Asked on Aug 04, 2013

The Best Way to Clean Up Cast Iron and Brass

From my Flea Market finds I have a couple of cleaning jobs to do. What is a good way to clean cast iron? What is a good way to clean brass?

Brass candelabra
Cast iron piece
Details of the cast iron piece
Top of floor lamp, not sure what it is made from.
Light sockets of the floor lams.
Base of floor lamp.
Base of floor lamp close up.
  27 answers
  • Virgi S Virgi S on Aug 05, 2013
    I use white vinegar. Put enough in non-aluminum pan to cover item and leave two or three days. It's so easy! Great for old tools, too.
  • Nancy Dean Davis Nancy Dean Davis on Aug 05, 2013
    Okay thank you! I wasn't sure if vinegar was the best. I will give it a try.
  • JS JS on Aug 05, 2013
    Mixture of vinegar & baking soda
  • Marci N Marci N on Aug 05, 2013
    If you add salt to the vinegar it works faster. But you still have to polish it to get the rest of the corrosion off and get it to shine. I have read that hydrogen peroxide and baking soda work good too but I haven't tried it. hmmm I do have a small piece in front of my that is kinda tarnished.....I will try it now Well the peroxide & baking soda didn't do anything but mixed with the vinegar it foamed up and it taking the tarnish off with soaking. How well I am not sure. But its been 10 minutes and its not all off. I know there is a commercial stuff that works that my Mom had, stinks like heck but works with just a dip in the sink.
  • Alouette Borges Alouette Borges on Aug 05, 2013
    I also had an antique lamp in that condition a few years ago. I used a "brillo pad" on the rusty parts first and then spray painted it gold. A new lampshade and presto. So far all I get is, "if you ever want to sell me first".
  • Sia@South 47th Sia@South 47th on Aug 05, 2013
    @Nancy Dean Davis You want to remove all of the aged Patina????
  • Found & Fancied Goods Found & Fancied Goods on Aug 06, 2013
    I clean old tools. When I do, this works extremely well and very easy to do. You can choose to remove just enough as to leave the beautiful aged patina or clean in right down to the metal. It's up to you. For the cast iron and other rusted steel/iron...soak them in vinegar. The rust scrubbing involved. The time will depend on how much of the patina that is under the rust you want removed. Can be 24 hours to 72 hours There is sure to be a layer of protective finish that the manufacturer had applied to the metal, you don't want to remove this if you can help it. You will know if you are beginning to eat into the finish by feeling the surface of the metal. Once the majority of the rust has dissolved, the metal should begin to feel smoother. If it begins to feel like sandpaper...immediately remove it. Place directly in a bath of water with baking soda dissolved in it to neutralize the acidity of the vinegar. Let sit for about 5-10 minutes, then rinse with clean water. Dry immediately and extremely well. Let item sit to air dry, preferrably overnight. This will dry any moisture that has seeped into the pores of the metal. If you are going to paint the item, apply a good rust sealing (preventing) primer first. If you are going to leave it unpainted, be sure to rub the item down well with either motor oil or WD-40, or you can wax and polish it just like a piece of furniture. If you use oil or WD-40, coat item, let sit about a day or two, then wipe off any existing oil that did not soak into the metal. Be sure not to skip this important part or you piece will be left unfinished and will rust.
  • Found & Fancied Goods Found & Fancied Goods on Aug 06, 2013
    To remove tarnish from brass or any other metal...cover the bottom of a non metal container with aluminum foil. Place the item in making sure that the metal is touching the foil. Sprinkle item all over with baking soda. Pour boiling hot water over it until completely submerged. The tarnish should literally disappear before your eyes in an instant. If it doesn't, and this can happen with some metals (depends on the blend of alloy that was used) you may need to use another method. I like to use Nevr-Dull wiping cloths...wipes tarnish right off and doesn't smell. Dips smell but work well. Stay away from any rub on creams if you can, they tend to scratch even though they say they don't.
  • Debi McCoy Debi McCoy on Aug 06, 2013
    If you want it done presto try Naval Jelly -- any home improvement has it -- but be sure to do it outside and use rubber gloves.
  • J S J S on Aug 06, 2013
    Brasso for the brass / silver ect......vinegar for the cast iron. If cast iron is to be used for food, mineral oil to season the pan.
    • Barbara R Barbara R on Sep 24, 2013
      @J S I won't use mineral oil for cast iron pans. Vegetable or Olive Oil.
  • Nancy Dean Davis Nancy Dean Davis on Aug 06, 2013
    Oh thank you all so much! I want patina on both. I was going to try to paint and distress both the cast iron piece and candelabra. I will work with both to see what I actually want to do. Another thank you for your responses.
  • Marci N Marci N on Aug 06, 2013
    Oh you want to keep the patina then just clean it using a toothbrush to get the built up dirt off. It is pretty cool looking as is. I'm not sure on the electrical parts, if you want to use it as a light I would rewire it. I could kick myself for getting rid of my Moms old Chandler, I could have used the solar lights and put it outdoors. It was beautiful. Oh well hindsight 20/20
  • Sia@South 47th Sia@South 47th on Aug 06, 2013
    If you paint it then you will lose the original patina.
  • Adriana Maranto Adriana Maranto on Aug 09, 2013
    Am not sure if is the proper way to clean cast iron, but it works and fit in my busy schedule, I just put them in the oven, turn the cleaning cycle, wait until everything cool off, then just wipe with olive oil on paper towels, it sheds all residue
  • J S J S on Aug 10, 2013
    The oven cleaning cycle is a great idea and convenient. good to know. Thanks.
  • Lynn De Beer Lynn De Beer on Aug 11, 2013
    Make a paste using salt and lemon juice. Rub onto the item, leave for a few minutes and rinse it off. Polish.
  • Nancy Dean Davis Nancy Dean Davis on Aug 12, 2013
    So many helpful hints. I could not get the rust off the cast iron at all. The brass looks amazing and then I painted it. Thank you everyone! @hometalk #hometalk
  • Melissa Melissa on Feb 18, 2014
    What did you clean the brass with?
  • April April on Jul 02, 2014
    This is an excellent thread! I've wondered that myself before and had a similar question awhile back concerning an aged chandelier. Thanks for asking this! :)
  • Kelly S Kelly S on Jul 02, 2014
    I use a wire brush in my drill to clean anything iron based when all else fails. Be sure to wear safety glasses or goggles and the chunks and dust will fly. They sell wire brushes for drills at most home stores.
  • Karen Kay Babineaux Karen Kay Babineaux on Jan 17, 2015
    I use a toothbrush and tooth paste. Works great!
  • Renee Potts Hayes Renee Potts Hayes on Feb 22, 2015
    I have used a toothbrush and katchup to clean brass work wonderful
  • Annie Doherty Annie Doherty on Sep 18, 2016
    I have used ketchup, but I haven't tried toothpaste great post thanks.
  • Judy Cornelison Judy Cornelison on Nov 09, 2016
    You can clean cast iron in your self clean oven
  • Linda Linda on Feb 27, 2019

    2019 and this post is still helping frustrated owners of rusty tarnished metals! So many great ideas here are giving me some hope of resurrecting a couple of pieces I had given up on!

  • Michelle Leslie Michelle Leslie on Jan 06, 2021

    Hi Nancy, my Mom always used ketchup (tomato sauce) to clean her brass ornaments. Squirt some on a clean cloth and rub all over and then wipe off with a clean cloth and buff.

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

    I have several cleaning tutorials that might help you