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Here's How: Make Old Tarnished Brass Bathroom Fixtures Look Like New

James Dulley on

Dear James: My master bathroom has some beautiful antique brass fixtures that have gotten tarnished over the years. What is the best way to clean them and maintain them tarnish-free? -- Shari R.

Dear Shari: Hopefully, you will be able to clean all of them because it will likely be impossible to replace any parts you cannot clean. The cold-water faucet handle often gets the most use over the years and is tarnished the most. Be very gentle with disassembling them, and use plastic or wood tools if you have to pry on any.

Don't get discouraged if they do not clean up as quickly as you had hoped. It takes a lot of work, but it will be worth it. If you finish the surface properly and maintain the fixtures, they should look good for many years. Someday, though, they will begin to tarnish again, and you will probably have to repeat the cleaning procedure.

Before you tackle this job yourself, contact a local professional refinisher and get a quote on having the tarnish removed. Professionals use durable, commercial-quality acrylic urethanes or baked-on finishes, which are not available to do-it-yourselfers. It usually takes a couple of weeks, so prepare to be without the use of that bathroom for a while.

If you have trouble finding a local brass refinisher, you can send your brass fixtures to Art Brass Plating at (800) 828-3186 or Carlisle & Finch Co. at (513) 681-6080.

You will have to remove the fixtures from the sink to refinish them thoroughly. First, make sure the water supply line valves can be shut off. Old ones can stick. You may have the same problem getting the old fasteners loose to release the fixture. If they are frozen on, soak them with a penetrating oil, and give it some time to work. You definitely don't want to harm the old fixtures.

While you have the fixtures removed, it would be wise to replace the washers inside them. Always turn the handles to open the faucet before unscrewing the valve cups to get to the washers. The pitches on the internal and external threads are different. If the valve is tightly closed and you unscrew the cup, it can split open the fixture.


The best method to remove the tarnish is with a buffing and a polishing wheel on a two-wheel bench grinder. Apply abrasive polishing rouge on the polishing wheel. This should cut through the old clear-coat finish over the brass. Use a small detail polisher to get into the tight spots on the ornate areas.

The fixture should look pretty good at this point, but the surface is actually covered with fine scratches. Apply some very fine buffing compound on the buffing wheel, and buff out the fine scratches. Take your time on this step; some areas may require hand-buffing.

When it is completely buffed, clean off all the compound with a solvent. Wear rubber or plastic gloves to keep the solvent off your skin and to keep oils from your skin from getting on the newly buffed brass surface. Hang the fixtures from a bent coat hanger in a well-ventilated, clean area, and spray on several coats of clear gloss urethane.


Send your questions to Here's How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244, or visit www.dulley.com. To find out more about James Dulley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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