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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 comment


    Connie Brown says:

    What to do if the black areas are already there, will it ever shine again. Do I remove all the lacquer then polish? I did the metal test and it came out clean so I know it is lacquered.

    Vicki Bale says:

    There is not anything you can do. Scrap and buy unlacquered brass.

    Kendra says:

    Great info!!! Trying to bring my old, VERY dirty brass bed back to a shine. Thanks so much!!

    Carole Kruse says:

    Thank you for this information. As I volunteered to clean the brassware in my church, I needed to know whether some items were lacquered or not. Many are in a terrible state of tarnish so thank you for giving me the information I needed. I will start to check each item for lacquer/non-lacquer based on the above.

    Vicki Bale says:

    Glad to hear I have been of assistance. Good luck with the cleaning!

    Mary Ellen says:

    I have an unlaqured brass plated iron coffee with a three inch shallow scratch on the surface. Any suggestions on restoring this surface?

    Vicki Bale says:

    You can try a brass polish and if this doesn’t work you need to take it to a professional brass polisher.

    lana says:

    I have an unlaquered sink. I would love it to age gracefully but any time someone washes their hands there are these ugly water spots. Help!

    Vicki Bale says:

    I don’t have experience of brass sinks, but you either leave it to age and put up with the marks or you clean it with appropriate metal cleaner. Hope this helps.

    Carol says:

    This information was extremely helpful. I bought an old brass thermos bottle and it’s shiny in places, has some black dots around the top closing piece area, and also has what looks like regular tarnish to me. It also appears that someone in the past tried to clean it with a brass cleaner because some of that remains in the crevices. At least I know where to start, and what to do next. Very appreciative. Thank you.

    Thomas Cowan says:

    Can you let me know if you are able to re-lacquer old brass wall light fittings. Also, do you have a workshop in Northern Ireland. Thank you

    Vicki Bale says:

    Hello Thomas, sorry but no and no. We don’t lacquer anything.

    Murdo MacDonald says:

    I wonder if you would be kind and let me pick your brains? I have some individual items of brass and copper but as I get older I find it more difficult to keep polishing them. Can you recommend a company which could laquer them for me?

    Vicki Bale says:

    I am sorry but I don’t know. Maybe some platers offer this service. It has to be well done or it won’t last.

    Kauser says:

    I am interested in buying door knobs for my external door that has a mortice lock and would like your advice on a suitable door knob in keeping with the period . My house was build in 1915 so just after Edwardian and before Art deco. I think it does have a feel of arts and crafts(but not completely sure). The door has original brass letter box and lion head door knocker but sadly door knobs have been removed. Also can you recommend metal cleaner so I can test original door furniture to check it is unlacquered brass. Thank you
    P.S. I do like your Edinburgh brass, burcot swirl and Harley. Are any of these door knobs good for the period ?

    Vicki Bale says:

    If you mean a square door knob to a round door knob then that should be fine. The diameter of the round ones will need to be a similar size to the square ones so you don’t catch your fingers against the door frame.

    Vicki Bale says:

    If you mean a square door knob to a round door knob then that should be fine. The diameter of the round ones will need to be a similar size to the square ones so you don’t catch your fingers against the door frame.

    Vicki Bale says:

    Sorry for the late reply. The Edinburgh door knobs are not in stock at the moment, but the Harley or Burcot would be fine for the period. You just need to make sure the backset is ok for large door knobs. The distance between the edge of the door and the spindle hole. A good metal polish is Brasso. Hope this helps.

    Roger Hicks says:

    Besides the aesthetic appeal of unlacquered brass, I like its potential germicidal or antimicrobial properties. Long ago it was observed that water stored in copper vessels, was of better quality with little or no visible contamination, compared with water stored in other materials. Brass is actually a metallic alloy of copper and zinc, with copper being the principle component and therefor providing some useful hygienic benefit on things like door knobs. It has bacteriocidal properties, killing many microorganisms within minutes or hours of contact, depending upon circumstances. Copper also has bacteriostatic properties meaning that it also tends to stop microorganisms from multiplying.
    These effects are reported to be effective against some really nasty antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as MRSA, Clostridium Difficile and some of the nasty E Coli bacteria, all of which are spread by touch. Of course, if brass is covered in lacquer, any such beneficial effect is blocked by the resultant barrier!
    For those who are interested, there is a lot of internet based information – a search for “Antimicrobial properties of brass or copper”, will yield a lot and Wikipaedia is a good start.
    I love unlacquered brass for its visual quality and feel (the lacquered products are too blingy for me). I don’t even polish my internal door knobs – normal hand use seems to keep them with just a classy understated gleam. And the hygienic potential is a definite bonus! – (NB: Not everybody washes their hands when they ought to!)
    Very lastly, in these ecologically aware times, brass is eminently recyclable! What’s not to like! Well done, to Priors for offering unlacquered brass as their default.
    Roger Hicks

    Vicki Bale says:

    Thank you Roger for your interest and time. This is really great information for us and for our customers. It just shows that unlacquered brass is the best material for door furniture. The Victorians knew what they were doing! As if we didn’t know already!

    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.