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From jewelry to cookware and home décor, brass is a staple material used to make some of your favorite goods. While you may handle brass regularly, do you actually know the best way to clean it? In all of its beauty, the chemical properties of brass require special care to maintain shine and keep it clean. "Brass is an alloy made up of various proportions of copper and zinc, and sometimes additional metals," explains Kim Kanary, a certified diamontologist and VP of community development and engagement at JTV. When exposed to air and moisture, oxygen combines with the metal to form an oxide on its surface—this results in the greenish color we see on tarnished, dull brass. Cleaning with an acidic homemade solution or a store-bought cleaner can dissolve those oxides and bring back a shiny exterior, but it's important to be gentle with your cleaning.

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When it’s time to polish metal pieces, cover your work area, and line sinks with old towels to prevent scratches and dents.
| Credit: José Picayo

"If you don't use a brass product often, I would refrain from soaking, cleaning, or scrubbing it regularly, and just make that part of your spring cleaning," says Danielle Smith Parker, CEO and founder of Detroit Maid (soon to be called Clean Break). Be aware that brass will gradually become duller the more regularly it's used but going overboard with unnecessary cleaning can contribute to tarnishing, too. In the case of regularly worn brass jewelry which is constantly exposed to moisture and oils on your skin, Kanary says you can be a bit more liberal with your cleaning and rinse your jewelry with soap and water after each wear. With the help of some cleaning experts, here's a step-by-step guide to properly cleaning brass.

Make a homemade acidic paste.

Chances are when you search how to clean brass, many DIY cleaning solutions like Coca-Cola and toothpaste will appear. Sean Parry, a cleaning expert at the house cleaning company Neat Services, explains that this is because of the mild acid present in dark soda. "The acid can react with oxides to effectively reverse the process of tarnishing," he says. In the case of toothpaste, Parry says, "It's believed the whitening agent in toothpaste can have a similar effect on tarnished brass." However, our pro says it often only makes somewhat of a difference on smaller surfaces, like brass jewelry, and is generally not the most effective way to clean brass.

While soda and toothpaste may be helpful in a pinch, one of the most effective DIY cleaning solutions you can make is a paste with three ingredients: vinegar, salt, and flour. First, Parry says to dissolve one teaspoon of salt into one-half cup of vinegar, then add flour until the mixture becomes a paste. Next, rub this paste onto the brass, leaving it on the metal for about 10 minutes before rinsing it off with warm water using your hand or a soft cloth and buff dry. "The acid in the paste dissolves the metal oxides that make the brass tarnish," Parry says, "leaving only shiny metal behind."

Use vinegar on its own.

"We swear by vinegar. It's one of the best natural cleaners," says Smith Parker. In addition to that homemade paste, vinegar on its own can get the job done better than other ingredients because of its high acidity. Smith Parker recommends soaking jewelry and cookware in a bowl of vinegar for at least one hour—but no longer than two. Then take your brass product out of the vinegar and rinse it off with water. If grime or dullness remains, Smith Parker says you can use soap and water to scrub the brass with a microfiber cloth towel or sponge. Do not use scouring pads or steel wool since that can leave scratches on the brass. (Also, if you don't have vinegar, Smith Parker says that Worcestershire sauce works on its own, too.)

If you need to clean a stationary brass product, such as a faucet or handle, she recommends pouring some vinegar into a sandwich bag, then wrapping the bag around the brass with a twist tie for one to two hours so that it can soak. If you don't regularly use the item you're cleaning—for example, if you hang brass pots in your kitchen as décor—then you shouldn't clean the items too often. If your goal is to simply prevent tarnishing of an unused brass object, Smith Parker says occasional water rinses with two vinegar soaks per year will do the trick.

Store-bought cleaners work, too.

Bar Keeper's Friend Copper Glo Powder ($7.90, amazon.com) is a go-to brass cleaner for Smith Parker's company. Use water to turn the powder into a paste, then scrub it on the brass for a few minutes before rinsing it off. When you're shopping for cleaners, though, Smith Parker says to not buy all-purpose soap or sprays since they won't work well with brass's properties.

If your brass is especially tarnished or dirty, Parry recommends going with a store-bought cleaner or brass polish right away since you'll need stronger cleaning agents than what you can pull together from your kitchen pantry.

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