Best Way to Clean Tarnished Brass

In this blog post, we’ll discuss what is the best way to clean tarnished brass. Before we tackle that, we will look into the history of brass, what is brass and what causes brass to tarnish.


Before we learn what is the best way to clean tarnished brass, a little history of brass metal is in order.

Brass is a copper-zinc alloy that is typically used for sheet metal and casting in a ratio of seven parts copper to three parts zinc. It has historical and enduring significance due to its hardness and workability. This combination ensures a good, brilliant color. There are, however, a variety of tones ranging from a pale lemon color to a deep golden brown, depending on how much zinc is present.

After the copper period came the Bronze Period, and then the Iron Period, but there was no ‘Brass Age,’ as brass wasn’t easy to produce for many years.

Zinc metal could not have been produced before the 18th century as it melts at 420 degrees Celsius and boils at about 950 degrees Celsius below the required temperature for reducing zinc oxide to coal.

Because native zinc was unavailable, brass had to be mixed with copper and smithsonite ore (calamine) before being heated in a crucible. Heat was enough to reduce ore to metal but not to melt copper. The zinc vapor penetrated the copper to create brass, which then melted into a uniform alloy.

Brass was only recognized as an engineering alloy in the last millennium. Bronze was initially easier to produce with copper and tin and was ideal for making utensils.

Known by pre-dynastic Egyptians, copper was represented in the hieroglyphs by the ankh symbol “C,” also used to describe eternal life, indicating an early realization of the economic efficiency for the life of copper and its alliances. While tin was readily available for bronze manufacturing, brass was seldom being used except where its golden color was desired.

The Greeks referred to brass as ‘oreichalcos,’ which was a brilliant and white bronze. Several Roman authors refer to brass as ‘Aurichalum.’ It was used to make sesterces coins, and many Romans preferred it for making helmets with a golden color.

As it has already been said, there was no source of pure zinc in medieval times. Swansea was actually the center of the world copper industry in South Wales. In Britain the brass was manufactured from calamine found in the hills of Mendip on Somerse.

Brass manufacturing factories with a strong reputation for consistency existed in Holland, Germany, China, and Sweden. Brass was famous for church monuments where thin plates were let in and registered to commemorate the deceased. They normally contained 23-29% zinc, often with minor amounts of lead and tin. Often, some of them were recycled and replenished.

The woolen trade, on which wealth relied prior to the industrial revolution, was one of the primary industrial uses of brass. One company had a monopoly on manufacturing metal wire in England during Shakespearean times. This resulted in large amounts being imported from continental Europe. The pin trade became very important afterward, with low leads and tin approximately 14–21% of zinc was usual for serious cold working to scale.

Brass is the basic metal from which all precise instruments such as clocks, watches, and navigational aids were manufactured due to its ease of manufacturing, machining, and corrosion resistance.

In 1761, Harrison invented the chronometer by using brass to make an accurate chronometer, which earned him a hefty monetary prize. This invention removed a lot of the guesswork from sea navigation and saved a lot of lives. Many chronometers are still in good working order from the 17th and 18th-century.

For all forms of decorative jewelry, grades with a zinc content range of between 11 and 28 percent were used. The metal had to be very ductile in the ornate work and the preferred composition was around 18 percent, almost that of the still-demand 80/20 gold metal.

This metal appears to have been used sparingly in the beginning, but by the Middle Ages, the brass industry had grown to be very important, carried out on a large scale, and applied in a variety of directions.

The term “latten,” which appears frequently in old documents, is used somewhat loosely and is sometimes applied to bronze objects; its true application is to the alloy known as brass. In Europe, it is mainly used in the valley of the Meuse in southeast Belgium and in the north-eastern part of France, the Netherlands, and the Rhenish Provinces where Cologne was the hub.

The people of Huy and Dinant worked this metal as far back as the 11th century, they found zinc in their own country and went to Dortmund or Cologne, and subsequently the mines in the Harz mountains for their own copper. There was a lot of work done by casting and repoussé, but they excelled at the former. The name “dinanderie” was coined in a very short time to designate the work in brass from the Dinant and other neighboring towns. They produced their products in France, Spain, England, and Germany.

In 1329, Dinant merchants established a “hall” at the beginning of 1329 and traded in Rouen, Calais, Paris, and other places, and were encouraged by Edwards III in London. The industry prospered for a couple of hundred years but was weakened by quarrels with their competitors at the neighboring city of Bouvignes. The founders of brass flocked to Huy, Namur, Middleburg, Tournai, and Bruges to continue their activities.

The earliest brass work from the Meuse district consists of the font in Church St. Bartholomew in Liège, a marvelous vessel resting on boxes, cast in high relief outside of a bowl with groups of baptismal figures; it was made by the maker of a beautiful censer, Renier of Huy, in the museum of Lille, between 1113 and 1118. In the form of fountains, lecterns, candlesticks for the paschal and altar, tabernacles and candlesticks, fountains of a simple contour have been performed for churches and cathedrals; font designs are often decorated with figure subjects, lecterns are usually overlaid by an eagle of conventional form, but sometimes by the pelican a griffin overlooks the lecterary at Andenne.

The supporting stands of these birds are often rich in Gothic strokes, with figurines and lions; later forms have a cylindrical shaft, mouldings in intervals, and are spread over a wide base. In Germany, a number may have been locally manufactured in the district of Cologne; some of them remain in churches of Venice. Approximately a score have been recorded in English churches, including those in Norwich, St Albans, Croydon, and other locations. The majority of them are of the same design and were most likely imported from Belgium: Bristol’s St Michael’s Mount, North Wales’s Temple Church, and Cornwall’s Temple Church all have beautiful brass chandeliers.

The lecterns were the mode of the time for this kind of thing in England and are found in King’s College Chapel, St George’s Chapel, St Paul’s Cathedral, Windsor’s Castle, Cambridge, as well as some churches of London for several centuries.

A great deal of brass work had been produced in the region of Cologne and still remains in the Church; the handsome panel in the Xanten Cathedral must be mentioned, the work, it is said, of a Maastricht craftsman, the Netherlands, at the beginning of the 17th century. The Hereford Screen in Hereford Cathedral made in 1862 by George Gilbert Scott in various metals with a predominance of brass is a modern example.

Brass is the basic metal from which all precise instruments such as clocks, watches, and navigational aids were manufactured due to its ease of manufacturing, machining, and corrosion resistance.

The manufacture of brass was much more important with the advent of the industrial revolution. William Champion was able to obtain a patent in 1738 in order to produce zinc by calamine and coal distillation. In a water-powered ‘battery,’ cast brass was hammered to create a wrought plate. Rods cut from the plate were then manually pulled via dies to produce the critical stock needed for pins in the textile weaving industry.

Though the first rolling mills were built in the 17th century, efficient rolling mills were not widely introduced until the middle of the 19th century.

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Joseph Jenks of Lynn, Massachusetts, was one of the first recognized brass pioneers and fabricators during the mid-1600s, with brass pins for wool making being a major commodity. Several others established such works during the eighteenth century, despite legal restrictions.

Muntz’s discovery of 60/40 brass in 1832 made it possible to produce inexpensive, hot workable brass plates. To deter biofouling and worm invasion, this replaced the use of copper for the sheathing of wooden ships. Before we get into what is the best way to clean tarnished brass, let’s learn what causes brass to tarnish.

What Causes Brass To Tarnish

In the field of metallurgy, the corrosion strength of brass is well recognized. It is therefore also used in applications where there will be water exposure, moisture, and other corrosive compounds. Its corrosion resistance, on the other hand, has limits. Though it does not turn greenish-brown like other copper-based metals when corroded, brass can quickly produce tarnish on its surface.

What causes tarnish to form? Note that tarnish is the first step of non-ferrous metal corrosion. When the original sheen of your brass item begins to haze, you’ll know it’s succumbing to tarnishing. If you leave your brass object with a dark, misty look for a long period of time, it will slowly thicken to the point that removing it to expose the polished surface underneath becomes almost impossible.

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As copper tarnish is exposed to sunlight, it almost automatically transforms into a sheet of copper dioxide. This copper dioxide corrodes more with time, releasing more oxygen to form copper oxide. Without treatment for several years, this copper oxide transforms into copper carbonate, which acts as copper’s primary barrier against the elements, explaining why it will survive centuries.

Brass doesn’t corrode too easily, unlike copper. If it’s a rod in brass or a channel in brass, the tarnish on its surface can stay as is and not thicken over time. While this is a benefit of brass, the tarnish is unsightly and must be removed. Fortunately, tarnish is very simple to remove. Working with tarnished brass would be better if you know what causes it. You don’t have to put up with drab-looking brass furniture and fixtures that distract from the aesthetic of your home’s interior design. You should clean and shine them to get back their luster.

Best Way To Clean Tarnished Brass

Polishing Cloth perfectly polish anything.

Cleaning and polishing tarnished brass is not an easy task, but it is also not overly difficult with the right tool. You can clean and polish everything, from a small object like a faucet valve to a big one like a stairway railing trim, much like you would your shoes. You don’t need to find a specialist because you can do it yourself with the 95-year-old, time-tested Champion Polishing Cloth. Apart from understanding what causes tarnish on brass, here are a few pointers to help you polish your brass pieces effectively.

The Champion Polishing Cloth is ready for immediate use. DO NOT get the cloth wet nor clean anything that is wet. Water will ruin the cloth. Use the cloth as is and follow directions:

  1. Roll Champion Polishing Cloth into a ball and gently rub the object in a straight line, with the grain if necessary, to clean, polish, and wax objects in good condition.
  2. For the best results, try to clean only a small space at a time, then polish with a soft, clean, dry cloth.
  3. For a cleaner and higher lustre, change to a clean part of the dry cloth, polish and buff over again.

A single Champion Polishing Cloth 9″ x 12″ will outlast a single gallon of brass cleaner and polish. When polishing, it will not leave deposits in crevices or wear off enameled or varnished surfaces on the metal.

The production of tarnish or rust on metals is significantly slowed following treatment with Champion Polishing Cloth, when the protecting chemicals and waxes in the cloth reach into the pores of the metal and leave a wax covering, allowing the polished surface to maintain its luster for a much longer period of time. Champion Polishing Cloth is non-irritating to the hands and would not damage even the most delicate finishes.

When using the Champion Polishing Cloth, put a thick cloth behind it to keep your hands clean. Champion Polishing Cloth should never be washed. The cloth’s discoloration has little effect on its efficiency. Before using the Champion Polishing Cloth, the unique chemistry will not evaporate. To prevent evaporation, it should be stored in an airtight plastic or glass container after use. It will then survive a long time and do well until it is worn to shreds.

We hope this blog post on the best way to clean tarnished brass has given you a better insight into brass & how to maintain its typically beautiful appearance.

Polishing cloth, clean, shine, protect.


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