It’s that time of the year again, a time of festivals spread across the country – from Dusshera to the much awaited festival of lights, Diwali – and nothing accents the glow, colour and decor of a festive home better than silver and brass.
We are enamoured by the golden hued flickering brass lamps, the elegant silverware that is reminiscent of an opulence of a bygone era. But however much we are enticed by the glinting allure, there is an inherent horror of polishing those inherited brass lamps, candlesticks you were gifted at your wedding, pots and vases. But really there isn’t anything to fear.
Start with a few simple steps to make sure you know what you’re cleaning – brass can come in many forms and each needs its own careful care. Displaying metal items requires a tiny amount of effort – routine cleaning, instead of waiting till the last moment when they are tarnished to a blackness.
A quick assessment:
First, determine if the brass is really solid or only coated – check with a magnet, if it sticks its only brass-coated iron or steel and if it doesn’t, it’s solid. Make sure the surface isn’t lacquered – if a tarnish resistant coat of lacquer has been applied on that prized antique, it only needs a little soap and water to be good as new; any cleaning agent would be counter-productive.
Once you’ve confirmed the type, you need a piece of cloth, a toothbrush for nooks and corners, liquid soap, water and the polishing agent, something as simple as lime juice and salt, soaked tamarind, or ash to slightly more complex combinations of salt, vinegar and flour paste. While the acidic base of these substances acts as the polishing agent against patina and grease, salt and ash usually act as an abrasive.
Use a little soap and warm water to wash off the dust and then apply the polishing agent to the surface, using a piece of soft cloth to gently rub it in tandem with the grain of the brass. In cases where there are many nooks and crannies you could even go with any commercially available white toothpaste. To ensure minimal damage to the metal, remember not to use any friction causing material to polish the object except when it is absolutely necessary – like decorated relief.
A little goes a long way:
While solid brass objects can take a little extra brushing up, plated antiques decrease greatly in value and beauty if the coat of brass begins to disappear, so give them a slight sheen and allow them to rest.
Getting into those tricky crevices:
Intricate etching or sculpted surfaces may be elegant, but is often a pain to maintain. While beaten pots and large thalis can tarnish over time, more decorative and intricate pieces often accumulate dust, oils and grease stains – especially lamps. You can go one of two ways in your cleaning process – household or commercial. While most often day-to-day household stuff work perfectly, there are times when brass or silver requires a little professional help from shop-bought cleaning liquid agents like Brasso or Silvo or those in powder form like Pithambari.
Going the Pro route:
Another alternative is to get the metal item professionally polished using a buffing machine. It would be advisable though to give it a clear protective lacquer or polyurethane coating as there is a higher expense involved. This will prevent exposure to moisture in the air and the resultant tarnishing for quite a long period.
Wishing you all a lovely Diwali, brimming with shimmer and shine!