The Best Way to Clean and Polish Brass-Plated and Silver-Plated Items
Items are considered brass or silver-plated when a thin layer of the metal is applied to a core material—usually of a lesser value—to protect or upgrade an item. "Plating is often used to enhance the appearance and value of items such as jewelry, cutlery and tableware, and other household items like decorative lighting," says Gregory van Buskirk, co-founder of Sensitive Home, a brand of home cleaning products. "However, it can also be used to provide protection, for example against corrosion or oxidation." When it comes to keeping these brass-plated and silver-plated items looking their best, van Buskirk says a little know-how can go a long way.
Why plating requires special cleaning.
Since plating is a thin layer compared to the material of the base item, polishing plated items takes a bit of care and foresight. "By their nature, they get less soiled compared to other items that need intensive cleaning (like clothing, floors, bathrooms, dishes, etc.), so the need to 'scrub' them is minimal," van Buskirk says. "In fact, the most common soiling of such items is to take off dust, oils (such as fingerprints or body oils for jewelry), and perhaps oxidation for silver and brass plating."
How to polish plated items.
Polish is generally made using fine abrasive particles suspended in a paste, which van Buskirk says could wear away thin plating if you're not careful when cleaning your plated items. "Apply a thin coat of the polish, let it work for a while (which helps loosen the oxidation)," he says. "Don't let it go fully dry, as that makes it harder to remove."
When your polish is almost dry, he suggests using a clean bit of cloth to gently wipe away the residue. "For really stubborn oxidation, you will need to gauge how much more elbow grease may be needed, and how good the plating is. We have seen multiple times where over-rambunctious rubbing has exposed the base metal underneath—a costly mistake that looks worse than the original grime."
How to preserve an item's patina.
While most of the things you see soiling silver and brass items are dust, fingerprints, and body oils, van Buskirk says that sometimes the item—especially brass or silver coins—are actually more valuable with oxidation (also known as patina). "If you have ever watched Antiques Roadshow, many a guest has been disappointed by a lesser value as a result of removing patina," he explains. "If you want to preserve the item's patina, just give it a light cleaning with a damp cloth and air dry." Just remember to wear gloves while you work. Van Buskirk says polish can be tough on hands and could stain your fingers.
Avoid DIY methods.
We all love a good home recipe or DIY product that can tackle a tough job, but van Buskirk suggests sticking to the store-bought stuff instead. "Many people use household items for polishing, such as lemon juice, baking soda, and ammonia," he says. "These all have their respective effectiveness, but usually the formulated polish products are easier to apply and are made for the specific metal."