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Brass
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The Best Way to Clean Tarnished Metal and Other Essential Facts You Shouldn’t Ignore

Metals are the most rigid materials on the planet. They provide a framework for buildings and make up heavy industrial machines. Many of your home and office equipment consist of metals, too. But like everything else, they have their kryptonite. They corrode when exposed to the atmosphere, certain chemicals, or other metals.

It’s important to note that metals corrode in different ways. They differ in how they react with the substances that they come in contact with. Oxygen is by far the most common catalyst for corrosion. It affects most metals both in liquid and gas form, which is why corrosion is sometimes referred to as oxidation.

Tarnish vs. Rust

As mentioned, metals differently corrode when exposed to the same element or compound. We can classify metals into two types—ferrous (iron-containing) and nonferrous (non-iron-containing). The presence or absence of iron in a metal’s composition significantly affects its corrosion.

Ferrous metals corrode by transforming into iron oxide or rust, while nonferrous metals corrode by developing a layer of oxide on its surface. This layer of oxide is also called tarnish.

Unlike rust, tarnish stays on the surface of nonferrous metals. It doesn’t spread into the metal and wreck the metal’s properties. Instead, it continues to grow on the surface as it gets further exposed to the atmosphere. In other words, unlike rust, you can scrape or polish away the layer of developed tarnish on the surface of a nonferrous metal without diminishing its quality.

Everyday Metals That Tarnish

Before I teach you the best way to clean tarnished metal, let’s first identify some nonferrous metals around us. Let’s get the popular and rare ones—gold, silver, and platinum—out of the way and focus on the more common.

Copper, brass, bronze, aluminum, zinc, and tin are the most common among all the nonferrous metals. Not only are these metals abundant in supply, but they also display qualities that are valuable to a vast range of applications. Big industries, such as construction, telecommunication, electronics, and transportation, rely on their production.

Tarnish isn’t that much of a big industry problem because the metals are often used for their mechanical properties. But for industries that rely on the metals’ appearance, such as jewelry and furniture making, it can be rather pesky. Maintaining the lustrous appearance of these metals takes effort.

Some metals tarnish faster than others. For instance, copper can lose its sheen just a few hours after exposure to air or water. The same goes true for its primary alloys—bronze and brass. If neglected, the tarnish can grow and change copper’s color. This new layer of material that has a different color is generally referred to as patina.

Patina changes color as it develops. You can tell how long copper has been exposed by the color of its patina. However, various factors may affect how the process ends. Depending on what chemical copper is exposed to, it may form a brown, blue, or green patina.

How to Clean Tarnished Metal

Tarnishing is inevitable for metals like copper, brass, and bronze. The good news is you can fix it. As explained earlier, tarnish is just on the metal’s surface so that you can wipe it away. But it doesn’t come off quickly like typical dust or grime. You may need to apply a polishing agent. Here’s a simple procedure for removing tarnish from metal you can follow.

    1. Check if the item you will be polishing is pure copper, brass, or bronze. Some furniture pieces only have one of these metals on their surface and underneath them is an entirely different material. This will give you an idea of the safest technique for cleaning tarnished metal. The last thing you want is to buff away the outermost layer along with the tarnish and reveal the underlying metal.
    2. Decide whether to use commercial polish or a homemade one. The material and tools you need for the process will depend on your decision.
    3. Prepare the things you need. If you are using a commercial polish, all you need is a clean cloth, and the polish. But if you are using homemade metal polish, there’s a handful of ingredients you need to prepare.It’s important to note that you can combine many products in your home to make a concoction that works on tarnish. In this procedure, we will focus on the most common ones – vinegar, flour, salt, lemon juice, baking soda, and ketchup. You won’t be mixing all of them, but you can make different polishing agents by creating different combinations.For instance, you can mix vinegar, flour, and salt to produce a metal polish paste. Or you can mix lemon juice and baking soda. Ketchup, on the other hand, may serve as a metal polish without mixing with anything.

      You also need to prepare a clean, dry cloth.

    4. When you finish preparing your concoction, it’s time to prepare your metal item. Wash it thoroughly until its surface is free of dust or grime. Tiny dust particles have sharp edges that can scratch your metal as you rub it with the cloth.
    5. Apply the metal polish you prepared on the metal item’s surface and let it sit for several minutes.
    6. Buff the surface of the metal piece with the clean cloth until the metal’s original sheen appears. Remember not to wet the fabric with water because water, containing oxygen, is among the substances that can trigger tarnishing.

Sometimes, the metal’s quality affects the rate by which tarnish forms. For instance, low-quality or unrefined brass or bronze may tarnish faster because it may contain other elements that are more reactive to oxygen than the primary metal. If you are working with a non-ferrous metal, such as copper, brass, or bronze, make sure to obtain your supply from trusted sheet metal suppliers, like Rotax Metals. This way, you can create outputs that can maintain their quality longer and require minimal maintenance.

brass saxophone

Common Things Made of Brass and Other Useful Facts You Should Know

Statistics show that North America consumes around 2 million tons of copper each year. About 42 percent of that goes to brass mills. That’s almost 1 million tons of brass distributed across the U.S. and Canada annually for a wide variety of applications. Do you have an idea where all of that brass goes?

Most people are unaware of these statistics because they only encounter brass as finished products and not raw. In most cases, they can’t even identify brass from the different metals they come across. Let’s face it; metal production and processing aren’t common knowledge.

However, it pays to know a thing or two about brass. For instance, knowing the brass’s composition and properties allows you to identify the practical applications it is are suitable for. After all, using the wrong metal in any project may pose some risks. In this article, you will learn the basic properties of brass, a shortlist of things made out of brass, and the best place to purchase brass sheets, bars, and other supplies.

Basic Properties of Brass

Understanding the properties of brass is key to identifying ordinary objects made of brass. To understand brass’s properties more quickly, let’s learn about its composition first. Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. Basic brass consists of about 67 percent copper and 33 percent zinc. You can modify this ratio to produce various brasses, each with a unique set of physical properties. Now, here are the properties you will find in all types of brasses.

  • Malleability

    Copper is one of the easiest to work among all industrial metals. You can coldwork it into plates or sheets of different shapes and thicknesses. Brass maintains much of this property even if it contains other metals. Lead is added to the alloy if there’s a need to reduce its malleability.

  • Conductivity

    Brass is an effective conductor of heat and electricity. It can transfer high voltage of electricity without overheating. This property makes it perfect for applications that involve heat and electricity.

  • Corrosion Resistance

    Brass is also known for its high corrosion resistance. It can withstand oxidation not just from regular moisture but also from substances that are several times more corrosive. Some brasses are used as sheathing for ocean vessels because those metals do not corrode in saltwater, which is ten times more corrosive than tap water.

  • Fatigue Resistance

    Most metals tend to weaken from cyclic loading. This condition leads to progressive damage and, ultimately, to failure. Brass is among the handful of metals that have a high tolerance against fatigue.

Common Things Made of Brass

Although brass is widely used across a wide range of industries, it is not easily identifiable, and there’s a good reason for that. Brass is a flexible metal. Each of its over 60 different types come in a slightly different color or shade. Some look like gold, while others, silver. So, identifying things made out of brass can be tricky sometimes. Here are some objects you probably didn’t know made of brass.

  • Musical Instruments

    Trumpets, horns, tubas, euphoniums, and trombones are some of the musical instruments usually made of brass. There are quite a number of them grouped into one family called brass instruments. Claims that brass produces the best sound are still debatable though other metals exhibit similar acoustic properties.

  • Vehicle Radiators

    Many vehicle manufacturers prefer copper-based radiators to aluminum-based ones because they are more efficient. They cost less to manufacture, last longer, and have a lower air-side pressure drop. Brass radiators are also much easier to recycle.

  • Handles and Railings

    You may not notice it, but you have quite a few items made of brass within your reach. It’s highly likely that the doorknobs and railings in your home or workplace are made partly of brass. Not only is brass elegant, but it’s also antimicrobial. It doesn’t kill microbes instantly, but you can rest assured that high-touch surfaces in your building don’t contribute to the spread of diseases.

  • Ammunition Casings

    Brass is well-known for its spark-resistant, low-friction, and non-magnetic qualities, which make it the perfect material for cartridge shells. It also has a distinct gold-like shade that is characteristic of ammos. This shade does not quickly fade or get tarnished.

  • Marine Hardware

    As previously mentioned, certain types of brass are used for sheathing on ship hulls because it is resistant to both saltwater corrosion and fouling. As it turns out, a plethora of marine hardware components, including pumps, engines, and some navigational tools, are made of brass, too, for the same reasons. Brass is also tough, and so it can withstand intense pressures.

  • Plumbing Fixtures

    Most faucets, bidets, hose bibs, channel drains, and sinks are brass-based too. They can be copper, but that’s more expensive, and you may not like how it changes color from brown to green over time. Brass may lose its luster from constant exposure to moisture, but it can preserve its color for a long time.

  • Technical instruments

    Ever wondered how the tiny components of small devices like compasses, watches, and barometers, were created? With today’s metalworking technology, the process is already easy, but its success depends heavily on the quality of the metal used. Brass boasts of high machinability, which makes it perfect for this kind of application.

If you plan to manufacture any of these objects yourself, you have to make sure that you will use high-quality brass sheets, tubes, bars, or rods. In that case, the first step you should take is to find a reputable brass supplier. In North America, your best option is companies like Rotax Metals, with many decades of experience supplying copper-based products.

Is It Safe to Wear Brass Jewelry?

Brass Jewelry Pieces

So you went out to buy new jewelry but because you are on a tight budget, you decided to pick items with cheap base metals. You remember reading about brass jewelries online and how inexpensive they are, so you asked the jeweler if they have those in store. But before you even finish your sentence, they immediately tried to talk you out of it. Their reason?

  1. They believe jewelry pieces are intimate items that not only complement outfits, but also symbolize social status. Therefore, they must have a substantial monetary value.
  2. They also believe that brass jewelry can turn your skin green. Copper, which makes up about 60 percent of brass, turns green over time as it oxidizes. So, it’s only logical to assume that brass turns green over time, too. However, it’s highly unlikely for this color change to spread onto your skin.
  3. Most brass jewelries contain nickel and lead, two of the most notorious causes of skin allergy out there. Jewelers believe that, unlike other more expensive base metals, brass is not hypoallergenic.

While these reasons are worth factoring in your final decision, it wouldn’t be fair to not look into the pros of brass jewelry as well. After all, it’s not as bad as most people say. Many jewelry stores still offer brass jewelry, so generally, it’s an option that you can consider. Let’s take a look at some of the major benefits of brass jewelry.

  1. One of the enticing characteristics of brass jewelry is its gold-like appearance. Depending on copper-zinc ratio, the color of brass may range from dark brown to silvery white. To achieve a gold-like shade, you must combine around 67% copper and 33% zinc. Thanks to this unique property, brass is often used as alternative to gold for a variety of design applications.
  2. With copper as its base constituent, brass is among the most durable metals around. It can last for thousands of years if properly stored and maintained. As previously mentioned, brass develops a layer of greenish material on its surface. This layer, called patina, acts as a shield that protects the brass inside from corroding.
  3. Brass is significantly cheaper than premium-grade base metals such as sterling silver and gold vermeil. Part of the reason is its main components—copper and zinc—are still currently in great abundance. Unlike gold and silver, they are not precious metals. Another reason is that brass is used for familiar applications like construction and electronics.

Is it safe to wear brass jewelry?

Brass is made up of copper and zinc. To improve its quality, a minute amount of other metals, such as nickel and lead, is added to the mixture. The resulting brass can be tougher, shinier, or more resistant to corrosion. Some industrial brasses, including brass extrusions, bars, and tubes, even have more extra metals in them.

Unfortunately, these improvements in the quality of brass have some side effects. As mentioned earlier, nickel and lead can cause serious allergic reactions, which range from itching to rash.

Simply put, it’s not really brass that causes allergy but the new elements added to its original composition. By and large, nickel and lead should only account for no more than 1% of the entire brass alloy, but even this miniscule amount could lead to severe allergic reactions.

The thing is not all brass jewelry contains nickel or lead. Some are made purely of copper and zinc. If you are really interested in wearing brass jewelry, it is best to ask the jeweler what other metals it contains apart from copper and zinc. It’s also possible that you are allergic to copper or zinc, in which case you should avoid wearing brass jewelry altogether.

How to Polish Brass Jewelry

One of the disadvantages of brass jewelry is that it tarnishes rather quickly. The good news is there are easy ways to polish it and restore its shiny, gold-like appearance. One method involves the use of products that you most likely have in your own home. Here’s what you need to do.

  1. Prepare vinegar, salt, flour, warm water, and a small bowl.
  2. Put 1 teaspoon of salt and ½ cup of vinegar into the bowl. Mix properly until the salt completely dissolves into the vinegar.
  3. Add the flour into the mixture and mix well until you produce a paste-like substance.
  4. Rub you brass jewelry with this paste and make sure to cover all surfaces.
  5. Leave the item for 10 minutes, then rinse with warm water.
  6. Make sure to dry the brass jewelry with clean cloth as quickly as possible to prevent moisture from triggering tarnishing.

You may choose to buff up the brass jewelry with clean cloth but be careful not to apply too much force. Don’t forget that it’s a jewelry item you are polishing, not a piece of furniture. If you think polishing your jewelry this way is too risky, make do with warm water rinsing.

Apart from jewelry, brass is used for a wide range of industrial and creative applications, including construction, filtration systems, musical instruments, and machine design. This metal is so versatile you can even incorporate it in your own projects. Should you need brass supplies, make sure to purchase them from reputable brass suppliers like Rotax Metals.

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