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MAINTENANCE : Elbow Grease and Polish Make Metals Shine

March 05, 1994|From Associated Press

You can choose from a variety of commercial metal polishes, or even make your own, to bring back the sparkle in copper, brass, pewter or silver.

Most commercial polishes contain tarnish retardants, so they help maintain a shine as well as remove tarnish. To avoid damaging the finish, you'll want to choose a polish designed especially for the metal that needs cleaning. After cleaning, be sure to buff or wash away all polish because any traces will hasten tarnishing.

Here are some specific cleaning and polishing tips:

Brass and Copper

* Don't use polish of any type on lacquered objects. Wash them in lukewarm sudsy water; rinse; dry, and buff with a soft cloth.

* For unlacquered bright finishes, wash in hot sudsy water and rinse. Apply brass or copper polish with a soft cloth or brush. Let the polish dry thoroughly, then buff with a soft clean cloth.

* For dull finishes, mix rottenstone and linseed oil (available from hardware stores) to form a heavy cream. Apply with a soft cloth and rub vigorously. Wipe off the excess, then polish with a soft clean cloth.

* If you prefer to make your own polish, you can clean slightly tarnished copper or brass by mixing equal parts of salt, vinegar and flour. Rub the paste on with a soft cloth. Because salt is corrosive, be sure to rinse the piece thoroughly before buffing it.

* Rub stubborn stains with salt and vinegar or lemon juice. Or rub them with a piece of lemon dipped in hot vinegar and salt. Wash, rinse and dry. If this fails, use a commercial polish.


Modern pewter (also called Brittania metal) is an alloy of tin, antimony and copper. It resists tarnish quite well and usually needs only an occasional washing in warm, soapy water. Rinse well and dry thoroughly.

Dust and burnish old pewter with a soft cloth. If the tin and lead in it cause a brown tarnish, remove it with a bath in washing soda. If necessary, rub the surface with extra-fine (grade 000) steel wool dipped in vegetable oil. Because of the lead content, don't eat or drink from old pewter utensils.

You can polish modern and old pewter with commercial pewter cleaners or make your own modern pewter restorer with ingredients from the hardware store. For a duller matte, mix rottenstone and vegetable oil. For brighter matte finishes, apply a paste of pumice and water. Apply either paste with a soft cloth and rub gently. For shiny pewter, use automobile polish and follow label directions. Or mix a paste of powdered whiting and denatured alcohol. When the paste is dry, polish with a clean, soft cloth.


Fine silver should be used frequently, not packed away for special occasions. Continual use enhances its beauty.

* As soon as silver flatware has been cleared from the table, wash it in hot sudsy water, then rinse it in clear hot water.

* To prevent water-spotting, don't allow silverware to air-dry. Dry with a lint-free towel.

* Antique or oxidized silverware may not be dishwasher-safe. Hot water can loosen hollow handles on antique (or even modern) flatware and may dissolve a decorative oxidized pattern.

* Dip polishes will also remove an oxidized pattern. Use a commercial cream or paste polish instead.

* The outer layer of a silver-plated item is soft and thin. Avoid harsh rubbing and frequent polishing. Use a dip polish instead.

* To clean tarnish from the edges of fork tines, rub them with a string coated with silver polish.

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