Good news: It's easier than you think.

By Ayn-Monique Klahre
February 06, 2020
Courtesy of Waterworks

After decades of silver-toned stainless steel or nickel-plated hardware dominating the realm of kitchen finishes, gold-toned knobs, faucets, and pulls are back. They're more than just a trend: Brass has been around for centuries. A longtime staple at bars and on boats, brass is easy to care for and develops an authentic patina as it ages. "Brass gives you a lovely softness that happens when you use it," says Barbara Sallick, co-founder and Senior Vice President of Design at Waterworks, which creates kitchen and bath fittings. "I'm a big fan of things that feel natural and mature over time." If you agree, you'll likely gravitate towards unlacquered brass finishes, which do just that—mature over time. Ahead, everything you need to know about this hardware type, including how to care for it.

Related: How to Clean All of Your Tabletop Essentials, Including Silver, Dinnerware, and Glassware

What's the difference between lacquered and unlacquered brass?

It's simple: Lacquered brass is finished with a clear coating that prevents tarnish, while the unlacquered iteration leaves the metal (an alloy of copper and zinc) exposed to the elements. "Over time, unlacquered brass takes on a patina—it's a living finish that shows its evolution," says Sallick. Lacquered brass, on the other hand, will stay brighter, shinier, and more yellow-toned over the course of its lifetime.

What causes unlacquered brass to change color?

Because unlacquered brass is not sealed from the elements, it will naturally tarnish. Depending on the exact alloy (different companies use different mixes), its coloring and the time it takes to reach that patina can vary from one faucet to the next. The patina's hue also depends on your surroundings: If you live by the ocean, which means higher humidity and salty air, the brass will tarnish green. In a city, where dust or car exhaust are more common, the medium will morph into a brown or gray. The type of water in your area—whether it's hard or soft—can influence the patina, too.

How do you care for unlacquered brass faucets?

For day-to-day care, dish soap and water will remove debris from food or smudges from dirty hands, and a soft cloth like microfiber or a paper towel will buff it to a shine. But acidic kitchen substances, like lemons or tomatoes, or bathroom staples, like toothpaste, can increase the rate of the tarnishing process. In these instances, you'll need brass polish (rub some onto a soft cloth, wipe in an upwards motion, rinse with water, and dry) to keep your faucetry looking its best. "Brass is going to change eventually, no matter what you do, but you can keep it looking like the day you bought it [longer] by polishing it frequently," explains Sallick.

There's one important detail to note, however, if you turn to brass polish: Most formulas are corrosive to some countertop surfaces, like marble or wood, so be careful not to overdo it, especially around the escutcheons that join the faucet to the countertop. As a rule, Sallick doesn't recommend DIY mixtures, many of which, she says, are abrasive and scratch the finish. Depending on how much of a patina you want, unlacquered brass kitchen faucets can be polished twice a year or as often as once a month. If you find that your unlacquered brass faucet tarnishes more quickly than you'd like, you can also consider coating it with carnauba car wax, which will seal the surfaces (and reapply as it wears off). Ultimately, with proper care, unlacquered brass should last a lifetime—or longer. "We have 18th-century candlesticks in our home—made of the same material—and they still look beautiful, hundreds of years later," says Sallick. "Brass just gets more beautiful when you touch and use it every day."

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