How to Turn Shiny Brass to Antique Brass

Brass fixtures and fittings were all the rage a few decades ago, but that super-shiny look has fallen out of fashion. Let's face it – door handles don't stay gleaming for long, and endlessly polishing away grubby fingerprints is a pain. Luckily, it's easy to transform shiny brass to create a lovely antique finish that will look far more stylish. Anything from picture frames to fancy candelabras can become vintage-style fixtures using items such as vinegar, salt and baking soda or paint. They'll be good as old in no time.

old decorative chandelier
credit: aerogondo/iStock/GettyImages
How to Turn Shiny Brass to Antique Brass

Prep Work

Clean the object in warm, soapy water to remove any grease, dust or debris. Dry with a soft cloth. For handles and other fixtures that are difficult to remove, this can be done while they're still attached, though items handled regularly may need a good scrub. If the brass is lacquered or varnished, soak the item in paint stripper overnight or rub it off with sandpaper. You can also coat with acetone nail polish remover before soaking in boiling water for a few minutes. The fixtures would need to be removed to do this. Take care when using paint stripper and acetone, as they are highly flammable and the fumes can be toxic.

Salt and Vinegar

Using a salt and vinegar rub is the simplest and cheapest way to rough up your brass. Mix one part salt into three parts vinegar and apply to the brass with a paintbrush. Malt, white wine or cider vinegar all work well. The acidity causes the brass to rapidly oxidize, the process that tarnishes brass over time. Leave overnight, then rinse thoroughly before drying with a soft cloth. You could also soak brass items in the salt and vinegar mixture. Leave for at least an hour, then remove the items and bake at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes. Allow to cool before buffing with a cloth.

Fake It With Paint

You can buy spray paints that mimic the antique brass color. Just place the object or objects on newspaper, outdoors or in a well-ventilated area. Spray according to instructions. For a more rustic look, layer it up. Start with a thin layer of black spray paint followed by burnished gold, then a final layer of black. Avoid spraying too thickly – the colors should blend together. Leave to dry overnight. You could also lightly rub paint off the edges with fine sandpaper to give an aged appearance.

Give It a Rub

Shop around for a wax rub, made with metallic powders and pigments. Most ranges come in metallic colors and black. The wax is suitable for any surface and can be rubbed on by hand or with a soft cloth before buffing away. It will give a more luxurious, subtle sheen to bright yellow brass. Another instant solution is brass darkener. Brass items age decades within a few seconds in the liquid.