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 took a risk and chose this finish for our kitchen. 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 long does it take for the brass to patina?

Brass patinas at a rate that depends on how often you are touching it, the oils on your hands, minerals in water, etc. This means the hardware you frequently use will look darker and aged, where as the hardware you touch the least will remain polished.

polished brass vs unlacquered brass
Vesta and Schaub 478

How to clean unlacquered brass?

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

To clean and polish unlacquered brass, use a microfiber cloth to rub in Brasso or Bar Keepers Friend, and you’ll have your brass shiny again in 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 of unlacquered brass plumbing and hardware

Below you can see our faucet after 8 months (made by Waterstone, tour our entire kitchen here).

unlacquereid brass faucet showing age
unlacquered brass handles and cups on a cabinet

See in the photo above how unlacquered brass tarnishes at different rates, with the aging mostly happening at the top? It is just depending on how often each one is touched, but somehow it all still works.

unlacquered brass faucet
Source: Emily Henderson

Aged patina can turn… green!?

Especially around water, there is the possibility that your brass can have some green in the patina! Our kitchen faucet hasn’t shown any green, but our bathroom faucets have a lot! I polish the green off from time to time, but it doesn’t bother me.

Our guest bedroom’s bath:

a brass faucet turning green
Waterworks brand faucet

The powder bath faucet is used the most by our family. Can you tell!?

an unlacquered brass faucet

You can find this exact Rohl faucet here in several finishes.

unlacquered brass faucet with patina
source: Devol faucet
a raw gold faucet
a raw gold finish on a shower faucet with patina
unlacquered brass faucet over sink
kitchen with green cabinets and marble countertops

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.

From the “awkward stage” to the beautiful antiqued look

We picked a raw brass finish for our front door hardware too.

Out of the box:

unlacquered brass hardware on a black door

One month later, full of fingerprints and smudges not yet turned into pretty patina:

unlacquered brass handle on a front door
gold front door handles

Update: A full year later, the entire surface aged to a dull finish.

unlacquered brass door hardware and doorknobs

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

unlacquered brass door knob with patina
unlacquered brass against green cabinets
Source: Emily Henderson

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, in my mind.

a kitchen with polished brass hardware

source: pulls

See our previous house tour here.

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.

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. My office doorknob:

antique brass door lever on a door
an unlacquered brass doorknob
unlacquered brass door handle

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.

unlacquered brass hardware on white cabinets

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