No matter which room they sit inside your home, sinks are the focal point. They add an elegant vibrancy that catches the eye. While brass is certainly stylish, tarnish is usually not. Even though brass is durable and can last for years, maintaining a like-new look takes some specific knowledge and care.
Brass sinks can give long lasting service and beauty to your kitchen or bar area if handled and maintained properly. Taking care of brass isn’t as simple as other metals like stainless steel. Brass and copper are durable materials, however, they are soft and can be scratched, scuffed and dented fairly easily. Keep that in mind when bringing glasses, utensils and cleaning materials into contact with the sink.
Before you begin cleaning
Determine if your brass sink is lacquered. This is quite easy. If your sink has tarnish, it most likely has not been lacquered. This makes sense because lacquer’s job is to prevent tarnish and wear. However, if you notice a shiny thin finish that seems to be coming off in places, chances are your brass sink was lacquered at some point.
Brass or Brass-Plated?
You also need to determine if your sink is solid brass or just brass-plated. You’re probably wondering why this is important. This subtle difference dictates the steps you need to take to remove the lacquered finish, if you're wanting to do so, or to clean it. All you need to do is put a magnet on your sink surface. If it sticks, your sink is brass-plated. If it doesn’t stick, the material is solid brass.
Brass-plated products are easier to damage or scratch. If you wish to remove a lacquered finish then using a mixture of baking soda and hot water is your safest option, other than having a professional metal refinisher do the restoration work.
Solid brass products are much tougher and can withstand the use of stronger chemicals to remove a lacquer finish. There are many lacquer removal products on the market and some are safer to use than others. If you decide to tackle the lacquer removal yourself, be sure to wear gloves, protective eyewear, and a respirator since some fumes may be toxic.
Cleaning Brass Plated Sinks
For ordinary cleaning, use nothing but a soft, clean cloth, lukewarm water and mild dish detergent followed by a thorough clear water rinse. Wipe dry with a clean, soft cloth. Scrubbing too hard, or using anything other than soap and water could scratch the plating. In fact, polishing brass-plated surfaces can actually strip the brass plating away.
Cleaning Solid Brass
If you have a solid brass sink with a lacquer finish then follow the instructions for cleaning brass plated sinks. The lacquer finish cannot be polished. Polishing can ruin the lacquer finish and super hot water may remove it.
Solid brass sinks without lacquer need to be polished regularly. But before you start polishing, wash the brass with warm water and mild dish soap using a soft damp cloth. Clean it thouroughly to remove all dust, dirt, grime or other debris.
Stains and tarnish should be removed with a small amount of good quality brass cleaner. Look for a polish that’s made specifically for brass. Along with specialized polish, employ as soft a cleaning cloth as you can like a knit cotton tee-shirt. Whatever you do, avoid using any kind of steel wool at all costs. This material only further scratches and tarnishes a brass surface. Rub lightly to lift the discoloration, let dry, then polish with a soft, clean, dry cloth.
Scratches & Deep Scratches
Minor surface scuff and very light scratches can be removed with fine automotive rubbing compound followed by brass polish.
Deeper scratches may require wet sanding with "wet or dry" sandpaper followed by rubbing compound, finishing with brass polish. The severity of the scratch determines the coarseness of the sandpaper grit with which to start. For very deep scratches we suggest starting with 220 grit followed by grits of 320, 400 and 600 progressively. In all cases use the finest grit that will work to remove the scratch.
DIY Brass Polish
If you’re feeling especially ambitious, there are a number of simple ways you can make your own brass polish at home. The first concoction only involves lemon juice and baking soda. To start, combine the juice from half of a lemon with one teaspoon of baking soda. Stir the mixture until it becomes a paste and apply it to the sink’s surface with a soft cloth. Let the paste sit for 30 minutes, and then rinse it away with warm water and gently dry. You may have to repeat this process a couple times if there’s a lot of tarnish.
The second option might surprise you – all you need is ketchup or any other tomato-based sauce. Believe it or not tomatoes have an acid that works wonders for removing tarnish. The process is pretty simple. Reach into the fridge, grab the bottle of Heinz, or Hunt's, or Del Monte, or whatever you use, and apply it to the tarnished surface, and wait an hour. When time is up, just wash it away with warm water and dry.
Lastly, you can use lemon, salt, and white vinegar to create a tarnish solution. Just mix equal parts into a paste. Apply the paste and once again, wait an hour. When you’re done, just wash it away with warm water and dry.
We do not recommend any paint-type coatings be applied to the sink, as the coating will eventually wear through, leaving you with two dissimilar surface materials to maintain - neither of which complements the other.
A bare brass or copper sink can always be brought back to a bright mirror polish with readily available materials (and elbow grease), even if it becomes badly scratched and tarnished.
Let Nature Take It's Course?
The measures we’ve discussed in this article are all meant to keep your brass sink looking shiny and new. But, have you ever thought about what might happen if you let brass naturally patina on its own? The oxidized look can actually be quite appealing. Oxidation on a brass sink actually forms a protective corrosion which is how patina is formed. The oxidized layer forms a barrier to prevent too much air and moisture from contacting the brass and limiting further corrosion. Light and dark colors blend together in a way that adds character and charm to the sink. If your kitchen or washroom is well-lit, the aged look can be quite stunning. You can even speed up the patina process by applying salt water and vinegar, let it stand for awhile and then wipe it off. It ages instantly right in front of your eyes.
It's All Up To You
Whatever course of action you choose, caring for your brass sink is something you can easily do on your own. All you need is a little know-how and some common household materials.