How To Clean Metals Without Damaging Them

Aluminium can be wiped clean with a damp cloth, and then polished off with a soft dry cloth. See also saucepans, above.


After a time unlacquercd brass will tarnish, then corrode. You can clean brass with a cut lemon rubbed in salt, or with salt and vinegar. Or use a good metal polish. Acetone will remove old lacquer finishes.


Usually, dry dusting is all that is needed, as some ageing of the metal is considered desirable, but very dirty articles can be washed in a hot detergent solution and then rubbed with turpentine to restore the sheen. You can buy multi-purpose polishes which can be used on a number of different metals, including bronze. Use one of these polishes on bronze cutlery, which should not be placed in a dishwasher.

Chrome usually only requires wiping with a damp cloth plus a little detergent. Avoid abrasives. Use a cloth which has been dipped in a little bicarbonate of soda to treat grimy or greasy areas. For badly pitted chrome use a rust remover, if necessary, or a chrome cleaner from a motor car accessory shop.

Copper can be rubbed with a cut lemon dipped in salt. Copper cleaners are also available from hardware or department stores. See also saucepans, above.

Gold should only be washed if necessary in a warm soapy solution. Dry gently with a soft cloth.

Iron and steel will rust if left unprotected and exposed to the air. To remove rust, use emery paper or a wire brush, plus a rust remover following directions very carefully, as some contain dangerous chemicals.

When the metal is clean and bright, protect immediately with a coating of grease. Or prime with special paint primer, followed by undercoat and gloss. You can buy special matt black paints for black ironwork, and the finish can then be revived from time to time with a black lead-like polish sold in a small tube, available from hardware stores.

Pewter can be washed in warm water with a few drops of washing-up liquid, and dried with a soft cloth. Then rub over with methylated spirits. Beware of using metal polishes which will scratch mirror finishes.

Silver is tarnished by sulphur and moisture in the air. Gradually, the tarnish turns silver black and finally will corrode the metal. The following will all stain silverware and should be removed as soon as possible, in particular from cutlery: eggs, fish, green vegetables, fruit juices, sugar, mustard, salt and vinegar. Use a good proprietary cleaner for silver, polishing with a chamois leather; polishes are now available which actually retard future tarnishing. In between polishing, use an impregnated cloth to keep silver bright. For intricately patterned pieces, silver foams are available which can be rinsed off under the tap. Cutlery can be soaked in silver-dipping solutions, which will clean but not polish. Remove cutlery as soon as stains disappear. Avoid soaking the join between the handle and knife blade. After use always rinse well in cold then hot water, and dry with a clean cloth. Keep your silver in a box or drawer with a soft lining to avoid scratching. If it is not being used frequently, wrap it in acid-tree tissue paper, from a jeweller. Never wrap in newspaper, because printer’s ink contains sulphur, and never secure wrappings with rubber bands which can corrode through several layers of paper.

Stainless steel

Never leave to soak longer than necessary. Beware of neat bleach, undissolved detergent powders and salt, all of which can cause pitting. Use a special stainless steel cleaner.

Stone and brick

Dust down regularly, if possible using the appropriate vacuum attachment, or a soft brush. Wash over with plain warm water, adding a few drops of washing-up liquid if necessary. Do not use scouring powders or soaps. You can use a wire brush dipped in water for soot stains on fireplaces. For other bad stains, buy a special cleaner from a builder’s merchant, and follow directions very carefully. Use of a special sealer sold for semi-porous natural materials will make stone and brick easier to keep free from dust and dirt.

Slate can be cleaned as above. Use a mixture of white spirit and linseed oil to restore the sheen after cleaning.


Always mop up spills immediately to avoid stains. In general wash white marble with warm water plus a few-drops of washing-up liquid. You can add a few drops of ammonia if soiling is heavy. But always test a small area of coloured marble first. Rinse off with clean water and polish with a soft dry cloth. You can apply a wax furniture polish if you wish. Use a rust remover for metal stains. For other stains, try diluted hydrogen peroxide plus a few drops of ammonia. Leave this solution on the stain for a few minutes, then repeat again as necessary. Alternatively, on greasy stains, try a branded stain-removal aerosol solvent. 125

How To Clean Metals Without Damaging Them

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