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From cabinet hardware and plumbing installations to appliance finishes, every home has a wide variety of metal hardware and accessories that need to be cleaned; however, many metals interact differently with various cleaning supplies, so it can be tough to know what solvent to use, or the technique involved in cleaning certain surfaces. Check out the guidelines below to help get your household metals shining again.
Before you dive in and do any scrubbing, make sure that the metal you are cleaning isn’t lacquered. Lacquered metal has a thin coating that protects the finish and keeps it from tarnishing. It can still get a bit dirty or dusty at times, but warm soapy water and a nonabrasive scrubber should be enough to take care of any smudges. If cleaned too zealously with cleaning solutions or abrasive materials, lacquered metals can lose their coating and be vulnerable to tarnishing.
You can tell your metal is lacquered if it shows little sign of tarnish over time, or if it has a slightly glossy coating. Alternately, if you still aren’t sure, you can cleaning a small test patch with a metal cleaning solution – if the rag you use to apply the solution gets dark smudges on it, you’re dealing with un-lacquered metal. But, if the rag is still pretty clean, the piece probably has a coating.
All metals gradually tarnish due to oxidation. To restore shine to most metal pieces, you’ll need a lightly acidic solution to scrub the tarnish away. Luckily, many of these can be found in your kitchen.
Commonly used products include white vinegar, lemon juice or catsup. You can either soak your pieces in one of these, or gently scrub it on to them with a nonabrasive cleaning rag to softly strip away oxidation and bring out the metal’s shine. You can also create a polishing paste by dissolving a spoonful of salt in a cup of white vinegar, then adding flour until it’s thick enough to use without dripping.
Some metals have different issues to keep in mind or certain methods that work best, so see below for metal-specific details for some of the most common household metals.
To skip ahead to metal-specific sections, click below:
Stainless steel is a tough finish that resists permanent stains and generally wipes clean; however, when it does get messy it can be restored with a deep cleaning. Follow the steps below for an easy way to put the stainless back in your stainless steel.
If you encounter stubborn stains or smudges that simply won’t come out with the above methods, you may also want to try a specialty stainless steel cleaner.
One issue that may arise when cleaning brass is that many items that look like solid brass may just be brass plated. Plating can be more delicate than solid brass, so to know what you’re working with (and how careful you need to be when cleaning), it can help to test a piece. Do this by holding a magnet up to the item. If it sticks, you’re either dealing with brass plating or the piece isn’t made of brass at all – if it doesn’t stick you most likely have a solid brass piece.
Once you’re sure that you are working with solid brass follow these steps:
Chrome is a very high-shine metal, so any smudges, grime or rust can be highly visible on chrome surfaces; however, genuine chrome plating is also quite tough, so it can be vigorously cleaned to ensure that it maintains its mirror-like finish.
To clean chrome, follow these steps:
Copper is one of the simpler-to-clean metals, and should easily shed any stains or tarnish with an application of an acid such as white vinegar, lemon juice or catsup. Bronze is composed of a mixture of copper and tin, so it’s cleaned in much the same way as copper, meaning that most general metal-cleaning methods should work for it as well.
If you have a particularly tough stain or want to add another level of shine to your copper or bronze, you can also use a specialized copper polish.