How to Clean: Silver, Brass, Pewter & More … Using Home Products

There’s a lot to be said for antiques having a patina, i.e, fine, old furniture; however, there are times when you want your item – particularly if it’s made of metal, to be clean and without tarnish. While there are a lot of commercial cleaners on the market, there are some reasonably efficient ones that you can make at home using regular household products. They are easily mixed and deliver fairly good results for virtually little cost.

Sterling – Silver

We’ve talked before about using aluminium foil, baking soda and boiling water to clean sterling. Therefore, we’ll not cover it again here but provide the link to the page where you can read about the complete process.

Of all the ‘home cleaners’ the one for silver and sterling is – in our opinion – the best. Please read the cautions before trying the process on an item that may have stones, enamel, inlay of any sort, etc. – or if the item is of extreme value . . . monetary or sentimental.   How to Clean Silver.


A home ‘fix’ for cleaning brass is to mix equal portions of salt, flour and vinegar into a paste. Rub the paste on the brass with a soft cloth, rinse and and rub dry with a soft cloth. You’ll find this does not result in a blackened cloth like the commercial cleaners but rather can better be described as removing any dulling film.

If you’re not satisfied after trying this remedy on your brass, I would recommend that if you’re looking for that shiny, mirror finish to your brass – you’d be better off purchasing a commercial brass polish.

Brass Cleaning Tips

  1. To clean the brass on your furniture without damaging the surrounding wood surfaces, cut a semi-circle from a 3″ x 5″ index card and slide the card under the portion of brass being polished. 
  2. You do not want to attempt to clean any brass that has been coated with a clear sealer coat of any kind. 


I’ve seen collectors of vintage aluminum pieces where you couldn’t tell it if was aluminum or sterling they had polished it to such a shine. But, since aluminum has a tendency to oxidize and become dull over time, you may want to try and bring back some life with this home remedy.

In a bowl mix together 1/4 cup cream of tartar, 1/4 cup of vinegar, 1/4 cup of baking soda and 2 tablespoons of soap flakes. For this to work well you first want to mix the cream of tartar and baking soda together really well – then add the vinegar, following up with the soap flakes.

Once you’ve completed the mixture, use a soft dry cloth to apply to the surface. Use a damp cloth to wipe it clean. Depending on the degree of oxidation, you may need to repeat the process more than once. And, if this is too slow or doesn’t deliver the results you’re looking for – try specially formulated aluminum polish.


Pewter primarily consisting of tin, therefore, it doesn’t really tarnish,  but rather develops a dark patina. This is one of those times you’ll need to decide if you want to keep the patina (especially if it’s a quality antique – you probably won’t want to touch it) or if you want to give it a cleaning if it falls into the “decorator” category.

Much like the paste for the brass, you want to make a paste of 1 teaspoon salt, 1 cup vinegar and 1/2 cup flour. Apply with a soft cloth, rinse and then dry with another soft cloth.

Pewter can also be polished by using a paste made from rottenstone (available at hardware stores) and boiled linseed oil. After applying the paste, wash the item in warm soapy water, rinse and buff dry.


Copper can easily be cleaned using regular vinegar and salt. Pour the vinegar over a section of the item to be cleaned and sprinkle with regular salt. Swish the mixture around and watch the copper come clean. You may need to repeat the process to get the desired results.

When finished, wash with warm soapy water and towel dry. It should be noted that this will not get rid of any existing water spots. You’ll need to use a commercial copper cleaner for this.

Our overall favorite cleaner is Semi-chrome  –   Comes in a easy to use tube and cleans just about any metal object you might have.

Final Cautions

Before using any of these remedies, it is recommended that they be tested on a non-valuable item for end results.

And for those who opt to use a commercial cleaner or polish – never use any polish or cleaner on any metal other than what it is intended for. Doing so may result in damage to the item.

And last word –if there is any doubt  – don’t.


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