How to Clean Old Keys

When you finally get around to cleaning out the kitchen junk drawer, you're likely to find old keys that have tarnished and rusted. Or maybe you find some beautiful old skeleton keys at that secondhand shop down the street, and you want to turn them into a decorative piece. First, you need to clean the keys; you have several ways to complete that part of your project.

Start With Soap

Mild dishwashing detergent, a soft brush or sponge and water can effectively clean dirty keys.

Things You'll Need

  • Soap

  • Water

  • Vegetable brush

  • Towel

  • Rubbing alcohol


If your keys are rusty, wear safety gloves when cleaning them to prevent cuts.

Step 1

Fill the sink with water mixed with a few squirts of dishwashing detergent. For just a few keys, a small mixing bowl works just as well.

Step 2

Add the keys to the cleaning solution and agitate them like a clothes washer, swishing them around with your hands.

Step 3

Use the brush to remove stubborn stains or spots.

Step 4

Dry the keys thoroughly with the towel and then rub them with isopropyl -- rubbing alcohol -- to dry any remaining water.

Metal Polishes

Aluminum or brass polish can also clean your keys effectively. Rub the polish onto the keys according to the manufacturer's instructions. Let the polish dry to a filmy residue, and then rinse, and buff dry, depending on the product you use.

Household Remedies

Your kitchen and bathroom cabinets contain many ingredients that you can use to clean up old keys and make them shine.

Vinegar and Alcohol Solution

When using vinegar, choose white distilled vinegar, as apple cider vinegar is not as effective.

Things You'll Need

  • White vinegar

  • Saucepan

  • Rubbing alcohol

Step 1

Place the keys in a saucepan and cover them with vinegar.

Step 2

Heat the vinegar to just below a simmer. Leave the keys in the vinegar for a few minutes, until you see their color begin to change.

Step 3

Rinse the keys thoroughly to stop the action of the acid and then wipe them with rubbing alcohol. Buff dry.

Ketchup Bath

Rub the ketchup on the keys with a soft cloth. Let the keys stand for a few minutes before rinsing them. Lay them on a towel to dry.

Salt Paste

Mix 2 teaspoons salt and 1 cup of white, distilled vinegar with enough all-purpose flour to make a paste. Cover the keys with the paste and leave them sit for 10 minutes before rinsing the keys. Wipe dry with a soft cloth.

Cola Cleaning

Pour a cola-flavored soft drink over the keys and let them set for 24 hours. The ingredients in the cola are effective at removing tarnish on metals.

Toothpaste Scrub

Squirt a little toothpaste onto an old toothbrush and scrub the keys. Let the paste set on them for 15 minutes before rinsing and drying for a shiny, like-new look.

Paint Thinner

For keys covered with oil-based paint splatters, set the keys in a shallow pan and cover them with paint thinner. Let them sit in the paint thinner until the paint softens. Wipe the paint off and clean the keys using the soap and water method. Polish with a metal polish to give keys a protective coat. You can also paint on a clear nail polish to protect keys from tarnishing.


When using paint thinner, wear protective gloves and work in a well-ventilated space because of the fumes. Don't use paint thinners near open flames.