Brass is a great material for house fixtures, such as door knobs and railings. Its gold-like color and sheen makes it a perfect complement to dull-looking façades or interiors. Unfortunately, this luster isn’t made to last. When exposed to certain substances, brass will tarnish quickly. This is mostly because both its main components—copper and zinc—easily tarnish as well.
What Tarnishes Brass
There are quite many substances that can suck out the brilliance in brass. While it would take some of them a few days to a week of exposure to tarnish brass, others can easily do so overnight, or even in just an hour or two.
- Liver of Sulfur. A mixture of potassium sulfide, potassium polysulfide, potassium thiosulfate, and potassium bisulfide, this substance was originally used for combating arthritis. Later it was disfavored for medical purposes due to the toxicity of sulfur. Today, LOS is mainly used in metalworking for developing a patina on copper alloys.
- Vinegar-Salt Solution. Both salt and vinegar are well-known for their harsh effect on other substances. One material that’s particularly sensitive to them is brass. Soaking brass in a vinegar-salt solution can taint the metal in less than an hour. This technique is, in fact, used by jewelers to identify faux gold items.
- Ammonia. Another potent chemical, ammonia can oxidize brass by its fume alone. Dip and suspend a brass item on ammonia solution and you’ll notice the metal’s gloss fading away slowly. This chemical can also cause brass to become brittle, which is why using it should be done away from brass fixture and furniture.
- Water. Oxidation takes place because of the presence of oxygen, hence the name. Among the substances that contain oxygen, perhaps the most popular is water. Containing only oxygen and hydrogen atoms, and because oxygen is the bigger element in the compound, water can easily give away its oxygen to bond with elements in metals like brass, eventually forming patina in the process. Unlike the previously mentioned chemicals, however, water is not as potent so the patination takes place much more slowly.
It’s important to note that tarnish or patina is not always considered detrimental to brass. There are, in fact, applications where tarnished brass is more ideal for use, basically because the patina that has developed on its surface serves as additional protection against the elements and other harsh substance.
However, when it comes to your brass furniture and fixtures, tarnishing may not offer you any merits, unless you fancy a vintage tone. The best way to keep the brass items in your home shiny and beautiful is to coat them with a layer of clear polyurethane-based sealer. This will prevent oxygen in moisture and air from making direct contact with their surface and trigger oxidation. Before doing so, here are some things you need to remember.
Prepare the Surface
Don’t apply the sealer right away. Make sure that the surface of your brass fixtures is free from dirt and existing coatings. You can polish it by rubbing with a soft cloth dipped in paint thinner. Be careful in choosing a thinner though because some brands may contain chemicals that brass cannot tolerate. Choose one that is specifically mixed for shiny metals.
Polish with Lemon Juice and Salt
There are readily-available polishers that you can use but if you don’t have one, you can use a mixture of lemon juice and salt instead. Surprisingly, this solution has an exact opposite effect on brass as that of vinegar-salt solution. Just make sure to carefully wash the surface of brass with soap and water and wipe with a clean cloth afterwards to remove the residue.
Apply the Sealer
When all of the surface is properly cleaned and polished, start coating the brass fixture with the clear sealer using a paint brush. Make sure all areas are properly coated to completely seal off all the surface from moisture. This seal should last for several months to a couple of years depending on how you take care of your fixtures.
Even with tarnish, brass can endure for a very long time. That’s one perk you can surely enjoy for having brass fixtures in your home. However, poor-quality brass may not perform as well as high-quality ones, so if you’re planning to outfit your home with brass fixtures, make sure to get your materials from a reputable supplier like Rotax Metals. They can provide the best brass angle, tube, and bar products for all your home remodeling needs.
What Tarnishes Brass?
ILLUSTRATED DIRECTIONS FOR CLEANING, POLISHING, AND APPLYING EVERBRITE PROTECTIVE COATING OR PROTECTACLEAR