Refinishing old or dated furniture is one of the most gratifying DIY projects you can do. But if you’ve ever tackled a piece that has some old, rusty knobs or hinges, you likely know what a major pain it can be to return them to their former glory. But before you toss the dingy brass aside and opt for something shiny and new, I have some really easy tricks that can remove paint and tarnish fast. Let me show you how to clean brass hardware so you can keep that beautiful vintage charm on your next furniture makeover!

A white china hutch shown with clean brass knobs and hinges

From Tarnished…to Painted…to Beautiful!

One of my favorite furniture makeovers of all time is the white+wood piece we have long used as our TV stand but are currently using in our dining room.

A white china hutch shown with clean brass knobs and hinges

This piece actually started out as a dated, wooden china hutch with chunky brass handles that, although awesome, were incredibly tarnished and difficult to clean (especially the hinges with tons of tiny grooves).

Dated china hutch base with tarnished brass hardwareHeavily tarnished brass knob and hinge

WhenI first set out to makeover this piece, the hardware gave me a lot of trouble. After hours of trying every brass cleaning method in the book (e.g., lemon juice, salt, white vinegar, warm water and baking soda, brass cleaners like Brasso, mineral oil, linseed oil, etc) and a ton of elbow grease, I was only able to get one handle and hinge remotely presentable. Frustrated and inexperienced, I (stupidly) opted to spray paint the brass hardware and was convinced I found a great solution!

A brass handle spray painted silver

The paint job looked fresh and clean for a while. But over time…as is usually the case with painted metal…all the handles and hinges started to crack and chip. Within a few months, the hardware looked awful, and I had to come up with a different solution.

One night, I was watching Rehab Addict with Nicole Curtis and she shared a tip about removing paint from old hardware. I figured it was worth a try, so I literally hopped off the couch (yes, at 9:00 at night in my PJs practically heading to bed!), grabbed a screwdriver, and pulled all the hardware off my unit.

Before I show you the easy tricks for rescuing painted or tarnished brass hardware, check out how beautiful the hardware is now!

A newly cleaned brass knob on a white door

A white china hutch shown with clean brass knobs and hinges

Supplies Needed

To remove paint and/or tarnish from brass hardware, here are the supplies and tools you should have on hand!

Supplies needed for cleaning brass hardware

Removing Paint From Brass Hardware

Start With a Slow Cooker

Ready to learn the secret for removing paint from brass hardware without scrubbing or harsh chemicals?!? A slow cooker! Simply put your old, painted hardware with warm water in a slow cooker and let it sit on high for up to 10 hours.

(If you don’t like the idea of paint, tarnish, dust, and dirt being in your Crockpot that you also cook food in, use a plastic Slow Cooker Liner to create a protective barrier.)

In as few as two hours, the paint should literally start to peel right off the hardware. However, the longer you let the hardware soak, the less post-bath cleanup you’ll have to do (if any at all). For completely scrub-free cleaning, let your hardware soak for the full 10 hours.

Finish With Some Mineral Spirits

Even though much of the paint will likely peel off in the slow cooker, you may still have some stubborn paint spots left on your hardware. At this point, a post-bath douse with mineral spirits and rub with a wire brush will take the loosened debris right off without much effort.

How to Clean & Polish Brass Hardware

Whether you started with painted hardware or just have some heavy discoloration from day-to-day oxidation, the best and easiest way to remove all the brown build-up and return it to its shiny brass color is with Bar Keepers Friend

A bottle of Bar Keepers Friend on a white table

Friends, I have tried everything to polish hardware and I have never seen anything work as effortlessly as Bar Keepers Friend. Not only is it cheap and available at your local grocery store (with common household items), but it works instantly, isn’t messy, and doesn’t stink!

To clean your brass hardware, place it in a disposable plastic bowl and shake the Bar Keepers Friend powder all over it; then add a teaspoon or so of water to make a paste-like mixture. Use a soft cloth or old white t-shirt to rub the paste into the brass hardware. Instantly, you will see the brown tarnish wipe away and the shiny brass color re-emerge!

Bar Keepers Friend shown along side brass knobs

As needed, rinse off the hardware, re-douse with more Bar Keepers Friend, and keep rubbing until all the tarnish is gone.

Cleaning Brass Crevices & Hinges

Simple hardware without any grooves or fine details will clean up quite easily. However, any brass knobs, handles, pulls, doorknobs, door knockers, bowls, candlesticks, or brass fixtures that have small crevices can prove difficult to clean. Likewise, hinges (with their grooves and moving junctions) can also be really difficult to get perfectly pristine.

I recommend using a sturdy wire brush with several rounds of Bar Keepers Friend to get tarnish out of grooves. If you’re still having trouble, soak the hardware in a slow cooker bath (as described above) to loosen the tarnish, and then re-visit with more Bar Keepers Friend and t-shirt strips.

Be Ready to Repeat

The somewhat unfortunate reality with brass hardware is that there is no way to keep it bright and shiny forever. Like other natural metals (e.g., silver, copper, zinc), it will naturally tarnish over time. As such, you will need to plan on “regular” polishings as part of your household cleaning routine.

As long as you don’t allow the hardware to go too long between cleanings, you should be able to shake some Bar Keepers Friend on a rag and polish the hardware in place. Otherwise, plan to remove the hardware and repeat the process outlined in this post on a yearly basis (or as needed).

A white china hutch shown with clean brass knobs and hinges

A white china hutch shown with clean brass knobs and hinges

Brass does seem to be everywhere these days; and for better or worse, much of it is fake…as in, it won’t tarnish and will keep its shine without any maintenance. But if you have some antiques or vintage furniture with real brass hardware and can’t figure out how to get it looking shiny and clean, I hope the tips and tricks I shared here save you a lot of frustration and help you restore your pieces to their natural beauty!

Brass candlesticks and knobs

See You Soon!