Complete guide to cleaning and storing brass, bronze, copper, lead, silver, and diamond items at home

A helpful guide to cleaning and storing brass, bronze, copper, lead, silver, and diamond items at home

We all hold items that we treasure that are made of brass, bronze, silver or diamond. Cleaning and storing them well preserves them and makes them last as long as possible. 

Whether you inherited these items or gifted at the wedding, they do need good care so that they do not depreciate.  

How to find out if an object is made of brass

To find out if an object is made of brass or brass-plated steel, use a magnet  The magnet will not cling to real brass but will stick to brass-plated steel. This is because of the steel. 

How to clean brass

  1. Soak it in a solution of bicarbonate of soda (one teacupful) and boiling Water (four pints/two litres). Let it stand in the solution until it is cool.
  2. Wash it in liquid detergent, then rub with a mixture of one and a half tablespoons of soap, two and a half tablespoons of vinegar and one pint/half a litre of water. 
  3. Brush the brass with a mixture of fine salt and vinegar made into a paste, then wash in soapy water, rinse, dry and shine. 
  4. Half an onion or half a lemon dipped in fine salt and rubbed on the brass is also a good cleaner. Wash afterwards in soapy water, rinse, dry and shine. 
  5. Use the water in which haricot beans have been cooked. Wash and rub the brass; dry and shine with a soft cloth. 
  6. Worcester sauce does a good job cleaning brass. 
  7. Old delicate brass pieces can be cleaned with a paste made of jeweller’s rouge and paraffin which makes a gentle cleaner. 
  8. Lacquered or varnished brass still needs to be cleaned sometimes. Apply a thick paste of lemon juice and cream of tartar over the brass. Leave on for ten minutes, wash with warm water, dry and buff. 

To remove old polish from engraved brass, use an old toothbrush dipped in ammonia. 

Old varnish on brass can be removed with the finest steel wool dipped in acetone or a paint-remover, or methylated spirits, then wash the brass in water and household ammonia (one tablespoon of ammonia to two pints/ one litre of water) or in mild soapy hot water; rinse and dry. If any corrosion shows up after the removal of the varnish, rub it with brass polish. 

To remove lacquer from brass, soak in boiling water or rub the brass with surgical spirit. 

Brass will need less cleaning if, after polishing, it is rubbed with a thin layer of beeswax polish, linseed oil, paraffin or vaseline, to preserve the shine. 

To clean brass curtain-hooks and rings, soak them in very hot water and ammonia for a while (two pints/one litre of water to two tablespoons of ammonia). 

To clean brass on furniture without damaging the wood, just rub with water to which a little salt or vinegar has been added, then dry immediately. 

Brass finger-plates and door handles can be cleaned without damaging the area surrounding them if a piece of cardboard is cut to fit exactly around the plate or handle and is then put in place while polishing. 

Fingerprints on brass will rub off with some bicarbonate of soda on a dry cloth. 

Corroded brass will respond to the following treatment: brush with vinegar in which some salt has been added (one teacupful of vinegar to three tablespoons of salt), then wash in soapy water, rinse, dry and polish. 

For badly neglected and corroded brass: soak the brass overnight in a mixture of washing soda and hot water (three teacupsful to one gallon/four litres), rinse thoroughly, dry and polish. When in a hurry to clean brass, use the same mixture but add one teacupful of salt. Immerse the brass and bring to the boil, simmer for an hour or two, then rinse, dry and polish. 

To clean a sooty brass pot, immerse it in a solution of hot water, detergent and ammonia (one gallon/four litres of hot water, half a teacup of detergent, to four tablespoons of ammonia), rinse, dry and polish with brass polish. 

To keep brass clean longer, apply a little salad oil or some furniture polish over the brass after polishing them. Finish off with a soft cloth. 

Another way to keep brass bright a long time after cleaning is to rub with a little flour on a clean soft cloth. 

To give a patina to new brass, dip the piece in water in which mushrooms have been cooked, or dab the brass with wine vinegar. 

When an engraving on a brass article is fading away, avoid damaging it further by rubbing it with vegetable oil instead of brass cleaner. 

Make your own brass cleaner by mixing three tablespoons of flour, six tablespoons of salt, the white of an egg and some vinegar to a soft paste. After cleaning the brass with this mixture, wash the article in hot soapy water, rinse, dry and shine with a soft cloth. This mixture can be stored in an airtight jar or tin for the next time. 

How to clean bronze

  1. Use soap and water applied with a soft brush. After rinsing, warm the bronze article on a radiator and apply natural wax (liquid) with a paintbrush. Leave it to dry and then rub off any excess wax. When the bronze is cold, shine it with a soft cloth. Brown shoe polish in place of natural wax can also be used to polish bronze and improve the sheen.
  2.  Make a paste of equal quantities of salt, flour and vinegar. Apply the paste with a soft cloth, rub well, wash in warm soapy water, rinse, dry and shine. 
  3. Cooking water from haricot beans is also very good for cleaning bronze. Leave to dry on a radiator or dry it with a hairdryer and wax as above. 
  4. Dirty bronze is best washed first with hot vinegar, then rinsed and waxed. 
  5. Rub very dirty bronze with turpentine, then rinse and shine with a Chamois leather or with a solution of equal quantities of malt vinegar. ammonia and water, rinse, dry and shine. 

To give a nice patina to bronze, rub it with an infusion of chicory (two tablespoons of chicory for one teacup of boiling water). Leave it to dry before shining the bronze with a soft, clean, dry cloth. 

Cleaning copper

To clean any copper utensils dulled or blackened by fire, rub them with half a lemon dipped in salt. Wash them afterwards in water to prevent the acid corroding the copper. 

To clean very dirty old copper, bring some bleach to the boil and dip the object in it. Remove it immediately as the bleach will strip metal left in it too long. 

Tarnished copper equipment can be cleaned with a mixture made of one part flour, one part silver sand and one part fine salt, adding enough vinegar to make a paste. When the copper is cleaned, rinse thoroughly and dry. 

Another way is to use a spray bottle filled with white vinegar (half a pint or 250 ml) to which four tablespoons of salt have been added and spray the copper utensils. Leave it to set for a short while, then rub and wash before drying. 

Cleaning copper utensils

To clean copper utensils, soak them in the water in which potatoes have been cooked. Then wash and rub the copper, dry and shine with a soft cloth. 

Ketchup also does a good job cleaning copper. 

The inside of copper cooking utensils should be rubbed with one tablespoon each of salt and vinegar or salt mixed with the juice of half a lemon. Rinse and dry no more than two hours before cooking in them. 

To give an old look to new copper, brush it with wine vinegar. 

To remove the greenish stains left by a cleaning product on an outside wall around a brass or copper doorbell or a plaque, rub them with hydrogen peroxide (obtainable from a chemist). 

Cleaning diamond

To test if a diamond is real, drop it in a glass full of water. If the facets are not distinctive and the stones become one, it is false, but if the facets are clearly distinguishable, the diamond is real. 

To clean diamonds, place them in a tea-strainer (the closed, egg-shaped sort is ideal), then dip in boiling water to which a few soapsuds and ammonia (one teaspoon) have been added. Dip them for a few seconds, then take them out and let them cool. When cold, dip them in methylated spirit for a few seconds, bring the diamonds out and let them dry on tissue paper. This method is good only for diamonds. 

Cleaning Gilded Bronze Ormolu

To clean, never use metal polish. Wash with vinegar and water, rinse and dry. To remove tarnish, brush gently with soapy water containing a few drops of ammonia and then rinse, dry and polish with a Chamois leather. Very dirty gilded bronze will get its shine back if dipped in very hot white wine for a while. Rinse, dry and shine. 

Cleaning Jewelry

To clean your gold and silver jewellery, put a few drops of washing-up liquid in a small jar and add one tablespoon of ammonia. Fill up two-fifths of the jar with water, put your jewellery in the mixture and screw the lid on the jar. Shake a little and take out your jewellery. Rinse and dry. 

To clean silver jewellery put one teacup of vinegar in a jar with two tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda. Place the jewellery in the jar, screw on the lid and shake a little. Leave to rest for one hour more if the jewellery is very dirty. Rinse and dry well. 

Jeweller’s rouge is commonly used for cleaning silver or gold jewellery, but the following will do as well: apply toothpaste on an old toothbrush and rinse well afterwards, or soak in methylated spirit. 

To clean very delicate gold or silver jewellery, leave it to soak overnight in ninety per cent alcohol and then dry in some bran. 

When stones are set in gold, silver or platinum do not use any chemical to clean the jewellery, use only warm water and soap. 

To give a quick shine to your gold jewellery rub with a ball of soft bread. 

Rub your silver jewellery with half a lemon for a quick shine; do not forget to rinse before drying. 

To loosen and remove a ring stuck on your finger,

  1. Wash your hands with cold water and soap and try to take off the ring while the soap is still on.
  2. Failing that, dry your hands and wrap a narrow ribbon tightly around your finger from the tip of the finger to the ring. Slide the end of the ribbon between the ring and the finger and pull slowly, unwinding the ribbon and pushing the ring up at the same time.

To re-string a bead necklace in record time, glue the end of the old necklace string to the new one with a drop of nail varnish (or glue). Leave it to dry and pull through. 

To clean wooden jewellery, rub with a little olive oil, then dry and buff. 

Cleaning lead

When storing lead figures etc., keep them in a polythene bag as lead can be attacked by acidic organic vapours from wood if kept in a wooden cupboard. 

To clean lead figures, boil them In two or three changes of water for minutes at a time and then put them in a container with eight parts of water to one part vinegar. Soak for a short time, then rinse in water containing a small quantity of washing soda. Rinse again in plain water and dry carefully. 

Cleaning and Storing Silver

When storing silver, wrap it in a plastic bag or silver foil; it will keep clean much longer. 

Do not let rubber touch your silver, as it will leave ugly black marks, 

A piece of camphor in the drawer or cupboard where silver is stored will keep It bright. 

Pieces of silver which are stored away unused for a long time will stay bright if buried in flour. 

Do not store silver in a newspaper. The printing ink would damage the plating.

If your silver salt cellars have no linings, the salt should be removed after use. If they are lined, make sure that no salt is lodged between the silver and me linings. Remove the spoon from the salt cellar after every meal. 

To give lustre to new silver, dip it in very hot water to heat the metal, then quickly dip it in bleach, dry it and clean with silver polish to bring out the reliefs. 

Table silver should be washed in soapy water with one tablespoon of ammonia (or vinegar). Rinse in hot water and dry. This method will keep the silver in good condition and it will only need occasional treatment with a silver cleaner. 

To clean silver in a hurry, apply some methylated spirit with a rag. Leave the silver to dry for a few minutes and then polish with a soft cloth. Toothpaste will also clean silver. 

Table cutlery and table silver should always be washed after cleaning to avoid the cleaning product contaminating the food. 

Home dip for silver an easy and non-messy way to get your silver shining: crumple a piece of aluminium foil in a large container with some washing soda and pour boiling water over it. (Some fumes may be given off but this is a normal electrochemical reaction so do not worry.) Immerse the silver and leave until the tarnish has been removed, then rinse and dry. The solution does not need to be strong two tablespoons of washing soda to one gallon/four litres of water. 

Another equally successful way is to use an aluminium pan, put some bicarbonate of soda or washing soda in it, place the silver in the pan and cover with water. Bring the water to near boiling but do not boil. Take away from the heat and leave the silver until the tarnish has been removed, which takes only a minute or two. The solution should be two tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda or half a teacupful of washing soda to two litres/four pints of water. 

Do not wear rubber gloves when cleaning silver as they leave marks all over it. 

To clean silver, make a paste with baking soda and water. Rub it gently over the silver and brush away any remnants of the paste. Shine with a soft cloth. 

Soot rubbed on the silver is also very good but a little messy. 

Lemon juice or methylated spirit mixed to a thick paste with cigar or cigarette ash will clean your silver quite well. Dip a soft cloth in this mixture and rub it on the silver. Polish with a clean, dry cloth. 

An equal quantity of ammonia and vinegar is good for dirty pieces of silver; use a toothbrush and brush well over the embossings. Rinse and dry. 

A fairly thick paste of powdered chalk and ammonia, when rubbed over silver, will clean it perfectly. 

Egg tarnish on silver is quickly removed by rubbing with table salt, wet earth or cooked potato. Acid stains (e.g. mustard) are difficult to remove but will disappear if rubbed with salt and a few drops of lemon juice or soak the silver in hot vinegar for fifteen minutes. 

To remove a salt stain, rub it with damp salt this works like magic. 

Cleaning Silver Gilt

Silver gilt is silver coated with gold. It should be cleaned with soapy water. Do not use silver polish, as this would remove the gold. 

Cleaning Stainless Steel

To clean stainless steel: 

  1. Use bicarbonate of soda on a damp cloth or a cloth dipped in vinegar. Silver polish is also very good, 
  2. Rub it with a soft cloth dampened in vinegar. Dry with a soft cloth. 
  3. Rub with a paste made of ground tailor’s chalk and water. Wash and dry. 

To get your stainless steel cutlery shiny, soak it for fifteen minutes in an equal solution of vinegar and warm water. Rinse and dry. Soaking it in warm water (one litre/two pints) and ammonia (half a teacup) will also get it sparkling. 

Watermarks can be removed with methylated spirit applied with a soft cloth. 

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