A lacquer coating might keep your brass fixtures nice and shiny for a while. But soon the layer begins to dull and turn yellow, which is never a good look. Worse still, you can't reach the brass itself to give it a good polish, so it begins to tarnish. The best solution is to remove the lacquer, so you can polish the brass bits, wax them or paint them. You can remove the coating with a homemade solution of baking soda and water or with a commercial lacquer stripper.
Portable brass items, like bowls or candlesticks, will be much easier to treat. If possible, remove fixed brass items from their surroundings. Detach brass finials or ornaments from curtain rods or beds and remove hinges and brass knockers from doors.
Solid or Plated?
Solid brass is much tougher and can withstand stronger chemicals when stripping off the lacquer. Plated brass, however, is easier to damage and scratch, so it needs a more delicate touch. Use a magnet to check whether an item is solid or plated brass. If it attracts the magnet, the piece is metal with a thin brass coating. It won't be very receptive to most methods of removing the lacquer, though baking soda and water is the gentlest option.
Bring to Boil
Mix a tablespoon of baking soda with 33 ounces of water in a large cooking pot and bring to a boil. While the water is simmering, immerse your brass item or items and leave for 15 minutes. The lacquer coating should peel away. Fish out the brass using tongs or a large spoon, being careful to protect your hands, and rinse in hot water from the tap. Once cooled, wipe over the brass with non-oily acetone nail polish remover to get rid of any stubborn flakes. (Skip this last step if the item is brass plated.)
Strip and Polish
Thicker lacquer coatings might be too stubborn to remove with household products. In this case, use a commercial lacquer remover, found at most hardware and DIY stores. Prepare by wearing gloves and protective eyewear, as the fumes can be toxic. Follow the product instructions and then finish with a brass polish. For a rougher, more antique look, use steel wool or fine-grit sandpaper to further dull the finish.
Nooks and Crannies
A door handle with a smooth finish will be much easier to de-lacquer than an ornate candlestick with intricate details. Using a paintbrush will help you reach crevices when applying a commercial lacquer remover. To remove any remaining flakes from nooks and crannies, cut thin strips of clean cloth and pull back and forth over any indentations. You can reach the tough bits with a putty knife or hard plastic scraper.