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Brass Part I: Are You Cleaning Plated or Solid?

Okay, so DIY repurposing is supposed to be fun, right?

I’m still working away on the cabinet for Kaleigh’s TV… I wrote about it here. You might remember the bleed-through fiasco that threw me into a bit of a tail spin. I have the cabinet repainted now, no bleeding this time, and it’s close to being put back together. Well, except for the flip-up door. It’s being a bit stubborn, but that’s another story.

Anyway. The brass hardware. The cabinet is a vintage piece, and the hardware was very deeply tarnished. So we needed to figure out what, if any of it was solid brass, and then clean it appropriately.


The way to tell if something is solid brass, or only brass plated is with a magnet. If the magnet sticks to the piece, it’s brass plated. If it doesn’t, do one further test, just to be sure  it’s not actually brass plating on top of another non-magnetic metal. Test by scratching an inconspicuous area with a sharp knife. If the scratch is bright yellow you have solid brass. If it is not, it’ll be brass plated, and this affects how you clean it. Brass plated pieces should always be cleaned with non-abrasive materials.

Our test showed that the piano hinge was brass plated, which we had kind of assumed just by its weight, and the rest was solid brass… well not the screws!  But we decided to use Brasso (an abrasive cleaner) on the hing anyway! It’s on the back of the cabinet where it won’t really be seen. Worse case scenario, we would have to buy another hinge. Best case, the hinge cleans up enough to be reused.

The black on the cloth was after just a few wipes!

The hinge itself needed a bit more grit to grab the grime…

So an old soft bristled toothbrush was brought in for that.


Soft or medium bristled brushes are okay to use on brass plated pieces, steel wool is not. The scratching of steel wool will leave different coloured swirls in the metal, and worse, could completely rub off the brass plating.

A rinse and a rub down revealed a cleaned up hinge, but if there was any brass plating underneath all that grime, we had now removed it! Oops.

But we’re okay with that, because no-one will see it anyway!

Here is the final reveal of the cleaned up piano hinge.

Not too bad! This side of the hinge actually has a lacquered coating on it, something you will often find with brass. And we definitely broke most of the rules when it came to cleaning this hinge. But we knew we were, and thankfully got lucky… this time ;-)


If you have lacquered brass it’s best to remove the lacquer before cleaning, because brass can age underneath. *If you remove the lacquer you will have to re-lacquer your piece after it’s been cleaned. But if you want to clean without removing the lacquer, as we did, then here are a few things to remember:

  • Don’t allow the piece to stay too wet – soaking will make the lacquer peel.
  • Work only with luke warm water. Heat from the hot water will expand the metal faster than the lacquer, and cause the lacquer to crack and/or peel.
  • Use only a soft cloth and soap to clean. We lucked out with the Brasso on this one!


Here are a few non-abrasive household cleaning options you can use for brass plated pieces:

Toothpaste, ketchup, Worcestershire Sauce… and yup, onions & water.

Methods to stay away from with brass plated pieces:

Straight vinegar, ammonia, or… gasp, Brasso! I have to say, the Brasso was pretty toxic smelling, and you want to use it in a well ventilated area, which we did, and definitely with gloves.

*I’ll be following up on the household solutions in tomorrow’s post…

How do you determine if a household cleaner is too abrasive? Just ask yourself, would I put this in my mouth in its pure form? If the answer is no, then the cleaner is too abrasive for your brass plated piece…

Here’s a peek at how the solid brass pieces came out using all the same steps as for the piano hinge and steel wool… you can use steel wool on solid brass because the scratches show the same colour all the way through, so they don’t stand out like they would on a brass plated piece.


Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post. I’ll tell you how I tackled the tough stuff, show you the results… and talk a little bit more about the household cleaning methods mentioned!

How do you clean brass plated objects? What do you do with lacquer coated brass plating – clean over it, or remove and reapply?

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  1. Wow, what a lot of work going into this cabinet. Read the part about painting it! Can’t wait to see it all done. You are doing a fabulous job :)

  2. Hi, Sheila! I really like your writing style! It was really interesting to read about this cabinet and I learn new tricks! Thank you!

    • Hi Eliza,
      Thank you for your comment – I really appreciate it! I haven’t cleaned much more old brass since then, but that project definitely taught me a lot!

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