Cleaning Metals Without Proprietary Cleaners | Anyclean

updated: 16/11/2023

My mother used to be in charge of cleaning the brass candlesticks and the like in our local church (made sense – she was the vicar’s wife, after all). We used this pink proprietary polish for the brass that always made my hands itch after using it when I helped her polish everything. And then there was another polish for the silver chalices that had to be cleaned off thoroughly so we didn’t end up poisoning the whole congregation by mistake.

Is there some way to polish metal so it’s bright and gleaming the way it ought to be that won’t leave your hands itchy with harsh chemicals? Apparently, there are, and I don’t mean wearing rubber gloves, which is a solution used by many to protect sensitive skin when doing the regular domestic cleaning.

To clean silver, you can use aluminium foil, baking soda and boiling water. No, you will not have to put your hands in boiling water – that’s worse than any chemicals. How you do it is like this: line a bucket with aluminium foil and put the silver things to be cleaned on top. Mix boiling water and sodium bicarbonate together – one teaspoon of soda to one cup of boiling water. Pour it over the silver and let it react – you should see bubbles rising. Once this happens, fish the silverware out with tongs, rinse it well and rub it dry with a nice soft cloth. A similar method is supposed to work for grubby oven racks, except you coat the rungs of the racks with a paste of sodium bicarbonate and then wrap each rung with aluminium foil. Then you put them in the bath and pour hot water over and let the aluminium and baking soda react and do their job. For silver with egg stains, dipping the spoon (or other silver) in the water the eggs were boiled in to remove the stains. I can’t vouch for this one, as I have learned by experience that eating boiled eggs with a silver spoon tastes weird as the sulphur in the egg reacts with the silver.

Cream of tartar mixed to a paste with water is also supposed to be good for cleaning silver. Don’t expect to do this one in a hurry – it takes a week. If you want to try this method, wash the dried paste off the silver at the end of the week with hot soapy water.

To clean brass, mix equal portions of white flour, vinegar and salt. Rub it on the brass, leave the paste to dry – just like regular polish – then wipe of with a damp cloth. Half a lemon dipped in salt can be used to scrub badly stained brass.

One traditional method for cleaning copper is to use buttermilk – wipe it on and leave for ten minutes before cleaning off with a damp cloth. But who has buttermilk these days? Instead, use a paste made from salt and vinegar. Rub this on, leave it for a minute or so, then rub off again. The book I found this tip in did not mention whether keeping salt and vinegar crisps in a copper bowl helps keep the bowl clean, but I wouldn’t recommend it, as copper isn’t good for you in large amounts.

Other metals not listed above can be cleaned with plain old baking soda and a bit of water to mix it to a paste. With this method, you have to leave the paste to cake on for an hour so it can react with the corroded metal. Take the old paste off with a damp cloth.

There is a lot to be said for good old stainless steel – it’s so easy to clean and keep shiny.

About the author 

Nick Vassilev

Nick blogs about cleaning. He is a cleaning expert with more than 25 years of experience. He is also an NCCA-certified carpet cleaner. Founder and CEO of Anyclean.