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How to Clean Copper and Brass Without Chemicals

No more harsh chemicals for cleaning your precious brass and copper items.

No more harsh chemicals for cleaning your precious brass and copper items.

Cleaning Without the Use of Chemicals

It seems that every cleaning supply under the kitchen sink has harsh chemicals in its list of ingredients. These chemicals can attack respiratory systems and cause skin irritations—in some cases, they can bring long-term health concerns. Cleaning copper and brass is a task that brings up such concerns because of the caustic nature found in these chemical-based, tarnish-removing supplies.

I've collected some of the best ways to clean brass and copper without using chemical-based solutions.

No Harsh Chemicals for Brass and Copper Cleaning

The patina that forms on brass and copper over time is caused by a reaction to the surrounding air. In the past, harsh brass and copper cleaners requiring you to 'glove-up' have been employed. For me, this is a sure sign that it is time to find something in the home that can not only get the job done, but do it without dangerous chemicals!

Yes, Foods Can Clean Copper and Brass!

Over the years I have recalled a few of the techniques for cleaning brass and copper that my mother and grandmother employed. Some may be among the things that you have in your everyday pantry and refrigerator. Here is a list, and how to use chemical-free food items to make your brass sparkle and your copper gleam!

8 Great-Tasting Copper and Brass Cleaning Foods

  1. A1 Steak Sauce
  2. Ketchup
  3. Worcestershire Sauce
  4. Tabasco Sauce
  5. Kool-Aid
  6. Flour, Salt, and Vinegar
  7. Real Lemon and Salt
  8. Yellow Mustard

How to Use A1 Steak Sauce to Clean Copper

Using a soft cloth, rub A1 Steak Sauce on tarnished copper. The acid from the tomato puree combined with the vinegar in the recipe removes the tarnish in no time at all.

How to Use Ketchup to Clean Copper

To devour the tarnish on your precious copper items, cover them in a layer of ketchup and then let them stand for 10 minutes. Rinse off the ketchup with running water to find that the copper has returned to a shiny bright finish.

Cleaning Copper With Worcestershire Sauce

By simply rubbing Worcestershire Sauce on the tarnished surface of your dull utensils using a soft cloth, and then rinsing with water, you will show off copper that is as bright as bright can be!

How to Use Kool-Aid to Clean Brass Tarnish

This one is a favorite!

  1. Using any flavor of kool-aid you have around, mix it with 2-quarts of water (use a bucket so the food coloring doesn't stain the sink).
  2. Soak your brass items in the fruity drink for about 10 minutes. The citric acid will clean the tarnish on the surface of your brass pieces.
  3. Make sure to throw out the used kool-aid afterward so no one takes an unwitting swig of the tarnish-laden beverage!

How to Clean Copper With Tabasco Sauce

The various acids in the Tabasco recipe vigorously eat away at copper tarnish. All you do is rub it on with a soft cloth and then rinse away that dull tarnish.

Clean Copper and Brass With Real Lemon and Salt

This one may not be the most unusual, but it certainly gets the tarnish removal done! Combine 1 tbsp salt and 2 tbsp real lemon juice. Rub this mixture onto copper until the shine peeks through. The chemical reaction cleans copper and brass tarnish almost instantly!

How to Clean Brass and Copper With Flour, Salt, and Vinegar

This one has an actual formula for cleaning your brass or copper tarnish!

  1. Simply mix 1 tbsp of flour, 1 tbsp of salt, and 1 tbsp of vinegar until it becomes a paste.
  2. Spread the paste on tarnished copper or brass, and leave it until completely dry.
  3. Rinse with running water, dry, and wipe clean!

How to Use Mustard to Clean Tarnish From Copper and Brass

Rub any tarnished brass or copper object with regular old yellow mustard and wait about 10 minutes. Rinse with running water and dry. The vinegar in the yellow mustard helps to break down the tarnish, leaving your now untarnished items wonderfully shiny!

How to Keep Brass and Copper Tarnish-Free Using VO5 or Bounce

These may have a few chemicals, but they are also less harsh than most copper and brass cleaners we find to specialize in the task. So, when you want to keep your brass and copper clean, head to the laundry room or bedroom vanity for a sheet of Bounce or a can of VO5!

VO5 to Keep Brass and Copper Tarnish-Free

Using the iconic hairspray, shower your clean and shiny brass and copper items with a light coat of VO5 Hairspray. The spray will coat the items preventing tarnish from ruining your sparkling table settings and objects.

Bounce Keeps Tarnish Off Clean Brass and Copper

Using a clean (but used) sheet of Bounce fabric softener, rub down your tarnish-free brass and copper. The anti-static elements left behind in the sheet not only help to clean away tarnish, but will assist in keeping tarnish from forming for some time.

What You Think Really Does Matter!

Chemical-free cleaning is the way to go.

Chemical-free cleaning is the way to go.

Don't Use Ammonia on Brass!

Some may suggest using ammonia to clean away tarnish from precious brass objects. This is NOT a good plan in any way. The ammonia brings an unfortunate chemical reaction that can cause stress fractures in brass. This is a big NO-NO, especially when it comes to firearms that have any brass work on them. Not only can the brass fracture, but the danger of serious injury is also of concern.

Why Should I Remove Residue From Brass and Copper?

If you notice that your brass and copper have a greyish-white or greenish-white powdery substance tucked away on the detail work of a piece, you should remove it. Over time, past owners have applied harsh tarnish remover which has built up in those details, causing a degraded surface patina to grow. (The colored debris you are seeing is residue from past harsh cleaners.) You can gently remove it using a toothpick and warm water. Leaving powdery stuff on your brass or copper can slowly eat away at the soft metal, especially in the detail work.

Clean Brass and Copper Gently

Because these items are both rather soft metals, when cleaning the tarnish from their surfaces it is important to have a gentle touch. Every time you clean brass or copper a little bit of the surface will also be rubbed away, it is just the nature of the material. Using soft cloths and light cleaning strokes can help to reduce the surface erosion due to years of cleaning the items.

Applying a Wax Coating Keeps Brass and Copper Shiny and Tarnish-Free

After cleaning the tarnish from your treasured brass and copper, a coat of wax can be applied to keep it clean and bright; as well as protected. A simple wax formula is:

Equal parts mineral of spirits (Shellsol, or Varsol, as an example) and high-quality white furniture wax (Renaissance, or any bleached paste wax). Mix them together, being sure to keep the mixture in a tightly sealed container.

How to Apply a Protective Wax Coating to Brass and Copper

  1. Wipe or brush the wax all over the object.
  2. Set it aside so the mineral spirits can evaporate.
  3. Even coating is paramount.
  4. If the piece is not adorned with heat-sensitive materials, using a hairdryer to melt the wax can get it into the tiny recessed areas of the decorative details to protect them.
  5. Blot off any wax drippings while they are still warm.
  6. Polish the wax after it has set, using a clean lint-free cloth.

Comments for "How to Clean Copper and Brass Without Chemicals"

Audrey Surma from Virginia on January 06, 2014:

Informative hub for those looking for safer ways to clean. Pinned.

Ruchira from United States on March 31, 2012:

This is an excellent hub. Never ever heard of ketchup, kool aid to clean.

Bookmarking it...sharing it.


hoteltravel from Thailand on March 23, 2012:

Any citrus product is useful to polish brass. These work well for copper as well. I never knew about applying wax coating. The ingredients for the homemade wax polish are not available in my country. I will have to search for replacements. Thanks for sharing the info. Voted up and useful.

Daisy Mariposa from Orange County (Southern California) on March 22, 2012:


I am so impressed with the amount of information you provided us in your article...No more harsh chemicals for cleaning brass and copper for me!!!

Alissa Roberts from Normandy, TN on March 22, 2012:

What a useful hub you have created here. I never knew about any of these items being able to clean copper and brass. I will have to pass this on to my mother who I know probably spends a fortune on cleaning products. Thanks for sharing your tips with us - voted up!

akeejaho from Some where in this beautiful world! on March 21, 2012:

Pace taco sauce works also. And just so you know, regular Coca-Cola poured on your battery posts on a car battery terminals will clean off that pesky build up that makes it difficult to start the car in the winter as well. Since we're at it, if you super glue a penny on top of the battery next to each terminal, it will slow down the formation of those corrosive deposits too.

Eliminate Cancer from Massachusetts on March 21, 2012:

Excellent tips! I'm trying to reduce or eliminate all toxic chemicals in the house - this will be so helpful!!

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on March 20, 2012:

cloverleaffarm~ You are too kind. Thank you for sharing and for leaving your comments here. I am thrilled that you enjoyed the hub! Ketchup, it's not just for fries anymore! ;)


India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on March 20, 2012:

Hi Stephhicks~ So very nice to have you along today. I am glad you found the brass and copper cleaning suggestions something new! It's funny how the old methods can seem so new and amazing. Thank you so much for finding your way to my hub today, grateful for your valuable time!


Healing Herbalist from The Hamlet of Effingham on March 20, 2012:

Awesome. Love that ketchup cleans copper! Thanks for taking the time to put this all together. Have shared it on my facebook, and voted totally up, and useful.

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on March 20, 2012:

Robin~ I LOVE barkeeper's friend! It is brilliant for just about anything,...including the kitchen sink! Gloves are in order when using it though, as you confirm.

A little snack from the fridge, while doing a little brass and copper cleaning at the same time, and the day is not so bad, right? ;) Thank you so much for the support, I am always honored when you can find the time!

Super HubHugs~

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on March 20, 2012:

Cardisa~ First, how cute is your new profile picture!

Next, toothpaste is a really good suggestion, I have even used it on gold jewelry. Nice to see you in the HubHood today!

HubHugs, Namaste~

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on March 20, 2012:

Kevin~ Wow! You make some really good points for NOT using chemicals to clean today. I totally am on board with your thought process! Thank you for sharing your thoughts here. I will have to look into how to age or antique brass.


India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on March 20, 2012:

mama_em~ I know! It is pretty amazing when we stop and take a peek at what our mothers or grandmothers used as cleaning agents. Who needs all of the chemicals we have in our lives today when there is a perfectly good bottle of ketchup in the fridge!


India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on March 20, 2012:

Teresa~ I hope they work as well for you as they do for me. Thanks for making it by.


India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on March 20, 2012:

theclevercat~ So glad you found something to take away with you! Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.


Stephanie Marshall from Bend, Oregon on March 20, 2012:

This is so cool! The home items that can clean copper and brass do make sense, but what I found super amazing was the products you can use to prevent the tarnish in the first place! Awesome, as usual, K9. Best, Steph

Robin Edmondson from San Francisco on March 20, 2012:

Wow, I had no idea so many foods in my refrigerator would be able to clean brass and copper. I use barkeeper's friend, but if I don't use gloves it hurts my hands. I think I'm going to try your methods! Thanks!

Carolee Samuda from Jamaica on March 20, 2012:

I use tooth paste, and it cleans the silver too! The fluoride in the tooth paste does a bang up job. I just rub it in then use a soft cloth to polish.

I knew about lime and vinegar but the food suggestions are new to me. Thanks for sharing.

KevinG1979 on March 19, 2012:

The nice thing about using these methods is that they are pretty mild (hard to use too much or incorrectly) and of course safe. Some of the stuff stored under the sink sits there for years and can dry up, melt the lid, emit stinky fumes, or even change properties because it sat there so long. These are Fresh!

Does anyone have a DIY technique for "aging" or "antiquing" brass? I've got a bunch a shiny brass doorknobs etc from the 90's that I would like to change to a darker or otherwise different tone. Of course, by their very nature you cannot paint a doorknob.

mama_em on March 19, 2012:

I had no idea that so many non-toxic things could be used to clean copper. Very helpful!

Teresa Coppens from Ontario, Canada on March 19, 2012:

Interesting hub. I love green methods for cleaning. I have a few copper pieces I will try these methods on.

Rachel Vega from Massachusetts on March 19, 2012:

Kool-Aid? Steak sauce? VO5? Wowza! I never knew this. Thank you for opening my eyes to the cleaning power of non-cleaning products! I loved this one. Totally Useful.