Things You'll Need
Because it's high in citric acid, lemon juice also dissolves copper oxidation. If you want to make a simple cleaner, sprinkle salt on half a lemon slice and rub the brass with the lemon.
Wear gloves when working with ammonia and vinegar. When working with lacquer thinner, you also need a respirator.
Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc that has been in use since 500 B.C. It is distinguishable from bronze, a related copper alloy, by its muted golden-yellowish tones: bronze has more of a dark, reddish hue. Brass tarnishes when the copper leaches to the surface and oxidizes, and although commercial brass cleaning products effectively clean it, you can make effective cleaners with household ingredients. When cleaning items such as drawer pulls, first ensure they aren't lacquered. If they are, you must remove the lacquer before you can clean the metal.
Remove the drawer pulls from the drawers. They are usually attached with screws that you can loosen from inside the drawer, using a screwdriver.
Examine the pulls for lacquer. If the pulls are relatively tarnish-free, they are likely to be lacquered; you can probably distinguish a subtle plastic-like film. If no lacquer coating is present, you can remove it with a solvent.
Immerse the pulls in a bowl of lacquer thinner, which is available at any hardware store. Let them sit for about 5 minutes, then remove the pulls and wipe them with a dry cloth. The lacquer should be gone. If you see any signs of a residue, immerse it again for a minute and wipe it once more with the cloth.
Dissolve tarnish -- which is mostly oxidized copper -- by immersing the pulls in white vinegar for an hour. If that doesn't dissolve all the tarnish, soak the pulls in ammonia for the same amount of time. Use ammonia only as a last resort; it's corrosive and may erase any light engraving on the metal.
Make a paste by dissolving a teaspoon of salt in 1/2 cup of vinegar and mixing in flour. Use the paste to rub dirt and discoloration from contours and corners and to polish the drawer pulls. Rub with a non-abrasive cloth to avoid scratching the metal. Clean the residue with another cloth.
Spray a single coat of lacquer on the drawer pulls, using an aerosol can, if you want to give them extra protection from dirty fingers. Let the lacquer dry for two or three hours before reattaching the pulls to the drawers.
Chris Deziel is a contractor, builder and general fix-it pro who has been active in the construction trades for 40 years. He has degrees in science and humanities and years of teaching experience. An avid craftsman and musician, Deziel began writing on home improvement topics in 2010. He worked as an expert consultant with eHow Now and Pro Referral -- a Home Depot site. A DIYer by nature, Deziel regularly shares tips and tricks for a better home and garden at Hunker.com.