Brass Hardware: Polishing and Faking It

By Kate Riley February 5, 2012

One thing is undeniable in the DIY and design world, brass hardware is back and lately I’m totally loving it on furniture. As a child of the 80’s I admit shiny lacquered brass fixtures still don’t appeal to me, but I am drawn to the golden glow of real or antiqued brass with its warmer patina.

In the past two weeks, I’ve fixed up two pieces, one dresser and one campaign desk, and both had brass hardware I wanted to reuse.  One set of hardware was real brass, the other brass plate, and both needed a good polish.

Over the last year, I’ve also narrowed down two great substitutes for faking the patina with other hardware that you want to give a golden glow.  If you’re curious how to tell the difference between real brass and brass plate, how to polish unlacquered brass, or how to fake the look of antique brass hardware, here’s how I do it.

brass hardware polished and fake


Real brass is an alloy of copper and zinc and if it’s not lacquered, will tarnish with exposure to air over time.  There are two methods I use to bring back the mellow antiqued patina, one is Brasso if I have it on hand and the other is natural lemon juice and salt paste mixture.

tarnished brass hardware


But first, before you polish, you should know whether your hardware is real brass or brass plate.  Here’s the simple way to tell the difference.  Take a household magnet and see if it will stick to the piece, if it won’t that means the hardware is real brass, like these campaign pulls.

real brass campaign pulls

However, if the magnet picks up the hardware, then it’s brass plated (with steel or iron as its base).

brass plate and magnet


Good old fashioned Brasso works well for cleaning off the tarnish, and I usually soak for about 20 to 30 minutes.

brasso soak


With real brass, I use a rag or extra fine steel wool to remove the tarnish.

tarnish coming off


You can also use a mixture of salt and lemon juice as a natural polish, use approximately ¼ cup of salt per squeeze of ½ lemon to make a paste.

lemon salt mixture


fine steel wool and lemon polish


Either one works great on either brass plate or real brass, just be sure to use a soft rag or soft toothbrush with brass plate and not steel wool, it can scratch the thin brass plating.

brasso and lemon salt polish comparison

Lemon juice is acidic, so be sure to fully rinse and buff your brass hardware, and I’ve read that using a little olive oil on top will prolong the periods between polishing.

I find brass plated hardware is more stubborn for some reason and usually takes repeat soaks to bring it back to life but it can be done.

brass plated pulls


But if your brass plate doesn’t come back to life because it’s too corroded or you want to give it the patina of unlacquered brass, there are two products that will do just that.

krylon gold leaf and rub n buff


Rub N’ Buff is a waxy metallic finish that comes in several golden shades such as Gold Leaf (depicted), but also look for Antique Gold and European Gold.  Krylon’s ‘Gold Leaf’ is the best metallic gold spray paint I’ve found to date to mimic brass or give you a warm golden glow on your hardware.

faux brass products


As you can see, both the Rub n’ Buff and Gold Leaf spray paint are pretty darn close to the real thing!

brass furniture hardware


What about you?  Have you noticed the popularity of brass hardware on furniture lately?  Are you liking its resurgence?  Know any other natural formulas or products that are great for cleaning brass?  Do share!




  1. Great post! When restoring my old house, I learned an easy way to clean old metal that has been painted over (like door hinges, knobs, escutcheons, etc.). Get an old crock pot (one you WILL NOT use for food ever again) and put the metal items in it. Add a little bit of dish soap then fill with water. Turn crock pot on low setting and leave overnight. Old paint (latex or alkyd) will peel right off! Occasionally heavily grooved pieces will require another soak, but this works like a charm!

    * JOIN BLOGGERS FOR HOPE – Sending Valentine love …

  2. this is perfect for one of my recent projects! I refinished a campaign credenza and wasn’t sure about spray painting the hardware to get it to shine, so just opted to leave it for now… I just might have to pull them off again and try your techniques!
    Thanks, Kate! :)

  3. I have an old sewing machine table I painted and was looking for a new handle on the front. I painted the table an off white and now that I see how easy brass is to clean, I think I’ll give this a try and see how I like it. Luckily we are not short on magnets around here, so I’ll be able to do the test very soon. :)
    Here is the link to the sewing table I gave a face lift too:

  4. This post is so timely for me!! I bought a dresser that I plan on painting white but it has those exact corner fittings and flush handles. I’ve been hesitant for just this very reason – not to mention the weather here is too cold to et out in the garage. Thank you – it’s given me a renewed excitement about this piece. Will you post (or email me) a picture of the piece these fittings go on? Also – I want to paint mine white but I’d like a country white I think, but there are so many shades of white I’m very indecisive

  5. Brass must have been all the rage in the late 30s as well, because my 1938 Colonial has loads of original doorknobs and hardware.

    I’m a kid of the 80s too, and prefer silver/nickel over brass. But hey, at least my “outdated” hardware is mysteriously back in style…lol…

  6. I ove brass. Many years ago I had a brass bed. I took such care of it. Ah…memories. I love what you did. Looks amazing.

  7. I prefer oil rubbed bronze…really old brass often ends up looking like that….I love the old patina…the darker the better….
    For those who like oil rubbed bronze…rusteolum has an oil rubbed bronze spray paint…it looks totally awesome..
    However, thanks for the update and guidance on brass…..

  8. My living room is pretty much Brasstown, USA, so I guess you can say I love brass despite being a child of the 80s. :) I have a pair of brass candlesticks that are ruined–nothing takes the tarnish off. I tried Brasso, lemon/salt, natural brass dips, pretty much everything. I’m so glad you posted about the Krylon product! I was wondering if there was a spray paint I could use that wouldn’t look like spray paint. SO excited. Thank you!

  9. I don’t normally like brass, probably because of the 80’s look of overly-yellow and too shiny! But I love the way you made those pulls look, a soft, warm, champagney matte gold. Beautiful!

  10. The quickest and least expensive way to clean heavily tarnished brass is to soak it in ammonia for 15-30 minutes in a nonreactive container (glass or plastic – if you use plastic, use something that you’re not going to eat out of). Make sure that you do this in a WELL VENTILATED area (ammonia is very strong). Put on a pair of rubber gloves to remove the item(s) and scrub with 0000 steel wool as you rinse it under the tap. This will remove the tarnish effortlessly, without using a lot of elbow grease. Dry and then shine it up with your favorite metal polish.

  11. I love antique rass hardware when used on a great piece of furniture as an accent. I live in a house with all builder grade (meaning cheap) brass light fixtures, doorknobs, drawer pulls etc… and I have spent the last 2 years replacing all of it. My goal is to have the last of it replaced by spring.

  12. Thank you, this is very helpful! I’m actually really starting to appreciate brass again. But then I don’t really think there is a metal finish I don’t like.

  13. I love brass! I’m planning on replacing my kitchen hardware with bras…but now I’m thinking I’ll try rub n buff first. :)

  14. Brass against a dark blue has caught my eye lately. Love the contrast! I just picked up some metallic paint the other day to bring in the look on some pieces I already have. We’ll see if I can pull it off or not.

  15. I think brass is timeless, just like silver. I prefer antique brass over polished, though. Although polished can look great, too, as long as it’s not fakey tooking. I still like polished chrome or nickel for bathroom and kitchen lights, faucets, etc. Guess I’m pretty tradional :)

    • I’m with you Lisa, I love the patina of real brass, especially if it’s taken on some age over the years, and according to some antique dealers I know, actually adds to the value so that’s why I haven’t polished my antique brass scales, however a fresh polish on hardware on furniture has its appeal, especially with the gold accents that are so the rage these days. But those shiny lacquered bathroom fixtures and overhead light fixtures (those hexagonal ones!) can stay in the 80s thank you very much! My two cents. :)

  16. Found a decorative but small brass bowls with cute little handles at a garage sale last summer for 5 cents….took it home and brasso’d it up. Major SCORE!! My brass door knocker, however is much more stubborn (clearly, it’s plated) so I will try rub n buff. Several other pieces in my house could use some rub n buff magic too, so thanks for the tip!!

  17. Thank you for the tips. I restored an antique buffet with brass hardware and I just love the soft glow of the brass. Beautiful!

  18. I’m about to redo a dresser myself (stained top, ASCP old white on the bottom) and was thinking about using rust oleum oil rubbed bronze on the hardware. If primed with a metal primer, will hinged pulls hold up or flake off? Would rub n buff be any more durable?

    • Hi Terese, spray painting hinged hardware is tricky, I’ve done it with success for less frequently used pieces, but if you’re grabbing and pulling on it daily, you’ll see it come off eventually, especially around the hinges. If that doesn’t bother you than go for it, but that’s why rub n’ buff is an alternative option for those hinged pieces, try it!

  19. Thank you for sharing the tips! I didn’t know about the magnet trick. I’m not sure about brass. It does remind me of the 80s, but I bet it can’t be that bad when you pair it with an updated piece of furniture…

  20. Thanks for sharing the cleaning tips. Personally, I am conflicted on the brass revival. My mum LOVES brass in all its forms -bright and shiny to antiqued and darkened – so after growing up in a house with so many brass accents, I use brass very sparingly in our home since I do love mixing my metals.

  21. I also find it odd that brass is chic again! We steered clear of it for sooo long after the ’80s! But I have to admit, I kind of dig it again too – thanks for sharing these restoration tips!

  22. Child of the 70’s and 80’s too, and I’m not there yet! Great tips though, and very helpful if I ever get over my brass-aversion!

  23. I just refinished two campaign dressers in BM Wolf Gray and used Rub n Buff on the pulls. Unfortunately after several soaks with Brasso I realized they were too far gone, after 30+ years of tarnish. But the Antique Gold worked beautifully. I think the patinaed brass look is fabulous and I’m glad it’s making a come back! But the shiny brass of the 90’s can stay away!

  24. Ah, yes. That funhouse mirror shiny, lacquered brass plated steel abounds in thrift stores and leafy post-war suburbia. Chandeliers, doorknobs, cabinet knobs, even fireplace screens were lousy with the stuff when I bought my own slice of suburbia in 1985. I am still — still! — spray painting ORB on old doorknobs (when Mr. “What’s Wrong With Our Doorknobs?” is away on the golf course– wearing white shoes and green plaid trousers, which kinda disqualify him from giving style advice, dontchathink?) Keep fighting the good fight, Kate. We are allies in this war on “Eighties Style” (an oxymoron if ever there was one.

  25. Great post! I have some brass candle sticks I’ve fallen in love with but that could use a good clean. Now I know how to go about cleaning them!

  26. This made me smile, especially since I have taken over two decades to rid my house of that nasty brass! ;-) I wrote a post about Brass is Back and 1980’s retro decorating. :-) And discovered Colette the Paperdoll along the way.

  27. Thanks for the tips Kate! I’m trying to use Rub n Buff on some new knobs to get that brass look but it keeps rubbing off when I handle them or try to apply a second coat – any suggestions?

  28. Hilarious — hopefully great minds think alike, because my post today is my ‘faking it’ brass figurines! :) I’ve used Bar Keepers Friend with good results in polishing my real brass. And there’s nothing I won’t spray or rub n buff!! Thanks for all the tips, Kate!

  29. Is it appropriate to polish brass pulls on a mid century credenza that is worth alot of money? Do the pulls have to be removed or could you tape off the borders and polish while still on? Thanks for all of the good advice.(This piece also has brass hindges)

  30. Thanks for this post! I am in the process of planning the makeover of my husband’s dresser, and this is just what I needed to read. And I LOVE that you included a realistic-looking alternative to brass in spray paint form. You rock!

    Check the website for full instructions on cleaning metals and treating with a tarnish barrier. My many, many pieces of heirloom silver, brass and copper have been cleaned and treated using this simple process and they remain tarnish free after several years. I have found the Maas Metal Cleaner puts a super shine on metals that no other metal cleaner has produced. I use ProtectaClear spray and can’t say enough good things about it. Just follow the simple instructions and relieve yourself of frequent, tedious metal cleaning.

    Although the current trend is displaying heavily tarnished silver pieces, be aware that heavy tarnish will eventually pit silver.

    I use my forty-year old copper pots and pans daily. To remove the tarnish, which is almost constant in my high-humidity area, I simply use a paste of table salt and cheap red wine vinegar. No rubbing or scrubbing needed. It doesn’t produce a perfect result but does make the pots presentable and salt and red wine vinegar are always close at hand in the kitchen.

    I am using both my grandmothers’ sterling silver flatware daily. They stored it away for “someday” and it’s time someone enjoyed it, so I am. To keep it relatively tarnish-free, I purchased some silver cloth at Joann fabrics and folded a large piece under and over my flatware tray in the drawer. Silver cloth comes in several colors and is relatively inexpensive.

    I also wash my sterling silver in the dishwasher. It works fine and keeps the tarnish at bay. Just be certain to keep the silver away from any stainless steel in the dishwasher.

  32. thank you for the tips! this is prefect for a sunburst mirror i found on CL. love your blog!

  33. It’s so interesting how brass has been so out of favor on the internet for the last few years and whenever I would read a blog post describing painting over a brass fixture of some sort I would gasp in horror! Brass is a beautiful metal and I am so glad to see it is being appreciated again. A couple of years ago I scored a Stiffel Co. brass lamp for just $18. I just love the fact that it was made by this amazing company, it has history, it’s brassy gorgeous, and it was so inexpensive (and heavy). I actually just got out a brass pot with lions head handles that had been sitting in my closet and filled it with towels for my guest bath. It’s lovely brassiness says quality, old world, texture, interest and more. Thanks for helping bring brass back and saving all of those vintage and antique fixtures from being covered in glossy paint.

  34. Ketchup!!! All natural and pretty much everyone has some already. I have a few pieces I need to polish before listing them in my etsy shop and I used a dollop of ketchup on a rag to wipe on and then buff off.

    Great post. Everyone has brass on the brain!!! : )

  35. I’ve used Rub n’ Buff for various metal patinas for years! I remember my mother using it when I was young. I just bought some the other day in bronze to change up a large metal scrolled sphere.
    It is going up on the mantel when I am finished. Right now it is kind of brownish looking.

  36. Thanks for the tips, Kate! So timely! We moved to a new house with lots of brass that needs attention, especially door knobs – will your tips work? I also tried Rub n’Buff after reading about it for years. I had HIGH hopes, but it was a total failure. It was the ebony black, which may have been the problem, but maybe I did it wrong? Would love a tutorial some day! (if there even is one? Maybe I just missed the boat …)

  37. Oh, I’m so glad to read this post! I recently picked up a bunch of heavy brass lamps (three of them are Stifels!) at our local thrift store and have been wondering how long it would be until brass came back into style. I’m going to shine them up and find some shades for them, and get them out into the light. Thanks for the tips on what to do when the polishing/cleaning doesn’t work out – I know one of them is pretty pitted, so I might be resorting to other measures.

  38. Earlier today, I found our old brass champagne bucket (which looked terrible) and wondered how to clean it up. I read an article about using ketchup, and worscester sauce. Had the ketchup, so I tried that and it looks pretty good…may go another round with that and then try this just for grins. The
    ketchup was real easy, but maybe it’s not enough – we’ll see! Didn’t see this article til tonigh – pretty funny timing!

  39. Our door hardware is an old brass and I was thinking of spray painting it a silver or ORB, but I think I’ll just polish it for now and save myself the effort. Judging by its patina, it’s definitely not the laquered stuff either. Yeah!

  40. I love cleaning brass and silver. It’s so satisfying to get something from icky to shiny!

    I worked on a brass chandelier last year — dismantled it, boiled the components in water with baking soda and salt, and then polished them. This was more effective for me than using Brasso to get the lacquer off.

    Here are my photos and directions for that method:

    Love your blog — just found it from Apartment Therapy

  41. What if we want to do the opposite? I would like to antique my brass?! can you help?


    • As far as I know Nicky, only time can authentically antique real unlacquered brass…. anyone know any tricks to speed it up?

  42. I am amazed at your conscientiousness in putting together all this information for your readers. (And you actually got a single picture of those fancy pulls at three stages – which means now you have to go and finish the other two, but you got a fantastic photo. That kind of effort really shows!)

    I am struggling to balance consuming a lot of design and decor information as I work on our house (bought in September, so I had a lot to do!), and staying immune to “trends” so I don’t make decisions in favor of things that I will regret later, and really liked only because other people did. (I’m going for the Tatiana route here, if I can.) But I am very, very proud of myself because I bought a pair of candlesticks (they have a lovely natural patina, but they aren’t super-heavy, so I think they’re probably brass plate – but now I know how to be sure!) that I just adored in 2008 at the Goodwill, and then I spent two years looking for three punched-brass votive holders to set in front of the row of icons on my mantel. I knew just what they should look like in my head, and I patiently waited for Goodwill to have some in, and eventually I was rewarded.

    So I think brass has always been beautiful, and I am glad the design world is back to recognizing it! :)

  43. Another cheap and easy way to make old brass look clean and shiny again is to use tomato sauce or ketchup!

  44. Thank you so much for the magnet tip! I’ve been agonizing over what to put on an antique dresser with gorgeous brass strike-plates (the original hardware was long gone) but then I thought about the seemingly outdated fleur de lis-looking pulls on an 80s dresser I’m about to work on – turns out they were honest-to-God brass! I scrubbed the tarnish off and now I have pretty brass pulls for my antique dresser that actually looks antique! Finding replacement hardware for the ho-hum 80s dresser will be much easier (and cheaper).

  45. I’m also an 80s kid and may never like shiny brass. Unlacquered brass is slowly growing on me. I wanted to replace the bathroom hardware in our house and now glad we didn’t waste the money. I guess you should time putting a house up for sale with the current fashion! What was “out” when you buy it may be back “in” when you sell.

  46. Great post! I love brass and also just refinished two bedside tables with vintage brass plate knobs that I got off of Etsy. Some of them were pretty dinged up, I’ll go pick up some Krylon short cuts spray to bring them back to life.

  47. Thank you so much for this post! I was doing a bit o’ research on the ol’ internet and stumbled across this post. Exactly what I needed to know. I just finished my first campaign-styled furniture revamp, well, two night stands to be clear. I used you lemon and salt (although I used oranges – it is what I had on hand) method and it worked better than I ever expected! I will be providing a link to your post, as I must credit you for this method. Also, no need for me to reinvent the wheel when you have done such a wonderful job presenting everything anyone would need to know!

    Thank you, again. You are quite inspirational and informative!

  48. Hi!!!!
    Love you site, my husband and I are in the process of redoing our kitchen table!!! Your site is bookmarked for sure! I do have a curious question about campaign hardware, I have a piece (dresser) and we are missing ONE! t- bracket, any ideas where to get it from??@?@? I’m dying to get the piece out for all to enjoy but really breaks my hear that its not going to be 100% finished…

    Thanks for the input and LOVE YOUR SITE!

    Emily c

  49. How well does the Rub ‘N Buff Wax work for hinges? Does it peel/crack/wear off like spray paint would? I’m working on fixing up and painting an old wooden footlocker, and the brass pieces are tarnished. I’d rather not get new hardware for it…the hardware it has is perfect…it’s just not as shiny as I’d like it to be!

  50. That brass hardware is beautiful. It reminds me of when I showed my nieces how to clean pennies with lemon juice and baking soda. You were so detailed that you could reprint this and make an instruction book of a “how to”. Thanks for your detailed instruction and pictures. I’ll be saving this for later.

  51. I have shiny brass fixtures (faucet, towel bar, shower trim) in my bathroom and they look really outdated. Is it possible to paint bathroom fixtures with the Krylon spray paint you mentioned? If so, would they need to be sanded or primed first? I’d love to update them rather than replace them if I can. Thanks for the tutorial!

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