Asked on Feb 06, 2012

How do I clean a very old, solid brass lamp that is absolutely filthy?

Donna McCrummen
by Donna McCrummen
There are so many different opinions on the net! I wondered if any of our trusted talkers have done this and with what result? The lamp is actually a standing chandelier and is very intricate. Also, does anyone have an idea of value? Of course this is one of my CL finds.
Odd, it stands only 48" high. The wiring is old. I think this is from the late 40's early 50's
The base is marble. There are no markings on the bottom.
This is one of the arms. There are glass teardrops I took off to clean.
  40 answers
  • I would think it would depend upon what you want the final look to be. If you want to leave some of the patina on it, then rubbing it with brass polish would work. If you wanted to Make it look new again, then you would need to take the lamp apart and using a buffing wheel with polishing compound you would buff it back to its shiny self. In any case both will be a bit time consuming. Do you know if its solid brass or brass plated? This will determine how aggressive the polishing compound would need to be. There is a liquid polish that you simply rub on and it cleans. It is a acid, works fast, but the results tend not to last as long as it would if you used a polishing wheel. We use all sorts of polishing compounds both on our silver and silver with brass trim saddles. My wife uses a product that comes in a blue and red lettered can called Nevr-Dull It contains a wadding that has a chemical on it that works great. You need to wear gloves or your fingers will turn black when using it. You should be able to find it at the feed store in town. I think I have seen it there when I pick up food for horse on occasion.
  • Donna McCrummen Donna McCrummen on Feb 06, 2012
    Thanks Bob, it is solid brass. Any idea how old this might be? Or the value of it? I'll have a look at the feed store. Weird that they'd carry brass cleaner.
  • The cleaner is for brass, silver, copper, pewter ,glass, steel, aluminum and chrome. A little goes a long way. That store as you know carries all sorts of farm and animal stuff. As well as some horse tack and cleaning supplies. If they do not have any any tack shop should carry it locally. But they are the closest to you. You may even find it in a better hardware store as well. As far as age, there may be casting marks on the bottom somewhere that may provide a clue.
  • Paul M Paul M on Feb 07, 2012
    If you just want to keep the original look and the aging that has occurred over time then all you need is a good wash with a decent cleaner. A good orange based degreaser will get everything off unless you have some sort of chemical contamination that has etched into the metal. Just make sure it is good and dry before you plug it back in, and remove as much of the electrical components as you can before the wash. If you want to polish it and make it look like shiny brass then you will need to use a metal cleaner/polish like Bob mentioned, and then put a lot of elbow grease into it with a soft clean cloth. As the cloth gets soiled keep using a clean portion to continue the polish. If you have to get another cloth as needed.
  • What makes you think it is solid brass? When you clean a lamp like this one, you typically ruin any "value" it had or at least significantly reduce it. I would expect a lamp like this to be brass or bronze plated. Pretty piece....I'd just rewire it & add some custom shades
    • See 3 previous
    • Rte59846728 Rte59846728 on Mar 31, 2022

      I would hazard a guess it is more valuable without being polished up to shiny brass. People pay for age and authenticity. Just a clean rather than a full restoration of the shiny brass. People are all trying to make their brass look old, make the most of your genuine old piece! Rewiring it is worth it.

  • Donna McCrummen Donna McCrummen on Feb 07, 2012
    I just wiped it down. I was also concerned about ruining the value. I know it is solid brass because it is not magnetic and it is shiny yellow under the tarnish. AND it weights 22 lbs. yes, I weighed it. LOL That's pretty heavy for a lamp only 48" in height. I'm putting it for auction on Ebay.
  • Cool looking piece...surprised that it would be brass though. No makers marks on it anywhere? Good luck with Ebay!
  • Donna McCrummen Donna McCrummen on Feb 08, 2012
    I didn't see any marks - I need to get out the magnifying glass. Why are you surprised it's brass? Just wondering.
  • Try this web site for ID. May have something that may help.
  • Diana H Diana H on Feb 21, 2012
    i've heard you could use Ketchup...
  • Lisa S Lisa S on Feb 24, 2012
    Cover the candle parts with plastic bags and rubber bands so the electrical parts will not get wet. You can take a toothbrush and mild dishwasher detergent in warm water and clean the brass that way. Wipe off soapy water and dirt with a wet cotton cloth. Then once it is clean you can use a brass polish to remove tarnish. There are also sprays designed for crystal chandeliers that might clean the dirt off the brass. The dirt drips off so you would have to put the chandelier on a plastic cloth in another room. Cover the electrical parts with plastic wrap first.
  • Donna McCrummen Donna McCrummen on Feb 24, 2012
    Great ideas. I am selling this. Do you think it will have more appeal tarnished or polished?
    • Rte59846728 Rte59846728 on Mar 31, 2022

      Tarnished. If people want to polish it, they will, or they will appreciate the authentic ageing. Either way, you can't lose, because somebody else does the polishing if they like shiny brass, because they can imagine its potential. In this era, authentic aged pieces have more value.

  • John Reling John Reling on May 03, 2013
    Cut the sandpaper into 4 pieces to fit my sander, clip it on the sander.
  • Jeffrey Landis Jeffrey Landis on Jun 11, 2014
    Donna; serious collectors of just about anything (including lamps) ALWAYS prefer (and willing to pay more for) objects in their current condition. Also, if you have not determined the lamp's maker it's even MORE important to leave it untouched. Many people who find authentic antique furniture go to great pains and expense to "refinish" the item only to learn later they have reduced it's value by at least 50%. I know it may sound weird, but collectors WANT all the wear, oxidation and "dirt" collectively referred to as "patina" because those things add to it's character and are clues to it's history. When it comes to lamps, collectors even prefer to buy one with the original wiring, yet often the sellers think they are doing themselves and a buyer a service to "upgrade" what they consider to be unsafe wiring and sockets. Even if the wiring is such that the lamp doesn't work and must be replaced, be sure to save all the original bits of wire, screws sockets and so forth regardless of condition to include when it's offered for sale. Many times the only clues to a lamp's origin are found on these things. For instance, I recently rescued a mid-century Danish modern lamp and was exasperated when I was unable to find anything to tell me it's maker. It is in great condition with exception of the brass plated flare mounted on the foot where the cord entered. I love the lamp and decided to keep it and came very close to removing the ring to re-plate it but just never got around to it. Last week, I was researching Danish modern furniture and stumbled upon info and even historic catalogs that clearly showed my lamp was made by MARSHALL STUDIOS that were very collectible. The hunch was confirmed when I located their signature located on the brass-plated base of the lamp right next to the hole where the cord goes through. The signature was applied with a dye or paint and almost looked like a smudge of dirt or tarnish. If I had "refinished" the base to make it look "new" the proof would have been lost forever. When it comes to reselling objects from the past. I exercise one of the tenants of the Hippocratic oath; "First, do no harm". Which essentially means that unless you are absolutely certain you know what is wrong with the patient and how to treat them, you are better off to do nothing because sometimes the cure is more harmful than the condition. Jeff
  • Rhonda Clements Rhonda Clements on Jun 12, 2014
    It really looks like brass plate to me, how do you know it is solid brass?
  • Joc372129 Joc372129 on Jul 15, 2014
    Stop!! I had Grandma's very old solid brass with crystals chandlier , we took it apart completely rewired it and soaked the brass pieces in ketchup. It turned out great. Don't use harsh chemicals on something that old and value. Try it, it works!!!
  • Arl675678 Arl675678 on Oct 16, 2014
    Joca - I am in the process of doing the same - except with Fireplace pokers. How did you do yours? I have mine in a stainless steel sink - filled with water till the water is just above the pokers (perhaps like an inch) ,and then I added 1/2 bottle (the largest bottle they sold) of ketchup. RIght now, they ahve been in there for an hr.... I plan to go and softly scrub them..... thanks
  • Adventures In Junking Adventures In Junking on Oct 19, 2014
    Growing up I cleaned antique brass and copper for my family's antique auction and always used Brasso - a commercial (and relatively inexpensive) cleaner made for those metals
  • Adventures In Junking Adventures In Junking on Oct 19, 2014
    PS - it's magnificent. You might want to see for some ideas. I would be turning that baby into a candelabra.
  • Elaine Elaine on Oct 19, 2014
    I think that is a cast metal, they were the rage in the 40s and 50s, I doubt you will get it any brighter then it is, it looks in great shape, well cared for, its beautiful for sure and would make a beautiful Fowyer piece. Good luck.
  • Rabs Rabs on Mar 08, 2015
    Clean it with tamarind It removes the build up And brass starts shining
  • Sandra Whittier Sandra Whittier on May 17, 2015
    Oh, how beautiful!. Go to a car parts store and ask for a all metal cleaner. Do not go with Brasso or any of those and make sure it is liquid, use lots of clean rags and soft old tooth brushes to shine it with. Another option is to go to a brass cleaning store where they dip in in solvent and will cover it in a urethane so you never need to clean it again. I bet they would even rewire it for you. On internet is the only other answer. I use the all metal car cleaner once a year because I love the look of the aging process and set it about three months before Christmas. They look like a show piece without looking, too new.
  • Pet2676681 Pet2676681 on Oct 18, 2015
    Toothpaste works pretty good ...I have an old Brass Lamp and cleaned with Toothpaste containing a little baking Soda ..( Arm & Hammer ) ..the Results are pretty good :)
  • Susan Susan on Oct 18, 2015
    I would spray paint it a shiny gold, why not?
  • Susan Ziegler Susan Ziegler on Dec 17, 2015
    I use Kotton Klenser Brand that I bought off the internet. professionals use it. They make cleaners for wood, metal and fine art paintings.
  • And3955707 And3955707 on Jan 15, 2016
    How much is that lamp worth
  • Lynn Lynn on Jan 15, 2016
    i would try barkeeper's friend. i use this on all of my brass hardware, plates, etc. you need to make a paste and let it sit a bit. toothbrush for all the crevices.
  • Susan Susan on Jan 16, 2016
    Now that I see the lamp, that it isn't just pretty ordinary, I could change my original view on what to do about it. You haven't said if the cleaners suggested worked to your satisfaction. If I owned that lamp, I would remove the shade fixture and put a bulb in it that looks like the others bulbs but would fit the socket. What would you do with it. Do you have a spot in mind? It is unique. I'd still might spray paint it a nice shinny gold or white or aqua or teal. I don't think it really matters who made it, it's yours now to enjoy in a way that pleases you. Have fun with it.
  • Elaine Elaine on Jan 17, 2016
    some of this old pieces are not brass just coated, scratch on the bottom and see if its brass or core iron. then best figure out how to clean it. I collected brass for a long time and used Brasso cotton. it worked very well, plus there is companys out there that would clean it for you if it's all brass. it's beautiful! good luck.
  • Rabs Rabs on Jan 18, 2016
    Take a mix of tamrind and salt.......rub lamp with this.....if it is will awesome
  • Nikki Deanne Nikki Deanne on Jan 24, 2017

    Hi. Beautiful lamp ! Its an antique brass candleabbra chandalier table lamp worth between $200-$300. If is Hollywood Regency its closer to $400. 1950-60s is my best guess.

  • Jcraw Jcraw on Jan 28, 2017

    If this lamp is brass, it's been lacquered, likely to keep it from tarnishing. Do as Elaine suggests and scratch the underside to see if it is brass. Also, try several spots with a good magnet. Brass is not magnetic.

    It does look right, in which case your first effort will be to get rid of the lacquer. There's a chance only the stalk itself has been lacquered. There are several suggestion on the net: hot vinegar, acetone, coke, and obviously lacquer thinner. Mr Clean pads are so weird, I might try swiping one over an unobtrusive spot.

    When starting the project you will probably want to take off the "candles." Try to leave the wiring intact because it will be a lot easier to re through those small arms if the old wire can be the pulled thru. Then get out your toothbrushes and small scrub brushes for the arms, because the beauty is in the details.

  • Anna B Anna B on Jan 28, 2017

    I have some ancient brass very detailed candlesticks. They were so covered with gunk and builup when I got them, I wasn't even sure they were truly brass. I used a cleaner called Brasso (can be used on most metals) lots of elbow grease and patience and they looked gorgeous when I was finished.

  • Marti Marti on Jan 29, 2017

    What about Brasso? Used in the military to clean and shine belt buckles. Sold at most any store.

  • Sheila Sheila on Jan 30, 2017

    Try Never Dull found at O'Reilly's Auto Store or on line. Used it on my brass handles on our chest. Cleaned and brightened them.

  • Karen Mike Pippin Karen Mike Pippin on Oct 19, 2017

    I'm using ketchup on my hanging antique lamp. I just want to aged gunk off not to polish or make it shine. I want to show the age but has a lot of smoke where my husband smokes at the kitchen table..Any other suggestions?

  • Lisa S. Lisa S. on Oct 19, 2017

    I the vent that this is not solid brass - consider spray painting.

  • Donna n Donna n on May 10, 2018

    depends on the buyer, some like the tarnish, others prefer shiney. i myself prefer some tarnish but not all black..

  • Chas' Crazy Creations Chas' Crazy Creations on Aug 01, 2022

    I have several cleaning tutorials that might help you