(Real Simple) -- Here are some easy remedies for those tarnished brass candlesticks, silver flatware, and more.
How to polish stainless steel
Help your metals retain luster by using the right products to clean and polish them.
What to use: Wright's Stainless Steel Polish ($2.75).
What to know: Stainless steel is aptly named -- it rarely has to be polished. And it's the only metal that can go in the dishwasher, as long as the entire piece is stainless. Do not put a sterling-handled knife with a stainless blade in the dishwasher.
Useful tips: Waxy polishes can leave a film on stainless steel, so use a nonwaxy polish, like Wright's, or Palmolive or a similar phosphate-free dish soap. Do not finish a teapot with a waxy protectant. Heat will melt it, and you'll have rank-tasting, gummy tea.
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How to polish brass
What to use: Wright's Brass Cream ($2.75).
What to know: Much old brass is lacquered and must be stripped before polishing. Lacquer can be identified by feeling a chipped edge or by noticing uneven discoloration where the lacquer has chipped and the brass has oxidized. If you are unsure, take your piece to a professional.
Useful tips: Don't heed most folklore about treating brass. Never strip it with ketchup (it may work, but not as well as nail-polish remover will). Never finish it with olive oil (it is sticky and will attract dust and moisture). And never use ammonia or steel wool (both are too harsh).
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How to polish pewter
What to use: Rubbing alcohol to remove grime; Renaissance Wax ($12) to coat. If polish is desired, try Hagerty's Pewter Wash ($6).
What to know: Pewter is normally not polished, simply because the tarnished, aged look is preferred. It's a very thin metal, so it should be treated gingerly. Keep it out of the oven, even if you're just keeping your Thanksgiving turkey warm, because it could melt.
Useful tips: Avoid serving acidic foods and beverages -- such as lemons, tomatoes, orange juice, hollandaise sauce, and wine -- in pewter pieces, because they will eat away the metal.
How to polish copper
What to use: Wright's Copper Cream ($2.75) or Goddard's Brass & Copper Polish ($5).
What to know: Some sources say to clean copper with lemon and salt, but it's best to stay away from these materials. The acidity of the lemon and the abrasiveness of the salt can ruin copper's finish. Use a commercial copper polish instead.
Useful tips: Tarnish is difficult to remove when it has settled in hard-to-reach spots, such as the seam where a handle attaches to a pot. Paste polishes are likely to cake in those areas. To clean, use a Q-tip or a horse-hair brush. To remove caked-on paste, use rubbing alcohol.
How to polish silver
What to use: Hagerty's Silversmith Spray Polish ($13) or Hagerty's Silver Foam ($5).
What to know: Sterling and silver plate should be treated in the same, gentle way. If your piece doesn't clean easily, take it to a professional. And never put silver flatware in the dishwasher. The extreme heat can warp it, and bumping against other metals can leave marks.
Useful tips: Store silver in acid-free tissue paper or unbleached cotton muslin (found at fabric stores) inside a Ziploc bag. Avoid serving eggs or mayonnaise on silver; the sulfur in them tarnishes it.
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