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Unlacquered or Lacquered Brass?

April 4, 2010

Georgian Brass Door Knobs
written by Vicki Bale

Unlacquered or Lacquered Brass? A question we are often asked.

This is a question we are often asked, so here is an attempt to clarify things.

We have elected to offer only unlacquered brass on our website, this is because we are in the business of traditional brassware.  All our brass door furniture and window furniture is just as our forebears produced it, without lacquer!


Brassware never used to be lacquered. It was always kept, especially by the Victorians, highly polished, with gleaming knockers, letterplates and door knobs, adorning their front doors. Brass can be kept highly polished or if left it will tarnish naturally and assume a natural patina of age, especially outdoors.  To keep brass in a polished state you will need to clean it with a high quality metal cleaner. Indoor pieces such as door handles, knobs and hooks will need a polish 3-4 times a year or more often if the piece is regularly handled.  Exterior pieces such as your door knocker and letterplate will need doing monthly to keep them in a high shine.  All our pieces are in solid brass and without lacquer so they last many lifetimes!


To suit our modern lifestyle, someone had the idea of coating the brass in a clear lacquer. Bingo! Instant zero maintenance! However beware, even the highest quality coating starts to deteriorate after a time with the combined effects of weather and body oils from handling, especially on door knobs, door handles and door knockers. When the lacquer starts to peel and wear off, you will get black spots and areas appearing, where the brass is exposed, this looks extremely unsightly. Generally the cheaper the brassware the sooner the lacquer starts to decline. The only thing you can do to correct this is to immerse the item in paint stripper and remove all the old coating, but as lacquers improve this can be hard to do.

How can I tell whether the brass is my house is lacquered or unlacquered?

The first thing would be to take a close look at your brassware items and if it looks tarnished, then it is very likely unlacquered. If it is shiny and you have never cleaned it is likely to be lacquered. Also if any brass has unsightly black spots on it then it could be a sign of a lacquer breakdown. You can also do a little test. Get a soft cloth and some metal cleaner and gently rub the brass. If this makes a black deposit on the cloth it is unlacquered and you can continue to polish it. If there is no deposit stop polishing, the item is lacquered and you will damage the coating by continuing to rub at it.

We can supply lacquered items in some of our ranges of brass door furniture if this it what you prefer, but we hardly ever do.

Another option if you do not want any maintenance, don’t want lacquered brass, but want shiny door furniture is to go for Nickel or Chrome plated brass. Most brass items shown on our website can be plated in nickel or chrome. If you chose this finish then remember never rub with polish or the plating will wear off, causing the brass to show through. Just a wipe with some warm soapy water occasionally will suffice.

If you have any further questions please feel free to give us a call.

Leave a Reply to Vicki Bale Cancel reply


    jamie says:

    Brought some solid brass outdoor lights and want them to tarnish, what is the best way to remove lacquer?

    Vicki Bale says:

    Hello Jamie
    There are products you can use to remove lacquer but it is outside my expertise. I should just Google it.

    lisa says:

    I have just ordered two unlacquered brass kitchen faucets. They are so shiny. That is not the look I want. How long will it take to make them look old and have that wonderful patina. Is there any way other than regular use to speed up the process?

    Vicki Bale says:

    So long as they are unlacquered they will tarnish so just be patient. To accelerate this there are products you can buy. Have a look on the internet. What makes them go off is moisture, sweaty hands and use. Hope this helps.

    Austin says:

    I just got a new brass spinner (those really popular fidget thingys) and I don’t know if it is lacquered or not you said if it was shiny and I nevered cleaned it was probably lacquer but mine is new right out of the box so I don’t know whether it’s lacquered or not

    Vicki Bale says:

    Most products these days are lacquered. Both lacquered and unlacquered are shiny out of the box. If it tarnishes it is unlacquered.

    Chami says:

    Hi Vicki,

    My friend’s buying a new condo and the developer claims to have changed all fixtures to unlacquered brass. The kitchen fixtures appears to be tarnished having dark spots & stains. They said it’s natural.

    Your article states that if polished it can keep its shiny state. Is there a possibility that the stains/spots be permanent?

    Appreciate your input. Thanks

    Vicki Bale says:

    Hello Chami, If the brass is unlacquered these marks will come off with a brass polish and a good clean. The brass will shine up to a newly polished look. If you clean it and the marks don’t come off, then you have lacquered brass. What will have happened is the lacquer is worn away in patches and the air gets to the brass and tarnishes only in these areas. There is nothing much you can do, just buy new! It could also be a brass coating over a cheap base metal, again scrap and buy new better quality items. Hope this helps.

    Gozi Wamuo says:

    I have a client who has a 1920s/1930s cottage we have new panelled doors and found Bakelite knobs. Doors will be painted…what material could the hinges be?

    Vicki Bale says:

    These would probably have been brass butt hinges. You can see ours here.

    Gozi Wamuo says:

    Thanks very much for this!

    don parkes says:

    I have an old clock how can I tell if its brass or bronze ? If its bronze can it be laquered

    Vicki Bale says:

    It is a bit outside my expertise, but Bronze will be a slightly pinker colour than brass. Also, with bronze casting you often get some slight imperfections on the surface. Like brass I would imagine bronze can be lacquered. Hope this helps.

    Sally Toogood says:

    Thank you for your brilliant tip on stripping the lacquer from lacquered brass door furniture. I’m excited to give it a go.