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cleaning antique brass with vinegar & salt... bad idea ??

Posted by remodel-mama (My Page) on
Thu, Jul 29, 10 at 0:50

Hi all,

So, I meant to post this question, get responses and *then* take action... but decided to google my question and go for it before consulting with this forum. Maybe that was a bad idea...

We are trying to salvage the antique brass hardware in the house we are remodeling (1912 Edwardian). I was ok with the way they look in the pic below, by DH wanted to try to clean them up a bit. (Yes, I am trying to blame this on him, even though it was me who tried the vinegar/salt trick on them...)

So, I cleaned the plate with vinegar and salt and it turned a copperish color. Ack. Any way to get back the antique brass look??

Thanks in advance for any advice/tips you can offer.


Follow-Up Postings:

RE: cleaning antique brass with vinegar & salt... bad idea ??

The mix is only OK if the brine has no undissolved salt crystals in it. Wherever a grain of salt in vinegar lays on the brass, a hole will be made by the HCL.
Diluted ammonia is a little better.
You can scrub with fine steel wool and windex and get a satin polish to the metal.

RE: cleaning antique brass with vinegar & salt... bad idea ??

That happened to me once when I let an item soak too long in the vinegar-salt mixture.

Brass is an alloy of primarily copper and zinc. Cleaning it with an acid solution causes some of the metals to leach out, and a layer of copper is redeposited. I've read that polishing with Brasso (which is somewhat abrasive) will remove the superficial copper coating and restore the new brass color. I haven't actually tried this, but it sounds reasonable to me.

If left uncoated, the brass will eventually darken, or you can use ammonia fuming or a commercial antiquing solution to hasten the process.

P.S. I've read that soaking brass in ammonia can weaken it and cause stress cracks - I don't know if it's true.

Here is a link that might be useful: How to add patina to brass

RE: cleaning antique brass with vinegar & salt... bad idea ??

brass is tough stuff....that's why they talk about brass monkeys...but that's an other topic.
Brasso will indeed polish up the brass like will barkeepers friend or just plain 4 ought steel wool.
But the four ought steel wool and a little Brasso will make the job go faster.
Your hardware will be beautiful!
Linda C

RE: cleaning antique brass with vinegar & salt... bad idea ??

The acid attacks the zinc first leaving the surface mostly copper. Almost any abrasive will remove the copper and get you back to brass color. Use a tooth brush to get into the corners.
Getting back to an "Antique" brass color is more difficult. I tried an "Antiqing" solution one time and was less than impressed with the results.

I "Antiqued" some Bronze switchplates by removing the manufacturers finish with scotchbrite. The heated the oven to 500 deg (that's as high as it would go) , placed the switchplates on the oven rack , turned the oven off and went to bed. The next morning I had antique switch plates. Looked a lot better than that black paint they put on bronze and call Antique. Don't know if this would work on brass or not.

That lock looks like an old skeleton key lock my parents used to have on a house in Maine. They would go to the five and 10 cent store and buy a new key. The store had half a dozen different shapes and they would just pick out the one that looked like there's and it would work. The door was rarely locked so the key tended to get lost.

RE: cleaning antique brass with vinegar & salt... bad idea ??

Cleaning brass with vinegar should work just fine. You could also use concentrated lemon juice since the citric acid really gets the stains off of it and gives it a new shine. Same thing goes with cleaning with vinegar.

Here is a link that might be useful: cleaning with vinegar

RE: cleaning antique brass with vinegar & salt... bad idea ??

Just make sure the hardware is solid brass.

Acid cleaning of plated brass revels the underlying metal VERY quickly.

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