Q: How do I clean the tarnish from my solid-brass outdoor light fixtures?
How do I clean the tarnish from my solid-brass outdoor light fixtures? And then what can I do to protect the metal from tarnishing in the future?
—Don Sadowski, Larkspur, CAlif.
Kevin O'Connor replies: I talked to Chris Bekas, who works with antique lighting fixtures and other metal items at the Bellows Shoppe in Winnetka, Illinois. He says that the first thing you'll have to do is scrub off the lacquer that's typically applied to brass and copper lighting fixtures to keep them shiny. Lacquer thinner and a cotton rag will do that job in no time. Once the lacquer is off, Bekas recommends attacking the tarnish with Flitz, a nonabrasive, nonacidic metal-polishing paste. Rub the fixture with a clean rag dipped in the paste, then when the tarnish is gone, wipe off any excess and hand-buff to restore the sheen.
Spraying a light coat of lacquer on the -metal will stop tarnish for a while; just be sure to mask off the glass or other areas you don't want spattered with spray. Or you can skip the lacquer altogether and just rub on the Flitz whenever the metal needs shining up.
Flitz works only on solid brass or copper, not plated items. So before you polish anything, check it with a magnet. If the magnet sticks, there's steel or iron beneath the surface.