How to Clean Vintage Brass Candlesticks

I have an affinity for vintage brass candlesticks and other antique brass items. I guess you could say it’s been a recent obsession. However, most of the time the surface of the brass candlesticks has candle wax or tarnishing from age. So, I decided to finally figure out how to clean my vintage brass candlesticks using common household items.

Part of my collection of brass candlesticks sitting on a dresser in my dining room.;

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Tarnishing is a Natural Chemical Reaction as Brass Ages

Brass naturally is resistant to corrosion, which means it won’t rust. However, brass is an alloy of copper and zinc, which will naturally tarnish when exposed to oxygen. Oils from your skin in addition to oxygen in the air speed up the tarnishing of brass.

How Do You Keep Brass from Tarnishing?

To prevent tarnished brass, dust your brass object regularly. As soon as you see signs of tarnish clean brass items with a clean cloth and warm soapy water. Then apply a layer of linseed oil or use a product like Brasso Metal Polish to prevent oxidation.

How Do You Clean Brass-Plated Steel?

If the object is just brass-plated, clean it with warm water and soap. Polishing isn’t necessary on objects that are only brass-plated, and, in fact, it could actually scratch the plating off.

What Causes Dark Spots on Brass?

You may start to see black spots on a brass piece due to over-use and misuse of brass polish. One of the biggest challenges to the upkeep of brass is the removal and prevention of tarnish. All substances, especially metals, oxidize when exposed to air.

A before picture of the waxy dirty tarnished brass candlesticks sitting on my dresser in the dining room.
A small handful of my brass candlestick collection. A few recent thrift store finds.

Is It Even Real Brass or Solid Brass?

Before we talk about choosing a cleaning method you can use in your brass cleaning project, let’s find out if it’s even actually brass or just a thin layer of brass, brass plating.

I can honestly say this hadn’t even crossed my mind before starting my research into this subject myself. But it’s a really important step in determining what is the best option to avoid damaging your potentially old brass candlesticks.

How to Determine if Your Favorite Brass Items Are Real or Brass-Plated Items

The easiest way to tell if you have solid brass items is to take a small magnet and if the magnet sticks to the candlestick holders, brass lamp, door hinges, light fixtures, etc it is likely brass-plated steel. If there’s no attraction, then the piece is solid brass.

Where You Purchase Your Brass Candle Sticks Doesn’t Matter

Just because you purchase something from an antique store doesn’t necessarily guarantee its authenticity.

And in the same way, purchasing from a thrift store doesn’t mean you won’t come across a true genuine solid brass piece. I intend on keeping a powerful magnet in my purse from now on so I can check before I buy!

An overhead shot of a few brass candlesticks I recently acquired from a few thrift stores and flea markets.
Someone really let their candles go to town on those two candlesticks in the rear. They were definitely the hardest to clean.

How Can You Tell if the Brass Item is Lacquered?

Another thing to determine before moving forward is if there is a layer of lacquer. The point of lacquering brass is to prevent tarnishing. Therefore, if your item is tarnishing most likely it is not lacquered unless you can see cracks in the coating.

Is Polished Brass Always Lacquered?

If an item is listed as polished brass, satin brass, or brushed brass it will generally be lacquered. Those finishes require a lacquer in order to remain the same tone over time. Any time you see an item listed in those finishes it will most likely be lacquered and the color won’t change.

What happens if you polish lacquered brass?

Your lacquered brass will likely lose its shine over time. If you have this happen with your lacquered brass, remove the lacquer using a lacquer remover and then polished it back to its original finish using a good-quality brass cleaner. You can then return to your normal maintenance and cleaning process.

Dr Bronners castile soap, a milk glass bowl with warm water, a microfiber towel, and two brass candlesticks waiting to be cleaned.
Dr Bronner’s Castile Soap, Milk Glass bowl with Warm Water, Microfiber cloth, and two brass candlesticks are ready to be cleaned.

Watch this on Youtube:

How to Clean Brass Candlesticks

Now for the best part of this process, we must decide our intent. If we are wanting to maintain the natural patina or try to make it look new. Keep that in mind when choosing which cleaning process to use when cleaning brass.

Most of these methods mentioned below have two things in common 1. A form of acid and 2. A form of exfoliating agent.

How to Remove Residual Candle Wax from Your Brass Candle Holders

Once you’ve ascertained it is in fact brass, not brass-plated, and is not lacquered the next step is to remove any candle wax.

  1. Put your candlesticks in the freezer for 15-20 minutes. Most of the wax will pop right off or can easily be peeled off.
  2. For any residual wax, gently warm it with a hairdryer and wipe it off.
  3. Then use a cloth soaked in white vinegar to remove any remaining wax.

How Do You Clean Brass Without Removing All Patina?

A simple cleaning with mild soap and water will remove the dirt and fingerprints without removing tarnish or patinas that have formed over time.

Antiques lose their value if the original tarnish or patina is removed. Avoid using any cleaners other than mild soap and water to ensure that they remain untouched.

For most brass candlesticks, unless you want to clean off the natural patina, you'll want to clean it with mild soap and warm water.
Because I want to keep the natural patina of the brass, I choose to use mild soap and warm water to clean 90% of my brass candlesticks. Only a few with really heavy wax build-up required a deeper clean.

01 Mild Soap and Water Method

If you are dealing with a genuine antique, or wish to keep the patina intact this is the method for you.

The first things to do are wash your hands and remove any dirt, dust, or debris from the brass candle holder.

  • Natural oils on your hands can stain metal permanently.
  • Brush dirt, dust, and debris before cleaning as leaving them on could potentially cause scratching.


The Washing Process

  1. Mix a small amount of mild soap with water in a small bowl or bucket.
  2. Use a damp cloth with a small amount of the soapy mixture and gently wipe away any remaining dirt and dust from the piece.
  3. Gently rinse with clean water. If you live in an area with hard water, use distilled or filtered water for rinsing.
  4. Dry immediately. Allowing water to set on the piece may affect the oxidation and leave marks.
  5. Do not apply any special coatings or cleaners to the piece without the recommendation from a professional who is experienced with antiques.

Pro Tip: Be sure that the soap does not contain any harsh chemicals, particularly chlorine bleach which could eat the metal.

Read more about How to Clean Antique Copper or Bronze.

Unbeknownst to me, I may have accidentally acquired a few bronze candlesticks as well. But in this piicture I have two candlesticks, either brass or bronze, that are ready to be cleaned.
The two candlesticks in the front were two of the hardest brass (or bronze?) candlesticks I’ve ever had to clean. They had cheap candlewax literally all over them and IN them. I soaked them in boiling vinegar and then scrubbed them with Bar Keeper’s Friend.

02 Baking Soda, Vinegar, and Salt Paste Method

These are two very common items most households have on hand, making this paste ideal.

How Do You Restore Brass?

  • ½ Cup Baking Soda
  • 1 Cup Vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp Table Salt *optional
  1. Mix the Baking Soda and Vinegar to create a paste.
  2. Add 2 tbsp of table salt if your piece is badly tarnished.
  3. Once the paste stops fizzing, rub it onto your brass hardware in circular motions with a toothbrush.

03 Vinegar, Flour, and Salt Paste Method

Another easy paste made of common household items. This is one of the simplest ways and easiest ways to clean brass. Try to always use a soft cleaning cloth, not a paper towel, to avoid scratching the surface.

Does Vinegar Harm Brass?

Household products such as vinegar and salt can clean brass. They’re a safe and inexpensive alternative to store-bought brass cleaning solutions or commercial brass cleaners.

How Do You Remove Heavy Tarnish from Brass?

Mix equal parts of all three ingredients in a small bowl.

  • Equal parts Salt
  • Flour
  • White Vinegar
  1. Apply this mixture to the entire piece of brass.
  2. Let it sit for up to 1 hour.
  3. Rinse using distilled or filtered water.
  4. Dry it off immediately to avoid any oxidation.

04 Tomato-Based Product Method

Tomato products that work well are Ketchup, Tomato Juice, Tomato Sauce, or Tomato Paste.

Why Do Tomato-Based Products Work to Clean Brass?

Tomatoes contain an acid that helps to remove tarnish on brass and other metals; that’s why applying a tomato-based product can work wonders on your brass.

What is the Best Product to Clean Brass with?

All tomato-based products work equally well.

  1. Apply a layer to your brass.
  2. Leave it on for up to 1 hour.
  3. Then wash with warm water and dish soap.
  4. Repeat if needed.
  5. Dry it with a soft cloth.

05 Lemon and Baking Soda Paste Method

  • 3 tsp Lemon Juice
  • 1-2 tsp Baking Soda
  1. Stir until it becomes a paste.
  2. Apply the paste with a soft cloth.
  3. Let it sit for 15-30 minutes.
  4. Rinse with warm water and dry.

Note: If the tarnish is heavy let it sit up for the whole 30 minutes.

06 Lemon Juice and Salt Method

Probably one of the simplest methods of the entire post, as long as you have a lemon or lime on hand.

How Do You Clean Brass and Make it Shine?

To clean a slightly tarnished brass or copper item dip half a lemon or lime in salt and scrub the brass piece.

The salt is an exfoliating agent which scrubs the acid of the lemon or lime to rid tarnish, dirt, or grime. This also works on copper or silver.

07 Toothpaste Method

Now I know every household has this item in stock at all times! All that’s required to use this method is toothpaste, a clean soft cloth, and a bit of elbow grease.

If you’re like me you may be curious why toothpaste works. The acid in the paste dissolves the metal oxides that make the brass tarnish.

Can You Use Toothpaste to Clean Brass?

Surprisingly yes, you can clean brass using just toothpaste. It’s also a super simple process.

  1. Use a clean cloth to apply a small amount of toothpaste to your brass. 
  2. Let the toothpaste sit for 10 minutes.
  3. Then rinse it off with warm water.

08 Bar Keeper’s Friend

Bar Keeper’s Friend is an old friend in this household. The reason why this method is great is that I always have this on hand and I know how well it works on other things. However, I also know that it’s powerful and will completely strip the patina. So, keep that in mind.

Which is better Brasso or Bar Keepers Friend?

Brasso is the most recommended cleaner for brass. It gives a beautiful finish, doesn’t require excess scrubbing, and is inexpensive.

Bar Keeper’s Friend Soft Cleanser requires more scrubbing, but it’s multi-use so you aren’t stuck with a cleaner you won’t use again.

How to Clean Brass Using Bar Keeper’s Friend

  1. Wet the brass using a damp cloth or sponge.
  2. Apply Bar Keeper’s Friend powder or liquid to the sponge and scrub.
  3. Let it sit for one minute.
  4. Clean the surface using a soft sponge.
  5. Rinse.
  6. Use a soft dry towel to dry and polish.
  7. Repeat as needed.


Yes. All you need to do is coat the gold and brass with a layer of WD-40 and let it sit for 15-30 minutes. Take a clean cloth and rub the lamp in circular motions drying and buffing it up.

No. Hydrogen Peroxide is an oxidizing agent and will quickly cause oxidation on any brass item you’re trying to clean. Which would be the opposite reaction you’re looking for.

You can, however, use hydrogen peroxide on metals like brass and copper to quickly make them look rusted.

Brasso works wonders on copper, stainless steel, chrome, aluminum, pewter, and brass. It comes in a liquid form and is not corrosive, making it both simple and safe to use.

Acetic acid is the chemical that makes up vinegar. The main reason vinegar is an effective cleaning agent is that it’s an acid. And like other acids, it can corrode a wide array of substances, including patina on brass.

You should never use steel wool that’s thicker than grade 00, to avoid scratching the surface. And before you get started on polishing, always wash the brass before polishing it.

Avoid using highly abrasive scrubbing cloths or metal-bristled brushes, these will scratch the surface of the brass.

A single ornate brass candlestick I recently got from a flea market. It is likely brass-plated steel.

Thank you so much for stopping by! I hope these tips have been helpful. If you love brass candlesticks as much as I do then you may need to try a couple of these methods and see which ones work the best for you!



Meet the Author

Hi, I’m Julie! Mother to five beautiful kids, Homeschool Educator, Writer, Handicraft & DIY Enthusiast, Photographer, Thrifter, and Furniture Restorer. Follow along for fun DIY projects creating a handmade home on a budget! Read more about me here→


  1. Thank you for the info.
    I have 2 sets of candlesticks I inherited from an old estate.
    Both failed the Magnet test so figuring they’re brass.
    They’ve tarnished. One set-11.” Tall are so heavy I could knock someone out. The other 6” set has twisty bass it’s much lighter. I’ve got brasso-can I clean with that?

    1. Yes! You absolutely should be able to. I used it successfully on brass lamps and candlesticks. But just be aware it is REALLY stinky and takes quite a bit of elbow grease no matter what you use to clean it. Good luck!

  2. My grandmother left me brass candle sticks
    Like to have them redipped
    Know where
    I can go in New York

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