Unlacquered Brass: The Good, Bad + The Smudgy

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“Knob snobs” might tell you unlacquered brass is the most authentic; a finish touted by designers as the final word in a timeless style. However, it might surprise you what unlacquered brass is really like once you have it in your home. I’ll admit I am still shocked at how quickly the brass ages.

unlacquered brass hardware with a patina

Unlacquered Brass Hardware… It’s Not For Everyone

Brass is a common finish enjoyed by just about everyone. But unlacquered brass’s unique properties make it not universally loved.

What is unlacquered brass? It is simply brass with no protective coating. This allows for fingerprints and smudges, that eventually give way to the entire surface being a lovely, antiqued, duller color. This is the tarnish people speak of (the aged look is referred to as patina). It’s a living finish because it changes over time!

Most brass available in stores is lacquered, unless specified directly. Assume your typical brass has a thin coat of varnish of lacquer that protects it from darkening.

a front door that is open
our Emtek entry set in an unlacquered brass

Will unlacquered brass corrode?

Solid unlacquered brass will tarnish and darken over time as it oxidizes, but it will not corrode or rust. Brass is a durable metal.

How to polish unlacquered brass?

Like it shiny? Polishing unlacquered brass will restore the brass back to its’ original shiny finish again!

It dulls at a rate that depends on how often you are touching it, the oils of your hands, minerals in water, etc. This means the hardware you touch the least will look polished, whereas hardware you frequently use will be aged.

polished brass vs unlacquered brass
Vesta and Schaub 478

To polish unlacquered brass, rub it with Brasso or Bar Keepers Friend, and a microfiber cloth and you’ll have your brass shiny again in just a few minutes. But if you are polishing frequently, better to consider lacquered polished brass with no maintenance.

If you like the patina, leave it alone. That’s all there is to it; you will find it low-maintenance!

Before and afters

The funny thing is, unlacquered brass was actually considered old school and out of date several decades ago. Americans began sealing raw brass to avoid tarnishing.

In today’s world, we consider unlacquered brass hardware a luxury, with a higher price tag as proof. But this living finish is not called beautiful by everyone. Truthfully, it grew on me! I went from thinking but why did it get dirty so fast to it looks so antique.

We picked a raw brass finish for our front door hardware, and to be truthful I wasn’t sure how I would feel living with the brass patina. I was nervous – the handles were so pretty and polished right out of the box!

unlacquered brass hardware on a black door

We touch these door knobs multiple times a day, so the finish aged right away. I am now waiting for the fingerprints and smudges to turn into a dull patina which I find much prettier. Eventually, the entire surface ages enough where you can’t see individual prints.

Our same hardware a month later (our family of 6 lives here!):

unlacquered brass handle on a front door
gold front door handles

I will probably polish this hardware if I start seeing green.

Polished unlacquered brass hardware and plumbing

unlacquered brass hardware on white cabinets

You can see in the photo above how unlacquered brass tarnishes at different rates depending on how often each one is touched, but somehow it all still works.

unlacquered brass against green cabinets
Source: Emily Henderson
unlacquered brass faucet
Source: Emily Henderson
unlacquered brass door handle

Aged Unlacquered brass

unlacquered brass faucet with patina
source: Devol faucet
a raw gold faucet
a raw gold finish on a shower faucet with patina

Beauty is subjective of course, but in my mind this is the perfect stage of aged brass:

unlacquered brass door knob with patina
an unlacquered brass doorknob
unlacquered brass faucet over sink
kitchen with green cabinets and marble countertops

a shiny gold faucet and a copper sink

Unlacquered brass vs. polished brass

Hardware such as polished brass, satin brass, brushed brass or even antique brass is generally lacquered (unless specified). The finishes are not living – the color remains the same.

I love brass light fixtures so much, they are the main finish in both our previous coastal home and our new renovation! Don’t miss my 24 Brass Flush Mount Lights post, see our Visual Comfort Darlana + Linear Pendant Up Close (with knock offs too) – or see all the lighting we picked out for the upstairs of our home.

Antique brass is a finish to look into if you like a patina – it is a brass that comes already aged, but won’t age any more. You can usually find it plated so that the antique look will not darken. But if choosing multiple items, you may want to have your finishes match, as they will differ per each manufacturer.

Skip the headache of matching all the brass

A major benefit to using unlacquered brass is the universal finish. Regardless of the manufacturer – genuine unlacquered brass will look closely the same out of the box.

various kinds of hardware and appliance pulls

Hardware Sources:

Bin Pulls: one | two | three

Appliance Pulls: one | two | three

Drawer Pulls: one | two | three | four

Cabinet Knobs: one | two | three | four

Rules on using unlacquered brass

There’s no hard and fast rules to using a living finish, but like anything else it does fit into certain styles of homes best.

open door with unlacquered brass hardware

When we changed out our nickel pulls for brass in our new construction home, unlacquered brass hardware wasn’t the right choice for our brand new kitchen. The vibe in our blue and white space was new, with a fresh, coastal feel. Unlacquered brass gives off an old world feel, or a collected style. The two styles didn’t mix for me!

a kitchen with polished brass hardware

source: pulls

See our house tour here.

Unlacquered brass is my first choice for the kitchen we are renovating in our next home. The hardware, faucet, all of it! We’re going for classic in this older, more traditional home. The kitchen will boast creamy white cabinets and marble, so hardware with a patina feels natural.

Our hardware installation is on the books for this spring of 2022. I’ll be updating this post with the install photos and sharing how it ages. It’s the before and after that everyone wants to really see, right?

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