Antique brass is a beautiful material that is often left unrestored because it lends a deep, rich color and tone to old objects. The antiquing occurs when oxygen reacts with moisture and other elements in the air to tarnish the surface of the metal. While some prefer the look of polished metal, the patina and wear of antique brass is actually more valuable when it is intact because polishing literally rubs away layers of the original metal, which can potentially damage it and weaken it. Therefore, if you own any antiques, it is important to know how to care for old brass and keep it in the best condition possible.
In optimal conditions, brass will begin to patina within a few years of being finished, and will gracefully age for hundreds of years until the brass is antiqued. The optimal conditions for brass to properly age are mild temperatures and moderate humidity in non-coastal areas. The salt and humidity in the air in coastal cities can deteroriate brass as such a rapid rate that it can fall apart within just a few years. This is one of the reasons that antique brass items found in ancient cities near coastal regions are as fragile as dust balls, while brass that has aged properly in drier regions retains its structural integrity while still achieving the beautiful rich brown and red color that so many antique collectors have come to love and appreciate.
Caring For Antique Brass
Cleaning and conditioning antique brass improperly can destroy it, especially when you want to retain the natural beauty of this material. There are many chemical agents on the market which are specifically marketed to keep old brass in prime condition, but they really don’t stand up to the challenge. Caring for antique brass is a simple and delicate process which doesn’t require any harsh chemical additives or treatments.
To clean antique brass, you should only use warm, soapy water and a microfiber cloth to remove surface dust and grease. Elbow grease is not required, because even the slightest bit of friction between the fibers in the rag and the brass can scratch away surface patina, which will allow oxygenation to occur at deeper levels in the brass. Once tarnish is allowed to reach deeper in the brass, the antique can crumble away. Do not use regular wash cloths, brushes or paper towels, as they are too abrasive to gently remove surface grit.
Preserving Antique Brass
To lock in the patina and condition your antique brass items, you can gently apply olive oil or linseed oil to your brass with a microfiber rag. Brass sealants that are sold at hardware stores work great for new brass, but when you are dealing with brass that is more than a couple of decades old, it is important to use the most gentle methods possible or you will risk destroying the antique finish on the brass. Olive oil will penetrate microscopic pores in the brass, keeping oxygen and moisture from reaching inner layers of the material. Linseed oil works the same way, but is a bit more aggressive and expensive, and is often used to treat steel tools. Olive oil has been used for thousands of years, dating back to at least ancient rome, to preserve brass from wear.
When applying olive oil to your antiques, gently rub small amounts of oil in a circular motion until the brass is coated and slightly gleaming. Allow your brass to set for at least 10 minutes before using a dry microfiber cloth to remove excess oil. Although the shine from extra oil leaves your antique brass gleaming in direct light, dirt and contaminants will stick to the slow drying oil and eventually cause damage.
Restoring Antique Brass
If you really must remove the patina from your antiques, you will want to make sure that your brass is in good enough condition before attempting to get rid of the tarnish. Remember, when you polish brass, you are rubbing away layers of material. When you use chemicals to treat brass, you are etching away layers of material.
To ensure that your antique brass is in good enough condition to polish or restore, check your items for cracks, flakes, or black spots. If any of these defects are present, you will risk permantently damaging your antiques beyond repair if you try to restore them. If your brass is simply brown with a few scratches or surface imperfections, you should be able to safely restore the antiques to look brand new.
The most popular household chemical used to restore antique brass is Brasso. Brasso can be purchased in most hardware stores for just a few dollars. This substance contains ammonia and other additives to etch away tarnish when applied as directed. For tough areas, you can use a dremel tool with brasso and a nylon brush attachment to achieve optimal results; however, you will usually only need a toothbrush or cloth to properly use this substance. If you decide to use the Brasso method, the link below this article is the cheapest price for Brasso that you’re likely to find anywhere.
Although Brasso might be the easiest way to remove tarnish from antiques, it is not the most optimal method for doing so. The best way to restore antique brass is to professionally polish it. There are no chemicals on the market that will make brass as shiny or perfect as a skilled operator behind a rotary buffer can. While you can purchase your own buffer (or grinder with buffing wheel attachments), using these machines is extremely dangerous – both to you, and your antique brass. Leave it to a professional, who can polish and refinish most small to medium brass objects for a reasonable price of between $50 and $250.