How to Clean Brass Hardware on MCM Furniture

We just love a good mid century modern furniture makeover, don’t you? Oftentimes, MCM furniture has brass hardware. So today we’re showing you how to clean brass hardware on these beautiful furniture pieces! Over the next few days we’re also showing you how we transformed this MCM sewing table for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.


Hubs started a new hobby when the pandemic hit restoring old vintage sewing machines. However, that inadvertently turning into a new hobby for me too: restoring old sewing tables. Every time Hubs purchases a new old machine, it usually comes with a table. Because of that, we’re become sewing table horders!

I love to paint them with a pop of colour. Spray painting is typically Hubs domain, but he did recently teach me how to paint using a spray gun. Spray painting goes fast. But there’s usually a ton of repair work that goes into restoring these old sewing machine tables. We’ll get into more depth on the repair aspects in an upcoming post. In the meantime, check out this post on how to fix veneer that’s lifting.

This pretty blue table looked stunning in the home of the lovely lady who purchase it. Look how that blue compliments her mother’s quilt! This was all accidental by the way. Originally she wanted the grey one further ahead but it didn’t fit. It’s like this was meant to be!

Here’s the grey sewing table. Neutral colours always sell well. Unfortunately the brass hardware on this particular MCM sewing table is brass coated so isn’t a good candidate for our cleaning method.

In this instance, the sewing table sold with one of Hubs’ restored vintage sewing machines.

Before we get into the tutorial, don’t forget to get your DIY mojo on at Birdz of a Feather and subscribe! You can also follow us on Pinterest, Facebook, YouTubeand Instagram.

Sewing Table Ideas

So, with those tables off to good home,  I have to come up with MORE creative ideas, like this drink station, this tiered plant stand diy and this Hudsons Bay Point Blanket Inspired Upcycle. If we don’t attract some buyers with more unique pieces, these sewing machine tables will swallow up our tiny home! Part of that attraction is the bling; the hardware. It has to look great!

In case you’re wondering, we’re not going to smear ketchup on these pulls or mix up a paste of lemon/salt or vinegar, salt and flour. These may be methods you’re familiar with. But we have something else in mind. So let’s get on with the tutorial on how to clean brass hardware!

MCM sewing table being disassembled for how to clean brass hardware

Materials to Clean Brass Hardware

How to Clean Brass Hardware

The thing I love about brass hardware on MCM furniture is the patina it builds up over time. So while we do want to clean the brass, we don’t want to remove every vestige of the lovely patina! We’re not looking to flash back to the ’80s so we have a method on how to clean hardware a bit more gently!

Before of mid century modern sewing table for how to clean brass hardware

This method will remove any lacquer on the brass. You can chose to leave it bare so it continues to patina or re-seal again with lacquer.

1. Remove Hardware

When you remove the hardware, be sure to put all the screws and pulls together in a Ziploc bag to keep them all together.

brass pulls sitting on table to demonstrate how to clean brass hardware

2. Clean with an Ultrasonic Cleaner

An ultrasonic cleaner will remove decades of filth.

Electronic cleaner - step 1 for how to clean brass hardware

We put the hardware, and also the screws, into a Ziploc bag and cover it with Simple Green.

Simple Green cleaner used for how to clean brass hardwareThen fill the unit with water and set the timer for 5 minutes. Add the bag, then come back in 5.

This is how it looks when I lift it out of the water! Yuck.

Be sure to pour the contents into a fine mesh colander so you don’t lose any screws down the drain!

Against the white of a plastic container, you can really see how dirty the cleaning solution really is!

Rinse a few times in fresh water and strain into the colander.

Allow to dry on a paper towel.

As you can see above, our MCM hardware is anything but shiny again. Two more steps will have it sparkling!

3. Remove remaining lacquer with Acetone

You might still have remnants of lacquer left clinging to the brass and obvious signs of tarnish. An ultrasonic cleaner does not remove tarnish. However, you CAN set it for a longer duration to remove the lacquer – or use acetone. So dip a cotton swab, or small cotton ball, into some acetone (I’m using nail polish remover) and rub it on.

The cotton swab will lift the lacquer and help remove more black tarnish.

4. Polish

To bring up the lustre of the brass and remove the last of the tarnish, use a silver polishing cloth. I hate purchasing items just to use for one thing! I already had this cloth to remove tarnish on my silver jewelry – before I came up with this jewelry storage diy idea to keep it tarnish free!

The polishing cloth will target the tarnish you see below.

Use the inner white cloth to polish – that’s the one with the polishing solution. Then buff with the outer cloth. By the way, this particular Blitz polishing cloth is non-toxic and made in the USA.

How to Clean Brass Hardware

Here’s a reminder before cleaning these brass pulls.

Tarnished brass pulls before how to clean brass hardware

The Reveal

After reinstalling the brass hardware it looks pretty stunning on the front of our mid century modern sewing table! It may look bright in the picture. However in real life, it still has the warmth and patina we love about brass!

We can only give you this sneak peak of the front of the sewing table for now. You’ll have to be patient for the full reveal later in the week of our pink chalk paint furniture :).

How to clean brass hardware - after cleaning, pictured on front of mcm sewing table

Pin How to Clean Brass Hardware

Pinning is always welcome and appreciated!

Pinnable image for how to clean brass hardware

How to Clean Hardware FAQs

How do you clean old hardware?

Always do with the gentlest method first. We like an ultrasonic cleaner with a non-corrosive to metal detergent such as Simple Green, for removing years of built up dirt and grime.

How do you clean tarnished hardware?

Start with an ultrasonic cleaner. Then use a non-toxic jewelry polishing cloth to remove the last traces of tarnish.

How do you deep clean hardware?

An ultrasonic cleaner is the best piece of equipment you can invest in if you want a deep clean. For extra dirty hardware, you can put the hardware through the cleaner a few times immersed in Simple Green until no further dirt is removed. Rinse off the detergent and then let dry.


21 thoughts on “How to Clean Brass Hardware on MCM Furniture

  1. Wow! That was almost sludge! I was waiting for you to dump the entire plastic bags contents into the machine. Never occurred to me that of course it would work through the plastic bag! The grey sewing table with machine is the one I (and 10 siblings) learned to sew on. Wonderful hobby!

    • It really was dirty and the funny thing is that I thought I was cleaning them pretty well BEFORE I used the ultrasonic. Just goes to show how well it works!

      So ironic that you learned to sew on the same one. These things were built to LAST and will probably outlive us and our grandchildren lol!

  2. That ultrasonic machine is amazing. Wow! I’m trying to clean forty year old door hinges, but I’m not in a position to remove them. I’ll see how far I get with your Simple Green idea.

    • Are you having to clean paint off the hinges too Alys? You can give them a spritz with WD40 and let that soak in if you’re having trouble getting them off. If you can do that, boiling them in water will release the paint and also help clean.

  3. Well this is a new to me way to clean brass hardware. Interesting and good to know because I have a lot of vintage brass hardware in the workshop from furniture makeovers. Thanks for the tips!

    • You’re welcome Marie! It REALLY cuts down on the amount of time spent cleaning. Instead of hours, you can have it all done in under 10 minutes so we find it a great timesaver.

    • The cool thing about Hubs new hobby is that I get to try them all; I have my pick of anything I wan’t to sew on and I can attest that they don’t make them like they used to. Those old machines are workhorses and with a little TLC they will last for generations to come!

    • Thanks so much Susan! I was so surprised they turned out as great as they did; you never know how these experiments are going to turn out the first time lol!

  4. Great to know. I tried cleaning some a few years ago and tarnished them even worse.

    • Sometimes they will look a little worse after the ultrasonic bath but it’s all part of the process :).

  5. No ways, I can’t believe the difference!!! They look brand, spanking new. I love the old patina on old brass but it’s not always suitable for a something with sleek modern lines. Pinned, because I know I’m going to need this one day.

    • You found me out! Often times I document these things just because I know we’ll need them one day again too and won’t remember exactly what we did lol!

    • I once had a bad experience with vinegar and from that day forward, I always take a less aggressive approach. I really didn’t know this would work until I tried it, so it was a pleasant surprise that it did!

    • In so many cases, I actually love tarnished patina’d brass, but in some cases like this I’m glad I found a great compromise!

  6. That’s amazing, Sara! I am loving brass lately, what goes around, comes around!

    • So funny you should say that; in the 80’s I would cringe at all sightings of brass, but not now. I have a newfound love for it too!

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