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How to Clean Tarnished Metal Door Handles

It's impossible to completely prevent the tarnishing of your metal door hardware; it's a natural process due to the chemical activity of most metals. If you were really serious - obsessive almost - about preventing tarnished metal, you could try to create a perfect vacuum in your house, or perhaps lower the ambient air temperature to absolute zero. Either of these methods would keep tarnish at bay, but unfortunately they're ridiculous and impossible ideas. So the real trick, the great art of dealing with tarnish, is not to try to prevent it, but to manage it. We'll talk about how in a moment; first let's explore what it is and how it's caused.

A Brief History of Tarnish


'Tarnish' is a word taken from an ancient sense of things darkening. The roots of the word can be traced back beyond English, beyond French and through to a long extinct European language known as Proto Germanic, and is distantly related to the word 'dark' (both words find their roots in a very ancient hypothesised word, 'darnijaz', used in central Europe deep in our tribal past). From the long history of the term, we can see that tarnishing is an effect with which humans have been familiar for a considerable time. So what is it?

In short, it's a layer of corrosion which affects certain metals. It's like rust, only much slower acting. The metals most commonly affected by tarnish include aluminium, brass, copper and silver, so it's no surprise that door furniture is one of the most common casualties of tarnishing, since door furniture is often made from one of these metals.

Tarnishing manifests itself as a dulling down in the surface of the effected metal. The metal loses its shine and reflectivity and, if left untreated, will result in a surface layer which looks grey and black - a little like mould. The texture of the surface of tarnished metal changes too, from a cold, smooth one to a rough, gritty one. Designers are increasingly incorporating tarnish in their furniture designs; and it has a profound aesthetic effect and can actually look great when it's deliberate. But when the tarnishing is natural, when it's the byproduct of a lack of maintenance, it doesn't look so good. It's a noisy indicator that owner has neglected their house, and it can dampen the ambient mood of any room. The door handle is often the first part of a room to be encountered; if it looks unappealing it can be difficult to shed that first impression.

Tarnish is caused by the metal's interactivity with the air - in particular with sulphur, but there are many contributing airborne chemicals. It's important to keep it at a manageable level, because when it comes to selling your house, bright, sparkling door furniture can give the entire building a subtle - but important - boost.

There are a few useful tricks and tips to help you deal with tarnish, depending on the material affected. Here's a few of them.

Cleaning Sterling Silver/Silver Plate

Silver is one of the metals most easily affected by tarnish. If your silver plated hardware is suffering particularly badly, then remove the items from the door and place them in an aluminium tray. If you don't have an aluminium tray, use a glass one lined with aluminium foil. Place the silverware in the tray and sprinkle between and 1 full cup of baking soda over it. Then pour in enough boiling water to completely cover the objects. The tarnish will soon disappear. Once it has, and the water has cooled, remove the items and buff them with a duster or any soft cotton cloth. They should be shining like new.

Cleaning Unlacquered Brass & Copper Door Handles


Brass and copper are very traditional materials which are currently undergoing a renaissance in popularity. Like silver, they're both highly susceptible to tarnish, but they are easy to manage if you're prepared to roll your sleeves up occasionally. Here's a great DIY way to clean your brass and copperware.

You're going to make a paste which will clean the tarnish away for you. Take a bowl and measure in one tablespoon of flour, one of salt, and one of vinegar. Mix it thoroughly until it turns to a paste, and then rub it on to the surface of the brass or copper. Leave it for a couple of minutes, and then wash it off with hot soapy water. Then rinse it and buff it with a soft cloth; your brass or copper handles are restored!

Alternatively, take a cut lemon and dip it in salt. Then rub it onto the surface of the metal and wipe it clean with a cotton cloth. This simple method is also highly effective, and works on brass and copper very well. This method should not be used on lacquered brass or copper or brass plate. For these finishes, simply dust and clean with warm soapy water, then dry thoroughly.

Click here to view our range of Brass and Copper Door Handles

Cleaning Pewter


Pewter also suffers badly from the damaging effects of tarnish, and if your door furniture is made from pewter it will need special attention. Strangely, pewter responds best to treatment by the outer leaves of a cabbage. It might sound a bit like a village witch-doctor remedy, but it's true. Take the outer leaves of a cabbage and rub them firmly over the surface of your pewter. Then buff it with a soft cloth. Sounds strange, but it works well.

The upshot of all this is pretty clear; just stay on top of it and it won't ever be a problem. Cleaning your door furniture regularly, even with a neutral dish soap, will keep it shiny and new-looking for years to come. It's much, much easier to manage tarnish as it appears, keeping on top of it, than it is to remove it once it has established itself.

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