formation.
However, copper might develop a blue-green patina on its surface when exposed to oxygen for a long.
Brass on your bed, TV stand, lamps, and light fixtures can also tarnish, but it may take years.
Fortunately, cleaning the brass is much easier, and it can be easily restored to its original shine within an hour or less.
How to Clean Brass Screws?
Some brass pieces, such as shiny screws, can be steel plated with brass and will rust over time (instead of oxidizing).
If that’s the case, using traditional brass cleaning methods should not work and may even result in removing the brass plating. It’s reasonable to clean the screws (the paint or the rust on them) with only fine-grade steel wool.
Alternatively, if the screws are heavily tarnished and you don’t want to throw them away or replace them, you can try using a lemon as a home remedy.
- Prepare a paste of equal parts of table salt, flour, and lemon juice in a small cup.
- After the paste has dried, carefully rub the threads and top of the screws with a wet toothbrush and remove any residue with a microfiber cloth.
TIP: If you aren’t sure whether the screws are brass-plated steel, remove them from the hinges and test them by picking them up with a magnet.
If they stick, the brass contains iron or steel – true brass won’t get attracted to magnets.
Can Brass be Cleaned in a Crockpot?
Yes, a slow cooker is one of the fastest household methods to clean and remove the spray paint from your brass and bronze metal without harsh chemicals.
- Create a protective barrier inside your cooker with a plastic Slow Cooker Liner
- Soak your old, painted fixtures in a slow cooker with warm water for 8-10 hours on high
- The paint will start to dissolve and peel off in 2-3 hours, but you should let them sit for at least 8 hours to get all the paint removed.
- Once all the paint is gone, rinse your brass in clean water and dry with a soft cloth.
Remember that the longer you put the items in a crockpot, the lesser you will need to clean them up later after soaking. So, I recommend giving them 10 hours for the best results.
If, by chance, there are still some stubborn paint spots left after 10 hours of cleaning, soak the pieces in mineral spirits or lacquer thinner for a few minutes and rub them gently with a wire brush.
Your brass should be clean, bright, and ready to be used again!
TIP: Do not soak the brass items in mineral spirits for long as it may damage their finish.
Does chemical paint removers damage brass?
Chemical paint removers like Dirtex and Citristrip are pretty safe for removing paints from metals, including SOLID brass.
This means if you need to remove the paint finishes from a piece of solid brass item, you can use the paint strippers commercially available.
But do not use them on things that are made of plated brass. It can remove the plating while removing the paint resulting in a damaged item.
Can you put brass items in an ultrasonic cleaner bath?
Yes, you can use an ultrasonic cleaner machine to clean your brass items.
But don’t put the whole piece of brass in the bath. If possible, disassemble them and put them in small parts that will fit in the bath comfortably.
Make sure to use a sonic cleaning solution that is safe for brass. Let the cavitation work by scrubbing your brass items’ crevices, nooks, and crannies.
And in around 10-20 minutes, your old brass pieces will look almost new!
What’s the difference between polished brass and unlacquered brass?
Unlike polished brass, un-lacquered brass (also known as raw brass or uncoated brass) is purposefully left without a protective coating and is relatively expensive.
The bare metal, when left unpolished, allows it to develop a beautiful natural patina over time due to natural oxidation, which many people prefer in their homes to get a vintage rustic look.
Lacquered or polished brass, on the other hand, is coated with a thin varnish layer by spraying or brushing.
Un-lacquered brass can be cleaned in the same way as polished brass using the methods described above.
However, you need to be careful not to over-clean or polish un-lacquered brass, as this can remove the natural patina that has developed over time.
The bottom line
If your painted brass hardware and fixtures are starting to show signs of tarnish, don’t fret.
With a bit of elbow grease and some basic household supplies, you can easily clean and restore them to their original glory.
Just follow the steps outlined above, and your brass will look good as new in no time!
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for over a decade serving customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, and Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.