Things You'll Need
Clean cotton cloths
Emory cloth and buffing pads
Rotary tool or mini-sander
Extra-fine steel wool
You can purchase lacquer remover or acetone at most home centers. If you don't think you'll use a quart of acetone, a highly toxic and corrosive chemical that melts plastic, try buying a bottle of nail polish remover. Its chief ingredient is acetone. A variety of cleaners are available to use on unlacquered brass in addition to the traditional metal polishes. Environmentally-friendly citric acid-based cleaners are proven effective. A homemade solution of lemon juice, salt and water is a traditional compound for polishing brass.
Wear gloves and eye protection when handling corrosive materials or acids. Never use abrasives on plated brass. The plating is very thin and you could ruin the piece instead of enhancing it. Take plated metals to a professional for help.
Brass and silver serving dishes or chargers make a stylish table but often suffer scratches and dents while in use. Although the silver used in jewelry, cutlery and hollowware is hardened with other metals, the brass in these items is usually soft enough that minor scratches can be repaired with a few special compounds and some patience. Some brass may be hardened too, but try these simple remedies before making a trip to the jeweler.
Test your brass. Since brass is such a soft metal, utensils and decorative items are often finished with a protective lacquer coating. Your scratch may be in the coating rather than in the brass itself. Clean your piece of brass well and buff it thoroughly. Then, take a bit of lacquer thinner or acetone on a soft cotton cloth and rub the scratch to remove the coating. If the scratch disappears, buff energetically and restore the protective coating. A thin coat of clear nail polish or metal lacquer will work as a replacement coating.
Start gently with surface scratches. If your brass is not lacquered, clean it well with a polish formulated for use on brass. Buff energetically to see how much of the scratch can be worked out by buffing. As with any precious metal, use only soft cotton or cotton felt cloth or buffing pads to avoid further scratching. Wool and polyesters can be abrasive. Rub the scratch with your buffing cloth or pad in a circular motion until the surface of the metal feels warm. The scratch may soften and flatten out as the metal gets warm. If the scratch doesn't soften, you may need to use some more abrasive tools.
Use abrasion wisely. If you think you need to use abrasives, make absolutely sure that you are working with solid, not plated brass. A magnet will stick to solid brass. Take plated brass to the jeweler or refinisher. Start with a gentle abrasive. Try jeweler’s rouge, applied with a soft cloth and rubbed in a circular motion. If the scratch is still obvious, use as fine an emery cloth or steel wool as you can find to wipe lightly across (at a right angle) the scratch until it disappears and you can see only the shallow scratches left by the abrasive material. Polish with rouge or brass polish and buff it back to an even shine to match the surrounding brass.
Use technology lightly. Electric rotary tools and mini-sanders can be used to buff out scratches but be very careful to hold them lightly on the surface. Again, work across the scratch to abrade and, in a circular motion, to buff. Avoid trying to hurry the job. There is nothing more frustrating than having to sit for hours buffing out a scratch that could have been removed with a less damaging approach.
When you're done, restore the finish. Polish the entire piece and buff thoroughly. You should not be able to see your repair. Most metal polishes lay down a tarnish-resistant coating that will last for a few weeks. Regular polishing is the best way to avoid further scratches due to energetic cleaning to remove heavy tarnish.
An avid perennial gardener and old house owner, Laura Reynolds has had careers in teaching and juvenile justice. A retired municipal judgem Reynolds holds a degree in communications from Northern Illinois University. Her six children and stepchildren served as subjects of editorials during her tenure as a local newspaper editor.