How to Clean Old Brass Lamps

Good old-fashioned lamplight remains to be one of the best ways to add charm and ambiance to a room. My favorite lamps to pick up when I can find them are the classic, heavy solid brass. Here are a few great tips to help you clean old brass lamps and bring them back to their former glory.

Green glass desk lamp after having been cleaned with brasso brass polish bright and shiny and renewed life.

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I love brass, it’s really that simple. Whether it’s a brass chandelier (or other light fixtures), candlesticks, switch plates, brass decorative objects like figurines, or another brass object, I love them all!

And recently my favorite treasure to hunt for is a vintage lamp for home decor. In fact, they’re definitely in my top 15 Functional Decor Ideas for Your Home.

But it isn’t uncommon to deal with green oxidation on tarnished brass. As well as an accumulation of dust, especially if you’re thrifting. It’s always a good idea to take special care when you clean brass items since they are prone to scratching.

Is it Real Brass or Brass-Plated Steel?

To choose the proper cleaning solution or cleaning methods you’ll want to know if it’s fake brass, stainless steel, a mixture of other metals, brass-plated items, or genuine brass.

How Can I Tell If My Lamp is Brass?

Whether it’s thrifted antique brass items or a family heirloom there is one simple way to be sure a brass object is a solid brass or a brass-plated piece. You need a magnet, a refrigerator magnet will do. If the magnet sticks to the surface of the brass it’s likely steel. If it were the real thing the magnet wouldn’t attract.

How Do You Tell if a Brass Lamp is Lacquered?

The easiest way to tell if a brass lamp is lacquered is if the lacquer is chipping or peeling. Otherwise, the surface would be in impeccable condition as the lacquer is there to protect the brass finish. And if it is intact it would simply need a good wipe down with a soft rag.

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Four Simple Ways to Clean Old Brass Lamps

Now that you’ve determined if your brass piece is solid brass, not just a thin layer of brass, and not covered with a protective coating like lacquer, it’s time to choose the right brass cleaner.

You can most definitely pick from true brass cleaners or brass polish, like Brasso right off the bat. Especially if you know your old brass lamp is going to require one of those tougher cleaner jobs.

But on the off chance that a more mild cleaner will work, it may be worth trying out an easy way with common household items first.

01. The Best Option

Before you dive into strong chemicals, lacquer finish, or other cleaning supplies the easiest way to start is to dip a toe in. So, start off with a soft cleaning cloth, warm water, an old toothbrush, and mild soap.


Warm Soapy Water Method

  1. Take a soft cloth, like a microfiber cloth, and remove any dust.
  2. Then fill a small bucket with hot water and a bit of liquid soap.
  3. Use your soft clean cloth, hot soapy water, and a bit of elbow grease to scrub.
  4. Use a clean toothbrush to scrub in the smaller crevices of the lamp.
  5. Use a clean dry cloth to dry it off. Leaving any water or moisture on brass will cause it to tarnish and undo all your hard work.

2. When Life Gives You Lemons

For tougher cleaning jobs, this is the second best way to clean old brass lamps. In my humble opinion, the next logical step is with this easy salted lemon trick.


Note: If you haven’t a lemon on hand you can also use one part lemon juice and one part salt with a clean rag to apply it.

Salted Lemon Brass Cleaner

  1. First, cut your lemon in half.
  2. Then sprinkle 1 teaspoon of salt straight onto the lemon.
  3. At this point, hold the lemon rind and use the lemon as a scrubby brush with the salt as the abrasive size.
  4. Then scrub in a circular motion.
  5. Let the solution sit for 10-15 minutes.
  6. Then rinse all of the salt and vinegar off of the brass.
  7. Lastly, thoroughly dry your brass lamp with a clean dry cloth.

3. A Paste For Tough Stains

If a very simple cleaning isn’t enough to polish up your old brass lamp then it’s definitely time to try this equal parts cream of flour, salt, and white vinegar. This easy cleaner works hard to polish brass lamps in dire need.

Before picture of a tall adjustable art deco brass lamp that is very dirty.
The Before. It was dusty and quite damaged from years of neglect and abuse. Though I didn’t mind the patina and I rather liked the blue oxidation marks on the base.
An after shot of the same tall art deco adjustable brass lamp after being cleaned.
The After. Not a huge difference because of the extent of damage, but it is cleaner and that counts for something.


Flour, Salt, and Vinegar Paste

  1. In a small bowl create a fine solution with your flour, salt, and vinegar.
  2. Clean any loose dust or particles off of the lamp prior to starting. Even small bits can scratch the surface.
  3. Then apply a thin coat of the paste all over the metal surface.
  4. Let it dry and sit for about 10 minutes.
  5. Rinse the solution off of the old brass lamp.
  6. Dry thoroughly with a clean dry cloth.

4. The Last Resort

There are obviously far more than just three ways to polish and clean old brass lamps, and I’ll discuss a few more options below. For this cleaner, you will need tomato sauce (or other tomato-based products, like ketchup or tomato paste).

Condiment Cleaner

  1. First, remove any dirt or loose particles from the brass lamp’s surface.
  2. Then apply a generous amount of your chosen tomato-based product all over the brass surface.
  3. Let it sit for up to 1 hour.
  4. Scrub it with a soft cloth like microfiber or terry cloth.
  5. Then rinse the lamp off thoroughly.
  6. Lastly, dry the old brass lamp well with a clean dry cloth.

Other Methods to Clean Old Brass Lamps

If you did a quick Google search you would be inundated with all the options to clean old brass lamps (or other brass items). There are really many ways to get it clean you need two main ingredients in any recipe, an acid and an abrasive.

The one main advantage of using standard brass polishes is they leave a protective coating on the surface. This helps prevent tarnish and discoloration over time.

Another great way to keep your old lamps looking shiny and clean is to avoid touching the brass surface too often. This is because the oils in your skin actually accelerate tarnishing. With regular proper maintenance, your old brass lamps will shine beautifully for years to come.

Note: Always use a soft cloth when cleaning (never, ever steel wool) and polishing to prevent scratching the surface of any brass object.


To clean your old brass lamp base, fill a small bowl with warm soapy water and use a clean soft cloth to gently rub the surfaces thoroughly. For crevices use an old clean toothbrush. Rinse your brass lamp and thoroughly dry it with a clean dry cloth.

To clean and polish an old brass first wipe off any dust with a soft cloth before cleaning. Then clean with warm soapy water. Rinse and dry it thoroughly. To give it a good shine you can use brass polish or WD40. Apply generously in circular motions to buff.

Yes, you can clean brass objects with toothpaste. First dust the surface thoroughly. Then apply the toothpaste to the brass surface. Let the toothpaste sit for a few minutes, and then rinse it off with cold water. Dry brass thoroughly to prevent tarnishing.

To get an idea about your old brass lamp’s age look for a manufacturer’s symbol, name, or date stamp embedded into the base. The next best way is to look at the cord. Fabric or cotton-covered cords are another sign of an older lamp. 

The best way to make your brass lamp shine is to use a brass polish. You can use Brasso, Mr. Metal Liquid Polish, or even WD40 to give it a new shine. Use a clean soft cloth to buff your brass polish onto the surface.

Thank you so much for stopping by! I hope I have given you some inspiration, ideas for creativity, and maybe a push to start creating your own wonderland one piece or project at a time.

Don’t forget to come back for more great projects like these DIY Projects and many more!


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→

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