Nontoxic, Homemade Brass and Metal Polish

Last week I showed you a sneak peek at Mikey’s new (thrifted) dresser in my S is for Shoes post. Then I blathered on, my nerdy heart all aflutter, about how excited I was to share how I cleaned all the brass handles. That’s what today’s post is all about. Are you on the edge of your seats?! I knew it.


Here’s the picture from last week in its original form. The dresser is large and sits in front of his bed, so I didn’t have much wiggle room to get a good picture. I know it’s difficult to get a good idea of what I want you to see so here is the takeaway: handles = 50 years of tarnish.


My jiggling rear isn’t just for show. Also, I’m not Martha Stewart. I was too lazy to drive to the store for something I would use only once and there are no “go-to” brass polishes tucked in my cupboards. Okay, I was also kind of excited to try a new home recipe.


In a glass or plastic bowl (never metal) mix 2/3 cup distilled white vinegar with 2/3 cup flour. All I had was whole wheat flour, so my cleanser is for heart-healthy tarnish. Once the mixture is smooth, add 1/2 cup of salt and stir until mixed in. This isn’t the sort of thing that keeps well, so make this polish on an as-needed basis.


Arrange all your items on a platter or cookie sheet. (I used parchment paper underneath because my cookie sheet is metal.) If I could do it again, I would have made a double or triple batch and dumped it in a 9×13 pan. You’ll see why in a minute.


Take your mix and glop it all over your tarnished brass. The mix should be thick and sticky. I think I could have used an extra tablespoon of flour, but no biggie. I just took care to cover all the nooks and crannies. Had I made a larger batch and dumped it into a 9×13 pan (mentioned above) I could have just buried everything in there and saved myself some time.


Let it sit for a couple of hours, overnight if needed. I let mine sit overnight because the handles and pulls were just terrible. I knew 1-2 hours of salty-sour flour wasn’t going to cut it. The delay fit into my schedule perfectly. I spent the rest of the day clearing out my parents’s storage unit for the garage sale.


See all that green? That means it’s working.


The next day I just dumped everything in the sink and washed off the dried goop. Because some pieces are intricate and my goop wasn’t thick enough, I tried a little Bar Keeper’s Friend in the grooves and on some areas that still had a bit of tarnish on them. It didn’t do anything. The tarnish left behind wasn’t going anywhere. I suppose something with industrial strength would have worked, but my goal was very good, not pristine.


I think the results are better than very good.


And here they are on the dresser! Not bad, if I do say so myself. (Just don’t look at that drawer on the left, second from the bottom. Let’s pretend I remembered to shut it properly before I took the picture, okay?)

If you are looking for a nontoxic way to polish silver, please check out this visual tutorial where I do just that to appease my immigrant mother (Argentina) who has a thing about tarnished silver. Also, this is a fantastic science experiment for kids. My son did this for his first grade science fair using thrift store spoons and received high marks.

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  1. I suppose this post means I have no more excuses in regard to the handles on my great-grandmother’s hutch … I’m thinking 50 years of tarnish ain’t nothin’ …

    Although … wait a minute … if I polished the brass handles, I’d have to polish up the ol’ cherrywood too. Nope. Don’t have time. Maybe later.

    And you kill me with don’t look … I had to read it twice … just so I could find the spot I wasn’t suppose to look at! Sigh.

  2. That’s awesome! If you ever want to try to get in those nook and crannies…my sister was in the navy and they used hot sauce to polish the brass on their ship. I have tried ketchup (this was before she told me about hot sauce) and it worked (mostly) but was stinky!

    • Very cool….as a child, my grandmother would make this same concoction and we would sit and polish all kinds of old trinkets.I’ve been trying to remember what was in it and couldn’t… thank you! Mothers wax works very well on detail work also,but takes some elbow grease.

  3. Oh my gosh this is just what I need. I found your site from re-nest. I am currently re-doing a big hutch that has very old and tarnished brass that I can’t afford to replace. I thought about spray painting, but this is such a great idea and I am going to try it. Hopefully my pulls will come out as beautiful as yours did.

    I love your blog – so happy I found you!
    My best- Diane

    • I’m happy you left a comment! I just checked out your site and your home looks so warm and inviting. I just love it and will be reading more. 🙂

  4. I’m not sure. You can also sprinkle with salt and rub with lemon or lime (I did that here with copper), but if it’s something like a chair or piece of standing furniture, you’re going to have a tough time keeping the salt on the furniture and not on your floors.

    What I would do is to take plastic wrap or parchment paper and tape off the area that isn’t brass (use frog tape or something safe for painted finishes). You’ll want your mix a lot thicker than mine, so it doesn’t drip.

    • Because this cleanser will polish, to a certain degree, all metals. If you put it in a metal bowl, it will react with the bowl. Any type of metal polish, all-natural or not, will remove small degrees of metal with the tarnish. It’s best to make this in a nonreactive container for that reason.

      • Hi, I have a knife with a wood/brass handle and a stainless steel blade, and it’s all in one piece, so I cant take it apart. So I was wondering, if I were to just stick my knife in the mixture, would it be bad for the blade or the wood, or would it be okay? Thanks.

  5. I thought the handles on my free craigslist dresser were supposed to be that color. Now, with your post I’m realizing it’s not. Thanks for sharing this awesome tip!

  6. Hello!
    I just discovered your blog through the e-course BYW as you got mentioned by Holly in yesterday’s class. Your blog is great, I am really enjoying reading it!
    I will be back for more… now off studying 🙂

  7. I read this yesterday after scouring the hardware store for a brass polish without luck. I tried your recipe last night and it worked like a charm! I just finished rinsing all of the mixture off and it looks great. Thank you for your wonderful and timely post!

  8. Love it! And it just makes the process so much easier! Too bad I did not know about this before I switched all the handles in my husband’s vintage dresser to black. I’m still happy with my results but it’s good to have an alternative.

  9. I have had this bookmarked forever and finally did my brass candlesticks…the only thing to note for things like candlesticks…wax or oils will keep this from penetrating, and there will be spots where the wax was. (Sort of a duh thing to say, but I had to clean them to see how it worked…)

    Anyway, I had no idea how pink the brass was until I finished this..and it really only took about an hour!

  10. Today I am going to try your recipe on my brass fireplace fender and ghe andirons…they are black….hope it works! I’m sort of worried that the batter will dry in all the little cut outs and difficult to get out…what do you think? Thanks!

  11. Thanks for the post.
    I tried this on a floor register. It was on the item 24 hours and just started to get the edges cleaned off. I think perhaps larger items take longer or need the muck to be reapplied. Another thing that helped was a baking soda and water polish to get the stubborn bits off.

  12. You make it look and sound so easy! Thanks a lot for the descriptions and the photos and for taking the time to do this. it will make the process a lot easier.

  13. Thank you for your detailed “recipe” and description. I had seen a similar mixture elsewhere on line but it didn’t indicate what type of vinegar 🙂 Fingers crossed my door handles and knocker come out beautiful!!

  14. I’m cleaning things up before the big more to ‘down-size’ the empty nest. Was using straight vinegar to loosen grime and that still required 30 min scrubbing for 8 cabinet handles (18 yet to go). BTW That looks like a solid wood dresser. If you want to renew the wood my cousin reminded me of a mix for that. 1 part white vinegar and 3 parts canola or olive oil. 1/4 and 3/4 cup will do several pieces of furniture. Rub it into the wood (I use an old towel) and watch grim lift off and scratched areas match the wood color again. Just leave it there as the wood will soak it in.

  15. Jules! I used this brass polish on my tarnished car rims and it worked very well! It also works well on copper! Thank You! Gus

  16. Thank you for this! I wanted to clean a metal candle holder that I bought at a thrift store, and this worked very well. I did not know the type of metal because the whole thing was practically black. Turns out it was two types of metal (at least) — an orangey one, possibly copper, and a lightweight silver one. This transformed the piece, and was so easy and cheap.

  17. Hi, love this recipe for brass. You mentioned an easy way to polish silver. I have way more silver than brass so I’m dying to know what it is! Thanks for sharing.


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