Home /
Search 🔍
the Site

It's Wednesday 01/26/22 & your Q or A is Welcome.
Chime right in! (a "no registration" site)


"How to Remove Varnish from Brass"

(to provide context, hopefully helping readers more quickly understand the Q&A's)

Some people will want bare brass so they can patinate or decorate it in some way, but most buyers do not want a bare brass finish because it will turn spottily brown quickly, especially in a humid kitchen or bathroom, so nearly all brass is offered with a clearcoat finish of some sort.

Most homeowners also don't want the hassle of stripping & redoing brass lacquer every year or two, so today's factory-applied clearcoats may be far more robust radiation cured or other exotic clearcoats that may not be as easy to remove.

Current question:

August 18, 2021

I am renovating my kitchen, and would like to install an unlacquered brass faucet. Unfortunately, to buy unlacquered brass will cost me no less than $1k, whereas the same piece with some layer/finish is considerably less expensive.

I know there are a number of ways to remove lacquer from brass (hot water/baking soda bath, acetone bath, Citrastrip), but are those safe for the interior bits of a faucet, ie. The pull down faucet hose, the connectors inside the handles, etc.? Many tutorials make it look simple, but Is this something I should leave to a professional?

Since I am starting from scratch (ie. Purchasing the faucet for this purpose) I also wonder if there are finishes that are easier or harder to remove? I actually read an article with someone who did it with a faucet with a chrome finish. So, I don't care what the finish is to begin with, as long as it's easy to remove and there's brass underneath.

Chayah L
Hobbyist! - Vermont

October 29, 2021

A. Please make sure the coated brass is not a plated material as most are. Call the MFG and ask what OTC stripper would work on the faucet. Some of these coatings are impossible to remove.

Mark Rekdahl
Metal Refinisher - SAN BERNARDINO, California

Closely related Q&A's, oldest first:


Q. I have an antique brass baby bed that I applied a coat of varnish on 20+ years ago. The bed was in storage and their was a fire so the smoke and heat have really messed the finish up. I need to remove the varnish, clean the brass and then reapply varnish, I think. I need information on removing the varnish, cleaning and what to use on it so it won't be toxic to my grandchild.

Barbara Thompson
- Decatur, Alabama


Q. I am trying to remove varnish from an antique brass trivet and I was wondering if you had any helpful advice to your query. Having trawled the net I have not found any answers. Can anyone help me? Thank you.

Anne Rolley
- England


A. Hi,

I've been looking for answers to the same question. I was particularly looking for a non-toxic way to remove the lacquer. I found the following link in a google search just now; haven't tried this yet, but wanted to pass it on:

Lisa Tune
- Palo Alto, California, USA

Ed. note: Sorry, readers, that site is now defunct.
If offering a link, please try to summarize it & give the title so we can find it again; most links fail in short order whereas these posts are intended to be permanently informational, running from 1989 to 2021 (so far).


Q. I have a brass porch light fixture. I've tried cleaning it, but it is coated with some type of clear finish. Some of my cleaning (scrubbing) has removed the clear finish, but it's slow going from this point on and I want to know if there is any particular type of stripper that would make the job easier.

Also, what do you recommend to protect the bare brass once the clear finish is removed.

Thomas Purdy
- Anderson, South Carolina


A. I removed the varnish from a brass door knob using hot vinegar. Half the varnish had warn off the knob after fifty years, but half remained in a yellowed state. I placed the door knob in a glass custard cup and poured in white vinegar up to the brim. I removed the door knob from the custard cup and put the vinegar in its cup into the microwave. After just bringing the vinegar to a boil, I returned the knob to the hot vinegar bath and let it stand for 15 min. The varnish slid free like loose cellophane. The entire knob was then polished with brash polish and looks great. For items that don't fit in a microwave, it may be possible to drip hot vinegar over the surface. White vinegar is cheap and non-toxic, but use with plenty of room ventilation.

I learned this technique in Army ROTC in college, where we were issued brass U.S. Army insignia for the uniform. These came coated with the clear varnish. Naturally, the varnish had to be removed so the brass could be polished thereafter.

Barry Johnson
- Blue Bell, Pennsylvania

May 18, 2009

thumbs up sign Re. Brass Varnish Removal --
Method described by Barry Johnson,- Blue Bell, Pennsylvania works like a charm.
Hot vinegar removes varnish/lacquer easily and cleans brass at the same time.

Marek Pytel
- Nice, France

June 29, 2015

thumbs up signCheck out Barry Johnson's solution. Brilliant.

Nick Lithgow
- South Africa

August 1, 2016

thumbs up signBarry Johnson's solution worked great!

Dave Allen

September 4, 2016

thumbs up signBarry Johnson's solution is amazing. I have 2 brass beds that are 140 years old; I bought them 35 years ago; they were lacquered. The last few years they looked awful, but no time to work on them. Read the internet, and thought that hot vinegar would not work -- it works. Easily and no chemicals. Put the vinegar on my grill and took the beds outside. They are great. I am not going to lacquer them. Can brass polish them whenever they need it. Everyone needs to try a spot to see how easy and clean it is. Thank you Barry Johnson.

Eileen King
- Chatham New Jersey USA


Q. I recently purchased a condo with a built-in china cabinet in the dining room. I'm very certain the cabinet latch and drawer pulls are brass but they were varnished over by the previous tenants. how would I remove the varnish without damaging the brass. I'm afraid to use anything too caustic. Any suggestions on how I can restore these these brass pieces? Many thanks.

Lorene Jack
- Boston, Massachusetts


A. To remove old paint from brass fittings, just coat them with paint-stripper, rub, rinse clean and buff up with soft steel-wool with or without a few drops of ammonia!

- Italy

Brass Lacquer

Affiliate Link
(commissions from your purchases make finishing.com possible)

January 2014

A. Hi. Methylene chloride based strippers like Aircraft Stripper are harmless to metal but very aggressive toward all paints and varnishes ... and people. Use only with Rubber Gloves [affil. link to info/product on Amazon] and goggles [affil. link to info/product on Amazon] (as a minimum) and with excellent ventilation (preferably outside and standing upwind). Some strippers are caustic based and those can harm brass.

Ideally, the brass was protected with brass lacquer rather than heavy varnish. And brass lacquer is designed to be easily removable with lacquer thinner [affil. link to info/product on Amazon] or acetone [affil.link to info/product at Rockler].


Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey

How to remove yacht varnish from a brass plaque

January 22, 2014

Q. Hi, I'm Bill, I am a member of my local Royal British Legion club and we have mounted brass wall plaque's commemorating family members who were in the armed forces, including those killed in action. Recently they were painted with yacht varnish by some misguided person. We would like to know of any solution to remove this varnish and restore the plaques to there former shiny state.

William Pearce
- Runcorn, Cheshire, England

January 23, 2014

A. Hello William,
There is a product called Citristrip. It's about $20.00 per gallon, but a lot more friendly to work with than using Acetone or other thinners. You can brush it on and leave it for some time and the varnish will come off easily. I've used it on brass hardware and door kick plates and works well.

Mark Baker
Process Engineer - Malone, New York, USA

Coca Cola works wonders!

February 4, 2014

thumbs up sign Recently I asked how to remove yacht varnish from brass plaques. This was after someone had painted the varnish over them to so they wouldn't need polishing. All this did was to tarnish them and we couldn't remove it. Well we DID remove it and it was so easy. We took all the plaques from the outside wall and placed them into a shallow tray which we filled with Coca Cola, we left them in soak for about 20 minutes then scraped the varnish off with a wallpaper scraper. It was so easy, it came off without too much effort and we then polished them with brass polish (Brasso). Thank to all who posted any ideas. Great site, Cheers. Billy UK.

William Pearce [returning]
- Runcorn Cheshire Great Britain

October 27, 2017

! After trying all methods of lacquer removal from a brass bedstead, I have found that the only thing that works is caustic soda (sulphuric acid). Sold as a drain clearer it is liquid and absolutely melts the lacquer on this bed. Be careful! Wear good rubber gloves and eye protection. Have a window open as the fumes are quite powerful.

cindy dawson
- Essex England

October 2017

Hi Cindy. Be careful; caustic soda is not sulfuric acid, in fact it's just about the farthest thing from it. Caustic soda is the most common drain cleaner, but sulfuric acid is also sometimes used for that purpose, and they are completely incompatible, with caustic soda being just about as alkaline and can be, and sulfuric acid about as acidic as can be. They will react rather violently with each other if mixed, perhaps boiling and splattering everywhere.


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Remove yellow chipped and faded coatings from copper jewelry

November 21, 2018 -- this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative thread

Q. I collect vintage Trading Post copper jewelry, a lot of which was made in the 1950's and '60's. It was all coated with some kind of anti- tarnish substance that is now yellowed, chipped and flaking. I have tried removing it with acetone, automotive lacquer thinner, catsup, vinegar, buffing. Nothing works. Help! Dana

Dana Meyer
- Boonville Missouri USA

December 2018

A. Hi Dana. The most powerful and universal stripper for organic coatings like clearcoats -- and which should not harm any metals -- is aircraft stripper (methylene chloride). But this is truly terrible stuff for people: you need to work outside with good ventilation, and wear industrial Rubber Gloves [affil. link to info/product on Amazon] (not dishwashing or food service gloves) and goggles [affil. link to info/product on Amazon] as a minimum. Rubber apron, boots, and sleeves would not be inappropriate, although maybe not needed for trinket size work.


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Removing polyurethane from a brass door handle that cannot be removed for cleaning

June 28, 2020

Q. HI I'm trying to figure out how to make our door look a bit nicer. Specifically I want to remove sloppily painted surfacing on the wooden door (I think it is polyurethane) which hit the sides of the brass plate and around the base of two door handles.

9585-1a 9585-1b

Is this different from varnish removal? is there a way to use vinegar on a vertical item? Thanks very much for any help.

Joannie Joff
- Pau, France

A. Hi Joannie. I doubt that vinegar is a good choice if you are leaving everything in place. Acetone and/or denatured alcohol are worth a shot. But you can google for proprietary solvents for the specific purpose. If you can remove it, many people have said Barry's hot vinegar method worked well -- but those handles might be brass plated zinc rather than solid brass.

Luck & Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey

"Clearcoats/Lacquers for Brass from G.J. Nikolas"

Q, A, or Comment on THIS thread SEARCH for Threads about ... My Topic Not Found: Start NEW Thread

Disclaimer: It's not possible to fully diagnose a finishing problem or the hazards of an operation via these pages. All information presented is for general reference and does not represent a professional opinion nor the policy of an author's employer. The internet is largely anonymous & unvetted; some names may be fictitious and some recommendations might be harmful.

If you are seeking a product or service related to metal finishing, please check these Directories:

Chemicals &
Consult'g, Train'g
& Software

About/Contact    -    Privacy Policy    -    ©1995-2022 finishing.com, Pine Beach, New Jersey, USA