For a warm and cosy home interior, candles are the way to go. You can display your candles in jars or tealight holders, but brass candlesticks are a long-time favourite.
These timeless decorative pieces add a touch of sophistication to any room—not to mention their stylish vintage aesthetic.
Brass is unfortunately prone to tarnishing, and regular cleaning is necessary to maintain your candlesticks’ shine.
Thankfully, cleaning brass candlesticks is straightforward when using the proper techniques and supplies.
This guide walks you through how to clean brass candlesticks effectively using many products you already have around the home.
How Do You Clean Brass Candlesticks?
Cleaning brass candlesticks involves removing tarnished layers from the outer surface.
Brass is made of a blend of copper and zinc. Over time, these metals react with oxygen in the air, forming a thin layer of corrosion on the surface.
This tarnishing can leave brass items looking dull, and the corroded layer needs to be removed to reveal the shiny layer beneath.
Many people like the look of aged brass, but anyone that prefers a polished, shiny finish is in the right place.
If your brass candlesticks look a little lacklustre, follow these step-by-step instructions to restore them to their former glory.
Note: Consider consulting with a professional antique before cleaning your candlesticks if they’re vintage or antique to avoid damage.
Step 1: Gather your cleaning supplies
Before you begin cleaning your brass candlestick, gather the necessary supplies. You’ll need:
- Mild washing-up liquid
- Soft microfibre cloth
- Soft-bristled brush or toothbrush
- Brass polish or homemade brass cleaner (see below)
- Soft polishing cloth
You’ll also need to grab your candlesticks from their display shelf (ensure they’re not recently lit to avoid any potential burns) and remove the candles and any melted wax residue ready for cleaning.
You can do this by rubbing the dried wax with icecubes and gently scraping the frozen wax with a spoon or butter knife.
Step 2: Clean with soapy water
Once your candlesticks are wax-free, start by washing the brass with a mixture of mild washing-up liquid and warm water to remove surface-level dirt and grime:
- Get a bucket of warm water and add a little washing-up liquid.
- Swirl the soapy water with your hands to form bubbles.
- Dip a clean microfibre cloth in the soapy water and ring out any excess moisture.
- Gently clean the surface of the candlesticks, removing dust and surface grime.
- Rinse the candlesticks with clean water and pat them dry with a clean microfibre cloth.
Step 3: Remove tarnishing from the brass
Tarnishing cannot be removed using soap and water. Instead, you’ll need to use a stronger and more abrasive cleaner to remove the tarnish and reveal a shiny surface beneath.
There are a few different cleaning options for dealing with tarnished brass:
- Brass polish: Brass polish is an effective option for stubborn tarnish. Apply a small amount of brass polish to a soft cloth and rub it onto the tarnished areas in a circular motion, ensuring you use gentle movements to avoid scratches. Wipe away excess polish and buff the candlesticks with a clean cloth until they shine.
- Vinegar & salt: An alternative to brass polish is a homemade cleaner made from vinegar and salt. Create a paste by mixing equal parts of white vinegar and table salt. Apply the paste to the tarnished areas and let it sit for a few minutes. Gently scrub the brass with a soft brush or toothbrush. Rinse thoroughly with water and dry with a soft cloth.
- Lemon & bicarbonate of soda: Lemon and bicarbonate of soda can also be used to clean brass candlesticks. Cut a lemon in half and dip it in the white powder. Rub the lemon directly onto the brass surface, focusing on tarnished areas. The citric acid in the lemon and the abrasive action of bicarbonate of soda will help remove the tarnish. Rinse and dry thoroughly.
Step 4: Polish the brass candlesticks
After cleaning, you’ll want to buff the brass candlesticks to make them as shiny as possible.
Polishing also helps to protect the brass from future tarnishing. Even if you’re happy with the results already, it’s crucial not to skip this final step.
To buff the brass candlesticks, apply a small amount of brass polish to a soft cloth and rub in a circular motion to a brilliant shine.
Alternatively, you can use a mixture of flour and vinegar or olive oil to polish the brass and protect it from future tarnishing.
What’s the Best Thing to Clean Brass Candlesticks With?
Our step-by-step guide on how to clean brass candlesticks mentions all our favourite cleaners: soap and water, lemon and bicarbonate of soda, vinegar and salt, or a good ol’ commercial brass polish.
However, the “best” cleaner for brass candlesticks depends on the following:
- The result you’re trying to achieve;
- The level of tarnishing you’re dealing with; and
- The type of candlesticks you have.
You can adapt the above cleaning method using the below cleaners as effective options:
1. Washing up liquid & warm water
For light cleaning and routine maintenance, washing-up liquid and warm water are sufficient.
This method is gentle and safe for almost all brass candlesticks, especially those with a protective lacquer coating or brass plating.
Both these types of brass require gentle cleaning as more abrasive cleaners can remove the lacquer or brass-plated finish.
Washing-up liquid is also the best option if you want your brass candlesticks to maintain some tarnishing.
Light tarnishing is part of the appeal for many—it has a gorgeous vintage aesthetic.
Soapy water will remove the grime that makes your candlesticks dull while preserving tarnished marks for an antique look.
2. Commercial brass polish
When faced with moderate to heavy tarnish, commercial brass polish can effectively restore the shine.
Look for polishes that specifically state they are suitable for brass. These can be purchased from online marketplaces like Amazon or most hardware stores.
An excellent option is the well-known brand Brasso, which can also add shine to stainless steel, chrome, and copper fixtures and fittings around the home. You can learn more about how to use it in our guide to cleaning with Brasso.
If using commercial brass polish, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and test the polish on a small inconspicuous area first.
These stronger cleaners can damage lacquered or brass-plated candlesticks, so a spot test helps avoid unnecessary damage.
3. Homemade brass cleaners
Making your own cleaning products is an eco-friendly and budget-friendly alternative to commercial cleaners.
Homemade brass cleaners generally contain a powder (salt, bicarbonate or soda, etc.) that acts as an abrasive and an acid (lemon juice, vinegar, etc.) that dissolves metal oxides responsible for the layer of tarnish.
Below are some effective options:
- Salt and white vinegar
- Lemon and salt
- Lemon and bicarbonate of soda
- Tomato ketchup (see our guide to cleaning brass with ketchup)
Bear in mind that these all-natural cleaners require a lot more elbow grease than commercial brass cleaners.
Therefore, they’re our preferred option for mild to moderately tarnished brass candlesticks or anyone wanting to preserve some of the tarnishing for a vintage look.
How Often Should You Clean Brass Candlesticks?
The frequency of cleaning brass candlesticks depends on various factors, such as their exposure to air, humidity, and usage.
Generally, we recommend that you clean and polish brass candlesticks every two to three months if they are used regularly.
However, if the candlesticks are in a humid environment or exposed to pollutants, they may require more frequent cleaning.
On the other hand, decorative brass candlesticks that are rarely used or displayed in a controlled environment may need cleaning less frequently.
If you’re trying to preserve some tarnishing, far less frequent cleaning is required.
How Do You Keep Brass from Tarnishing?
To extend the time between cleans and help prevent your candlesticks from tarnishing, we recommend that you wipe down the candlesticks with a soft clot. This removes surface dust and grime, helping your brass candlesticks maintain their shine.
Another trick is to rub the candle holders in mineral oil to help slow oxidation and tarnishing.
Or, for the lowest maintenance solution, consider having your brass candlesticks professionally lacquered.
This involves spraying the brass in a protective coating that prevents the metal from coming into contact with the oxygen in the air and tarnishing.
Hannah is a freelance content writer with a passion for cleaning. She worked her way around Australia by cleaning hostels in exchange for free accommodation and used her cleaning skills to bag her a job as a chalet host for a luxury ski company in France.