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How to Clean Stainless Steel, Brass & Other Household Metals

How to Clean Stainless Steel, Brass
& Other Household Metals

From cabinet hardware and plumbing installations to appliance finishes, every home has a wide variety of metal hardware and accessories that need to be cleaned; however, many metals interact differently with various cleaning supplies, so it can be tough to know what solvent to use, or the technique involved in cleaning certain surfaces. Check out the guidelines below to help get your household metals shining again.

Copper Decorative Tray Image

Is it Lacquered?

Before you dive in and do any scrubbing, make sure that the metal you are cleaning isn’t lacquered. Lacquered metal has a thin coating that protects the finish and keeps it from tarnishing. It can still get a bit dirty or dusty at times, but warm soapy water and a nonabrasive scrubber should be enough to take care of any smudges. If cleaned too zealously with cleaning solutions or abrasive materials, lacquered metals can lose their coating and be vulnerable to tarnishing.

You can tell your metal is lacquered if it shows little sign of tarnish over time, or if it has a slightly glossy coating. Alternately, if you still aren’t sure, you can cleaning a small test patch with a metal cleaning solution – if the rag you use to apply the solution gets dark smudges on it, you’re dealing with un-lacquered metal. But, if the rag is still pretty clean, the piece probably has a coating.

General Cleaning for Most Metals

All metals gradually tarnish due to oxidation. To restore shine to most metal pieces, you’ll need a lightly acidic solution to scrub the tarnish away. Luckily, many of these can be found in your kitchen.

Commonly used products include white vinegar, lemon juice or catsup. You can either soak your pieces in one of these, or gently scrub it on to them with a nonabrasive cleaning rag to softly strip away oxidation and bring out the metal’s shine. You can also create a polishing paste by dissolving a spoonful of salt in a cup of white vinegar, then adding flour until it’s thick enough to use without dripping.

Some metals have different issues to keep in mind or certain methods that work best, so see below for metal-specific details for some of the most common household metals.

Stainless Steel Tea Kettle Image

How to Clean Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is a tough finish that resists permanent stains and generally wipes clean; however, when it does get messy it can be restored with a deep cleaning. Follow the steps below for an easy way to put the stainless back in your stainless steel.

  1. Do a preliminary cleaning with a warm water and dish soap to get rid of any residue, crumbs or grease.
  2. Sprinkle baking soda over the surface that you’re cleaning and use the soft side of a sponge (or another nonabrasive scrubber) to scrub along the direction of the metal’s grain.
  3. Spray or pour some white vinegar on top of the baking soda and continue to scrub until clean. Note: The baking soda will foam a bit when vinegar is added, so be sure to do this part over a sink.
  4. Rinse away the vinegar and baking soda.
  5. Thoroughly dry your item.
  6. For a shiny and streak-free finish, use a spritz of glass cleaner on your stainless steel once you’re finished cleaning. A couple drops of mineral oil or baby oil can also bring out a great luster, but these can leave things a bit oily so use your best judgment on what works best for your item.


If you encounter stubborn stains or smudges that simply won’t come out with the above methods, you may also want to try a specialty stainless steel cleaner.

Brass Table Lamp Image

How to Clean Brass

One issue that may arise when cleaning brass is that many items that look like solid brass may just be brass plated. Plating can be more delicate than solid brass, so to know what you’re working with (and how careful you need to be when cleaning), it can help to test a piece. Do this by holding a magnet up to the item. If it sticks, you’re either dealing with brass plating or the piece isn’t made of brass at all – if it doesn’t stick you most likely have a solid brass piece.

Once you’re sure that you are working with solid brass follow these steps:

  1. Do a preliminary cleaning with warm water and dish soap to get rid of any residue, crumbs or grease.
  2. Slice a lemon in half, remove the seeds and heavily salt one of the open sides.
  3. Use the salted face of the lemon to scrub your brass item until clean.
  4. Rinse under warm water.
  5. Repeat if necessary.
  6. Thoroughly dry your item to prevent future rust.
  7. If desired, polish with mineral oil or baby oil for bright luster.

Chrome Side Table Image

How to Clean Chrome

Chrome is a very high-shine metal, so any smudges, grime or rust can be highly visible on chrome surfaces; however, genuine chrome plating is also quite tough, so it can be vigorously cleaned to ensure that it maintains its mirror-like finish.

To clean chrome, follow these steps:

  1. Start with a thorough cleaning with soap and warm water.
  2. Dip a crumpled ball of aluminum foil in diet cola and scrub the chrome until any smudges or rust disappears.
  3. Thoroughly clean your chrome item with soap and warm water, being sure to rinse off all stickiness.
  4. Dry your item well to prevent future rust.
  5. Polish with baby oil, window cleaner, furniture polish or a dedicated chrome wax to create a lustrous shine.

Copper Sink Image

How to Clean Copper or Bronze

Copper is one of the simpler-to-clean metals, and should easily shed any stains or tarnish with an application of an acid such as white vinegar, lemon juice or catsup. Bronze is composed of a mixture of copper and tin, so it’s cleaned in much the same way as copper, meaning that most general metal-cleaning methods should work for it as well.

If you have a particularly tough stain or want to add another level of shine to your copper or bronze, you can also use a specialized copper polish.

Important Notes

  • Don’t use the methods listed above to clean or polish precious metals such as silver or gold. They’re softer and more delicate, so methods used for common household metals may damage them.
  • Cleaning antique metals can sometimes reduce the value of older pieces that have developed rich patinaed finishes. If you aren’t sure if cleaning a piece will affect its worth, it may be a good idea to consult an expert before doing any cleaning or polishing.
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