How to Polish Exterior Brass

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Brass door knockers add a touch of elegance, but occasionally need a little polishing to keep them looking nice.
Brass door knockers add a touch of elegance, but occasionally need a little polishing to keep them looking nice. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Brass is an alloy metal made of zinc and copper varied in proportion to make brasses with different properties. Its durability makes it a popular metal for outdoor architectural usage; brass is often the metal of choice for door handles, address plaques and even porch lamps. Although brass seldom requires maintenance, it does sometimes need polishing and cleaning to help it maintain its lustrous appearance.

Things You'll Need

  • Magnet
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Sponge
  • Bucket
  • Warm water
  • Mild dish detergent
  • Brass cleaner
  • Gloves
  • Car wax
  • Ammonia
  • Water

Test the brass to see if it is solid brass or brass-plated steel. Place a magnet on the piece you wish to polish. If it is solid brass, the magnet will fall away and you can continue to clean and polish the item. If it is brass-plated steel, the magnet will stick (the item is not tarnished, but rusted). Since there is no way to polish brass-plated steel, you will need to remove the rust with steel wool and possibly need to repaint the surface area to return it to a shine.

Use a soft lint-free microfiber cloth to polish the exterior brass. It may take some physical force to buff the area you are cleaning, but this is often all that is needed to bring back the shine.

Wash the exterior brass with warm soapy water. Fill a bucket with warm water and a mild dish detergent. Use a sponge to clean the brass and allow to dry. Use the microfiber cloth to polish the brass until the shine returns.

Slice a lemon in half and dip the exposed part of the fruit into table salt. Rub the lemon and salt over the exterior brass until it is clean. Use the microfiber cloth to remove the excess lemon and salt. Buff the brass back to a polished shine.

Apply brass cleaner to the brass. If the exterior brass has year’s worth of dirt and debris on it, it may require an actual brass cleaner to help restore it. Wear protective gloves and apply the brass cleaner according to manufacturer’s instructions on the label.

Tips & Warnings

  • Apply car wax to the exterior brass once it is returned to a polished state. This will protect it from the elements and help the brass keep its shine.
  • If the exterior brass is badly tarnished, and the item is removable, soak it in a mixture of 8 parts water to 1 part ammonia for about 10 minutes. Although this will not work for items that are not 100-percent brass, it is an effective way to quickly clean brass items that are.

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