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topic 35145

Brass is pink from improper cleaning

A discussion started in 2005 but continuing through 2020


Q. Having improperly soaked dirty brass(originally lacquered) bed fittings in a toilet bowl cleaner (HCl), a reddish pink copper color predominates the originally golden yellow polished finish. This red/pink color can be reduced by (excessive!) rubbing with a Scotch Brite pad. Is there a simpler chemical treatment that can reduce the elbow grease?

Neville A. Gordon
Fang Marketing Limited - Kingston, Jamaica


A. Hi Neville. My limited experience has been that commercial copper polishes like Brasso [affil. link to product info on Amazon] will change that raw look back to the mellow look.

Ted Mooney, Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live Aloha


A. You have dissolved the zinc from the brass, leaving only copper. To get the brass colour back, you will need to polish off the copper; if it is not too bad, Brasso or Duraglit will do it. Do not use an abrasive agent unless the colour is persistent; if you do have to use an abrasive, you will need to polish out the scratches you will leave in the brass. Cleaning brass is not as easy as many people think, and a lot of damage gets done by people using the wrong systems. I suggest you should use a professional cleaning agent such as Brasso, etc., and do not try to take short cuts with strong acids and alkalies.

trevor crichton
Trevor Crichton
R&D practical scientist
Chesham, Bucks, UK


Q. I have just cleaned years of black stuff from a very old small ornate brass article with lots of very hard to reach nooks and crannies. The use of chemicals has left a pinkish tinge in the rougher parts, which I have tried to polish off with Brasso but the polish can't get into the nooks and crannies. I've tried a toothbrush but this does not seem to work either. Can someone recommend how I can polish off the pink from this article, I am reluctant to use any wire wool, etc., because the article is so old and ornate.

Jennifer Howell
hobbyist - Derby, Derbyshire, England

June 20, 2017

Q. I am restoring some solid brass window catches and began by soaking them in white vinegar & salt. That removed the dirty dark brown coating but they were still rather 'greasy' to the touch so I soaked them in warm, soapy water with a bit of ammonia which removed the grease but left them a pink colour instead of yellow.

I have spent hours googling this issue looking for a chemical solution rather than manual removal. As on this thread, many people suggest using Brasso to get the pink back to yellow but it's not having any effect on these catches that are pink so I'm still looking for the right method to get them back to yellow from pink.

35145-1b   35145-1a

Any suggestions would be very welcome. Fortunately I only soaked a few of them in the ammonia and the others are still 'brownish' but these ones do come up yellow using Brasso.

Liz Gamlen
- Waipukurau, Hawke's Bay, New Zealand

affil. link
Citric Acid 1 lb bag

affil. link
Household Ammonia

affil. link
pH Paper

June 23, 2017

A. Brasso is OK. Try 5% ammonium citrate solution, pH 9 (50 gms citric acid, 1 lit water, add ammonia until pH is 9). Good luck!

Budija Goran
- Zagreb,Croatia

June 24, 2017

thumbs up sign Thank you very, very much, Budija Goran!

I have just removed some of the brass hardware from the 5% ammonium citrate solution and it is is beautiful yellow again. I buffed them with ScotchBrite and Brasso and they look as good as new. They only needed a few minutes in the 5% ammonium citrate solution. So easy!

Liz Gamlen [returning]
- Waipukurau, Hawke's Bay, New Zealand

March 15, 2018

Q. I need assistance.. PLEASE!

I purchased a beautiful 1980s Louis Vuitton Toiletry case, and the person whom I purchased this from, did something to the brass zipper.. it is PINK! She won't tell me what she did.. I have cleaned so many of these products with Brasso and they shine so goldenly.

She said, she used Brasso, but I don't quite buy it.. Perhaps she left the Brasso on too long?? Can I restore the pink zippers back to gold? Please! I am ready to get my science experiment on! Thank you all in advance for your help.

Maria L [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- New York, New York USA

March 2018

thumbs up sign Hi Maria. Please see Liz's problem, Goran's suggestion, and Liz's rave review of how well it worked and so easily. I don't think anyone will be able to improve on it for you; but please get back to us after you try it. Best of luck.


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

March 15, 2018

Q. OK, I have never done this before.
How do I mix that solution? Where do I get the products? I know, might be silly. I don't want to blow my fingers up! :)

Maria L [returning]
- New York, NY USA

March 2018

A. Hi Maria. We've added links to citric acid, household ammonia (not the grade of ammonia Goran was talking about, but probably good enough), and pH paper on Amazon. But the internet, like a library, is a one-room schoolhouse where people of all experience levels can read about mixes and procedures they may or may not be qualified to follow. Maybe you can find a friend with some chemistry experience?

Safely working with chemicals is something you must be taught hands-on. Although citric acid and household ammonia don't sound especially dangerous to me, nobody can explain to a person whose experience level they don't know, how to safely buy, store, handle, identify, and mix chemicals they have no understanding of. But you surely must not do so without wearing goggles [affil. link to product info on Amazon], Protective Gloves [affil. link to product info on Amazon], and with good outdoor ventilation, and if you have not had at least high school chemistry, and unless you understand how to follow Goran's advice of how to adjust the pH to 9, and unless your work area is free of pets and small children who could get into them, and unless you've read any warnings on the containers :-)

Good luck and Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

Is citric acid the same thing as ammonium nitrate?

September 26, 2018

Q. Is citric acid the same thing as ammonium nitrate? I'm trying to turn my brass hardware from the pink tint back to the yellowish gold.

Mila Stevens [returning]
- Montgomery, alabama

September 2018

A. Hi Mila. No, ammonium nitrate and citric acid have nothing in common, but ammonium nitrate is used in explosives and has nothing to do with this! And ammonium citrate is yet a third chemical. Please have a friend with some chemistry experience read Budija's instructions carefully and do this for you. And also please carefully read the warnings to Maria L about messing with chemicals if you're not a chemist. Even household chemicals are dangerous :-)

Good luck.


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

September 26, 2018

Q. Ted, so you're saying citric acid and household ammonia will work as well as ammonium nitrate for taking the pink tint from brass?

Mila Stevens [returning]
- Montgomery, Alabama

September 2018
Ammonium Nitrate

A. Hi again Mila. Who said that it will take the pink tint from brass? ... nobody on this page, but perhaps someone somewhere; sorry, I have no idea what you're referring to :-)

Liz asked how to remove the pink tint, Goran said to make ammonium citrate by mixing ammonia with citric acid, and Liz said is worked great. That's all I know about the subject. Good luck.


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

December 1, 2018

Q. I am having trouble with the brass feet of a clock I'm restoring. At the suggestions of a clock restorer I cleaned the feet then soaked them in a 5% ammonium citrate solution with a ph of 9. The feet came quite clean but turned a pink copper color. (The lighter pressed brass columns and lions heads came out perfect) The next suggestion was to Brasso the feet with 0000 steel wool. That only made the pink worse and seemed to leave the feet with a copper plate in some spots and raw black metal in others.
The next rabbit hole I went down was to pickle the feet in a 3 part hydrogen peroxide to 1 part white vinegar solution. This quickly dissolved most of the copper plate but started to heavily etch the metal and leave it black with much of the detail etched off.

35145-2a   35145-2b  

So now I know the feet are ruined and that doesn't bother me. I'm just very curious if there's a way to bring back the brass color from this point in the process.

Austin Key
Clock restorer - Adams center, New York USA

December 2018

A. Hi Austin. I'm on record on this site a dozen times discouraging people from trying to guess what a finish is from its appearance ...

Nonetheless, I'm gonna go out on a limb and say those feet may be cast iron rather than brass. Have you tried a magnet on them?


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

December 2, 2018

Q. Yes. I checked that first thing. And then checked again. I kept going back to that same thought, these must be plated. They are non-ferrous.

The paper I read by a chemist who also happens to be jewelry maker described the 3:1 H2O2:vinegar pickle. Another clock restorer referenced this article and his success with the process. The only part they tried that I didn't was a final rinse and scrub in Sparex or 5% sulfuric acid.

Austin Key [returning]
Clock restorer - Adams Center, New York

January 3, 2019

A. Dear Austin!

Your object is probably copper plated zinc or tin alloy. Ammonium citrate pH 9 solution is perfect for real brass, not for copper or brass plated zinc or tin. In that case better solution is 47,5 gms sodium gluconate/47,6 gms citric acid and 4,9 gms tartaric acid/ 1 lit water (according to USPT 4,264,418). Hope it helps and good luck.

Goran Budija
- Zagreb,Croatia

March 19, 2019

Q. I have tried to follow the instructions to soak brass door finger plates which have turned pink. The only pH detector I can buy locally are tablets for fish tanks. Using the right proportions of citric acid, water and 20% Ammonia solution never budged past neutral pH. Eventually there separated out a greasy yellow substance which floated.
This had no effect whatsoever on the brass.
What have I done wrong. I tested the pH tablets with straight 20% ammonia and the solution changed to purple, indicating that the tablets were accurate

Margaret Crawford
- Bundaberg Qld Australia

March 2019

A. Hi Margaret. What did you do to make them turn pink in the first place? If they were already pink when you first saw them, is there a chance that there's a lacquer clearcoat on them? But order pH paper by mail if necessary; trying to do chemical adjustments without even having pH papers or meters is silly, and who even knows what else is in those tablets.


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

March 19, 2019

Q. thanks Ted.
They do have a lacquer coat and had turned pink under the coating. My painter restored some; I have about 14 doors in the house with brass knobs and finger plates on each side. I thought the plates were copper but he restored them to a beautiful brass using a polishing wheel and rouge.
I used lacquer thinner/remover to remove the lacquer and vinegar and salt solution to remove the tarnish. Even using brass or purple metal polish does not remove all the pink.
The knobs are filthy but not pink and all the lacquer has been worn off.
As a side note I am reluctant to re-lacquer the finger plates as it is such a pain to remove but equally it is difficult to keep the tarnish off.
Do you have any advice for any of my problems?
I also have window latches of brass. Thanks.
(Actually I just reread my ammonia bottle and it is 20 g/l which makes it 2% not 20%. I tried again with a smaller quantity and got the pH up but still no effect on pinkness, only some tarnish removal.

Margaret Crawford [returning]
- Bundaberg Qld Australia

September 18, 2019

A. I removed copper color from the brass material through following process and it's fine for me.
1. Vinegar + 5% sulfuric acid
followed by the Lemishine + dish washing liquid for the shine.

2. 5% sulfuric acid + 3% peroxide but due to oxidizing process the brass gets dull.

chandresh rana
Technical Services - Oakville, Ontario, Canada

December 1, 2019
Atmos Clock

Q. I've inherited an ATMOS clock from the 50's. I've tested the brass surrounding the glass frame: it is solid, not plated brass. I've removed a lot of tarnish using some ignorant processes along with Weiman's brass cleaner/polish; ended up with an inconsistent finish-yellowish/brass speckles and streaks and pink in places. I tried Goran's solution to no avail. Now I have very clean brass but it's not looking great. I suspect the brass frame has a lacquer top layer in which some of it is present, some gone. What can I now do to make this piece beautiful brass again? How can I determine the presence of lacquer and can/should I remove it? Also, what is the best way to buff/polish this? Thanks very much, I appreciate your help.

EJ Petersen
- Reno, Nevada USA

April 4, 2020

Q. I have a brass plate rudder from an antique boat. It has random pink spots, like acne or chicken pox throughout the rudder. Any tips on how to get the pink spots out and get a consistent color.

Richard Heausler
- New Orleans, Louisiana

April 2020

A. Hi Richard. Goran suggested 5% ammonium citrate to get rid of pink color, and Liz G. gave a rave review of how easy it was and how well it worked. I wouldn't hunt for alternatives til I tried it :-)
Read the safety warnings on the chemical containers and this whole page. Good luck.


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

April 18, 2020

Q. Hello, I cast my own alloys. I use a ratio of 95% brass to 5% aluminium and usually that gives me a beautiful golden metal that I cast into weird and wonderful things.

Recently my casts have been coming out with this pink finish which I've learnt is my fault as I've overheated my crucible and I've burnt off the zinc.

Can anyone please tell me how much zinc I need to add back into my metal to give me the golden finish that I was so accustomed to seeing?

Many thanks and kind regards,


Matthew Powell
- Orpington, Kent, England


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