Metal Polishing Guide

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Keep your best serving trays, bowls, jewelry, candlesticks and other formal pieces shiny and sanitized by polishing each metal the right way.

How To Polish Silver

Silver is a beautiful, but fragile metal, subject to tarnish, scratches and stains. Keep your silverware, jewelry, coins, picture frames and other household silver looking bright by polishing it before it becomes overly tarnished.

  • Silver jewelry is easy to clean by submerging it in liquid silver polish, available at any jewelry shop or most discount stores. Follow the package directions to dip the jewelry, rinse with clean water, then wipe dry.
  • Wash silverware, plates, and serving pieces with warm, soapy water, and avoid abrasive scrubs, rough sponges, or a sink filled with other items that can damage the silver. Don’t put silver in the dishwasher, where it will likely be damaged and worn. Dry your pieces after washing using a soft cloth.
  • You can rub away tarnish with a baking soda paste. Use a soft sponge to rub the paste into the tarnished silver, and let it sit for up to an hour for heavy tarnish. Rinse away the baking soda with warm water, then dry thoroughly.

How To Polish Brass

Brass is a lovely, warm looking alloy made from mixing copper and zinc. Used as a decorative trim metal on many items around the house, such as ceiling fans, doorknobs, fireplace trim and furniture trim, brass is also often used in ornate bedframes and household décor.

  • Many items are not pure brass, but simply coated with brass, so know what you are dealing with before cleaning. You can check by holding a magnet to the item. If the magnet sticks, your item is not pure brass, but probably just brass coating. You will need to exercise caution in cleaning, as the coating can be damaged. Clean coated brass with soapy water only, avoiding abrasive cleaners.
  • Brass is safe to wash with soap and water to remove oil, dust and general grunge. Use gentle dish soap, and a wet towel. After soaping the item, rinse with clean water to remove all suds, then wipe dry. If you are dealing with a lot of dirt or grease, use an old toothbrush to reach all the nooks and crannies and provide a little extra scrubbing power.
  • You can give a final polish to your solid brass by mixing the juice of a lemon with a bit of baking soda, and stirring into a paste. With a rag, rub this paste into your brass, paying special attention to any tarnished or dirty areas. Rinse off the paste, and wipe dry with a microfiber towel, buffing lightly fort the best shine.

How To Polish Stainless Steel

If you love the look of stainless steel in your kitchen, you must be a fan of the clean, contemporary style. But you probably don’t love the fingerprints and smudges that really show on this metal. Don’t worry; you can get your stainless appliances, sinks, countertops or serveware bright and shiny again.

  • Your basic go-to for cleaning stainless steel is nothing more than water and a paper towel or clean cloth. Microfiber cleaning cloths work especially well. Just moisten the cloth with warm water, wipe down your stainless steel, then dry with paper towels or cloth.
  • If food or grease has smudged on your counter or fridge, add a bit of mild dish detergent to your damp cloth, and rub well. Once the smudge is gone, wipe again with a wet, clean cloth, then dry thoroughly.
  • If you just want to remove fingerprints left by your kids, a quick spray of glass cleaner, wiped away with a dry cloth will whisk those spots away. Don’t use waxy cleaners or protectants on stainless steel, as these will leave a film.

How To Polish Gold

Though gold doesn’t tarnish, it does get dirty and dull from oils and dirt. You want your gold jewelry to shine like new, so give it a periodic cleaning.

  • If you don’t want to use a commercial jewelry cleaner, you can make your own solution at home. Mix a few drops of gentle dishwashing detergent in a bowl of warm water. If you have club soda, use that in place of regular water, as the carbonation will help loosen grime.
  • Let your gold piece soak for 15 minutes or so, then gently scrub with an old toothbrush. Rinse the jewelry under warm water, then dry with a soft towel.
  • Clean heavily soiled jewelry in a mixture of one part ammonia to six parts water. Soak the gold jewelry for one minute, then remove from the solution and rinse clean. Though this is an effective way to clean your gold, ammonia can cause gold to darken, so don’t use it frequently.

How To Polish Copper

Copper has a rich, warm glow that is unequaled by any other metal. However, copper also has a tendency to lose its shine and develop dark patches of tarnish. Keep your copper cookware, picture frames or other household copper attractive by cleaning with products you already have around the house.

  • If your copper is lacquered, avoid abrasive cleansers. You can tell a lacquered piece by its glossy finish, rather than a glow. Wash lacquered copper with warm, soapy water, and a sponge that is safe for use on nonstick cookware. Dry with a soft cloth.
  • For unlacquered copper, you can clean with a lemon and salt. Cut the lemon in half, and dip the cut portion into table salt. Use the salted lemon to scrub the copper, paying particular attention to any tarnished or dirty areas. Resalt the lemon as needed. When all tarnish and dirt are gone, rinse the piece in warm water, then dry thoroughly. Buff with a soft towel until the copper is glowing.

It might take a little bit of elbow grease to get your metal pieces shining like new, but the reward is worth the effort.

Last Updated: August 2, 2012
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About Michelle Ullman Michelle Ullman has lived and gardened in Southern California since childhood. A freelance writer, she covers topics ranging from gardening to home improvement to health issues. She also has experience as a catalog copywriter and poet. Michelle has trained and worked as a respiratory therapist and surgical technologist, but prefers to spend her time gardening, and walking with her dog. Michelle holds a Bachelor's Degree from Redlands University in Business Management. 

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