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How to Clean Door Hinges and More

January 29, 2020

Whether you are refurbishing a vintage furniture find or touching up hinges and handles around your home, knowing how to properly clean hardware and how to clean door hinges among other fixtures is important.

Cabinet hardware and door pulls and knobs can be made from a variety of materials including brass, bronze, copper, nickel, silver, and stainless steel. The most common hardware materials, however, are brass, copper, and stainless steel. These are the metals that we will focus on in this how-to.

Over time, metals can show signs of wear and even corrode. Some people actually like the patina that occurs with aging metals because they feel that it makes their furniture piece look antique. The good news is that you can remove years of tarnish and still keep the charm of your favorite chest of drawers or door knocker. Here’s how to clean door hinges and other fixtures:

Remove Hardware

how to clean door hinges - tools - image 1The first thing that you are going to need to do is remove the hardware from your furniture, door, or cabinet. You cannot clean hardware while it’s still attached because you will risk damaging the wood or other elements. Plus, removing the hinges, knobs, and pulls allows you access to clean them thoroughly.

Remove the hardware by hand to avoid damage and stripping the screws. Do not use power tools. If there is paint in the screw slots, use a small flat head screwdriver or X-acto knife to gently remove it so that you can get a good connection to remove the screws. When you’re done, but the screws in a safe spot for later.

Test Your Metal

You need to know what kind of metal you are working with in order to ensure proper care.

Brass – Brass is used in many household hardware applications including door knobs, door knockers, and locks. Telling the difference between brass and brass plated hardware is relatively easy. Brass is heavy, while brass plated items are light. A sure way to tell the difference between the two is to use a kitchen magnet. If the magnet sticks, then the hardware is brass-plated. You will need to be extra gentle with brass-plated items. If the magnet does not stick, then the hardware is solid brass. Brass is bright and almost golden in color. It is more susceptible to corrosion than bronze or copper.

Copper – Copper is brown in color and has a rustic sheen that is between brass and bronze. Unlike brass and bronze, copper is not made of any alloys. It is a pure metal and is not magnetic.

Stainless Steel – Stainless steel is an alloy. Generally, it is magnetic, unlike silver.

Special Consideration for Painted Hardware

Paint is another big challenge to cleaning hardware. Not everyone values the look of untouched hardware. Previous homeowners, tenants, or landlords may have chosen the easy route and painted right over doorknobs, handles and hinges. The shabby chic fad turned out endless pieces of furniture painted monochrome white and hid gorgeous brass knobs and pulls under layers of paint.

If you are facing either of these challenges, you will need to take a few extra steps to remove paint from hardware pieces. But, the end result will be well worth the effort.

Keep in mind that homes built before 1978 may have been painted with lead paint. This goes for painted vintage furniture, as well. Take extra precautions when you are working with items that might be painted with lead-based paint. You should always wear protective gloves when stripping or restoring projects, and this is especially true when it comes to working with lead paint.

Work in a well ventilated room, and keep children and pets away from your work area. Small projects like stripping hardware should not require much more special consideration except to work wet and clean up your work area thoroughly. For bigger projects, consider familiarizing yourself with the guidelines in the EPA’s Renovate Right Program.

Soak Painted Hardware in Warm Water

To remove paint from hardware, fully submerge them in a pan or old crockpot. Make sure that your pot is one that you will never use again to prepare food. Heat on low for an hour or two. Do not add any chemicals or cleansers to this pot. For your safety, cleansers should never be heated or boiled.

Wearing protective gloves, remove the hardware from the pot using tongs (not to be used on food again) or pliers.

Use a plastic scraper to remove paint. Do not use a metal scraper as it can scratch the finish. If paint still remains after scraping, put it back in the post to soften up the paint again. Repeat as needed.

Rinse hardware

Once you have removed the hardware (and the paint, if necessary), soak it for a few minutes in lukewarm water and a small amount of mild dish soap to remove any dirt or debris.

Remove the hardware from the water. Do not dry.

Apply Cleanser to Hardware

Apply Bar Keepers Friend powdered Cleanser or Soft Liquid Cleanser to a wet, non-abrasive sponge or cloth. Avoid applying the cleanser directly on the surface of your furniture hardware, hinges, handles, or knobs.

Make sure that your hardware surface is still wet and use the sponge or cloth to apply BKF to your hardware. Having a wet surface will create a paste and help you to avoid scratching the surface.

You can use a soft-bristled toothbrush or Magic Eraser to get into nooks, crannies, and details that you can’t otherwise reach with a sponge or cloth. Do not use metal brushes of any kind. Also, be careful of rings and other metal objects, which can mar the hardware.

As you scrub the cleanser on the hardware, you will see the tarnish lift from the piece.

Rinse Bar Keepers Friend from hardware after one minute. Repeat cleanser application as needed.

It may take some elbow grease and repeat applications to get the hardware as clean as you like. Don’t despair. It took years for it to get so tarnished. It is likely that it will require more than one application and a few minutes of scrubbing to get your hardware back in shape.

Rinse and Buff

Once you have removed the tarnish to your liking, fully rinse the hardware in water.

Use a soft, damp, lint-free cloth to buff the hardware. Make sure that you are wearing gloves to avoid leaving any oil from your hands on the hardware.

Finally, use a soft towel or cloth to dry the hardware and let it completely dry before replacing it on your cabinets or doors.


How to Care for Hardware

Now that you have restored your hinges, hooks, or handles, you probably should know how to care for them so that they don’t end up in bad shape again.

First, do not use furniture polish or other non-metal cleansers on them. Furniture polish contains wax, which can build up and hurt your hardware. Soap and de-greasers can separate the lacquer plating on bronze and brass.

Copper, bronze, and brass are anti-microbial. They can be cleaned using a soft cloth dampened (not wet) with water. You want to avoid getting any moisture on the furniture or cabinet.

You should avoid using water on stainless steel. Instead, consider using a cleaner specifically for stainless, like Bar Keepers Friend Stainless Steel Cleanser & Polish. Using a cleaner specifically for stainless steel will allow you to avoid spotting of the metal. Spray the cleaner on a soft cloth and apply only to the hardware.

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