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How To Clean Old Brass Using Bar Keeper's Friend

Updating and reusing old objects so that they bring joy again.

Cleaning Old and Dirty Brass to Restore the Beauty


Bring Back the Shine to Old Brass

Brass is a yellow metal made up of a copper and zinc alloy. It's used both in functional and decorative items all over the world. Brass antiques are in many homes especially around the fireplace. Fire fenders, guards, rails, pokers and tongs that commonly grace our living rooms can over 100 years old and they accumulate years of dirt that dulls the shine. Although a patina and signs of originality add character to older items, there comes a time when a good clean is needed. Sometimes the brass gets so grimy it loses its colour altogether. How do you clean old brass and bring back the shine?

When it's a large object with many layers of dirt, a product that is cheap and hard-working is required. An old-fashioned cleaning product called Bar Keeper's Friend is both affordable and easy to us. It cleans up brass beautifully and cuts through years of dirt.

Using Bar Keeper's Friend to Clean Brass


Step by Step Guide to Cleaning Brass

Bar Keeper's Friend has been around since 1882. Invented in Indianapolis by a chemist, it is still manufactured in Indiana today. The cleansing powder is oxalic acid based and it works a treat on brass.

If your brass is very greasy, start by simply washing the object with warm water and dish soap. Get all of the loose dirt off the metal. Carry out this pre-wash if the brass has dust or soot on it too so that the metal doesn't get scratched when it is rubbed.

The next step is to sprinkle some of the Bar Keeper's Friend cleaning powder onto a wet cloth. Use any soft cloth - old t-shirts cut into squares are excellent or this. It's a good idea to wear gloves to protect your hands against the cleaner.

Work the cleaner along the brass applying pressure to the cloth. If there are many years of dirt, it will require some effort but you should see the shine start to appear. Some areas might need extra work to remove tarnishes. Simply reapply the cleanser and keep rubbing.


Cleaning a Brass Fire Fender

It's a good idea to do larger brass objects in sections. Once you have cleaned the grime off an area, wet a clean cloth with water and rinse of all traces of the cleaner. If left too long it will start to dry in place and could cause marks.

Carry on working along the brass from one end to the other, using the Bar Keeper's Friend and then rinsing it completely off. Keep rinsing the cloth to keep it clean.

In some stubborn areas or places that are harder to reach, use an old toothbrush to get into all the nooks and corners.

Once everything is clean and rinsed, use a dry cloth and buff the brass. You will increase the shine with a polishing action and add a protective layer.


Leave Some of the Character

When the whole brass item is cleaned, rinsed and buffed it will shine again. If you have an antique or vintage brass item, don't over do things and try to make it look like new again. Some evidence of its age will keep the charm intact.

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Can You Clean All Brass with Bar Keeper's Friend?

Older brass that is solid (such as my Victorian fire fender) can easily withstand Bar Keeper's Friend and the pressure of vigorous rubbing. If the brass is only a thin veneered layer, or is patterned with fine details or etching, you should avoid applying any pressure. You could wear away the detail or reveal the base metal below a veneer. For delicate brass you need to apply a gentler method of cleaning. If the object is valuable or precious to you, ask a professional for help. If in doubt, leave the brass to age untouched.

Bar Keeper's Friend Powdered Cleanser

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Susan Hambidge


Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on February 10, 2021:

I had brass ware in the past and enjoyed keeping it clean and shiny. Your idea sounds useful.

Ravi Rajan from Mumbai on February 06, 2021:

it is an interesting idea. I have never even heard about bar keeper's friend and its usage in cleaning brass. What I used to do is a paste of tamarind mixed with coconut husk that is quite effective in cleaning brass and even iron. Yes, this is worth trying for sure.THanks for sharing.

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on February 05, 2021:

Your instructions are thorough and easy to follow. I love Bar Keeper's Friend and use it for many things at my house. It works great on copper-bottomed pans and on ceramic surfaces, too.

Ann Carr from SW England on February 05, 2021:

I've never heard of 'Bar Keeper's Friend' but I'll look it up. Don't know if it's available here.

I have an antique brass cribbage board which is in a little need of smartening up but I'll have to be careful so will just use a little soap and water to start with. A toothbrush is so good for getting into small dips and round the edges - I use one for all sorts of cleaning.

Great tips here!


Susan Hambidge (author) from Kent, England on February 05, 2021:

Thank you Liz.

Liz Westwood from UK on February 03, 2021:

This is a very helpful and well-illustrated article. You give some great tips.

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