Unlacquered Brass Is More Popular Than Ever: Pros and Cons of the Finish

Discover the pros and cons of unlacquered brass finishes, and find out if it's right for your home.

brass console sinks in bathroom

Caren Alpert

If the glow of polished brass feels too elegant, refined, or even just too polished, then unlacquered brass may be the ideal choice for your next hardware purchase. 

What’s the Difference Between Polished vs. Unlacquered Brass? 

Let’s start with polished brass. The durable metal is finished with a protective lacquer coat that retains its yellow shine. 

Now, what’s unlacquered brass? Simply put, it’s a raw brass that lacks a protective coating. That means exposure to air, smudges, and the like allows it to tarnish as it oxides over time. The result is a beautiful patina that feels warm but natural. 

Kitchen with gold accents

John Granen

Decorating with Unlacquered Brass

The unique properties of unlacquered brass are making it a go-to for designers and homeowners right now, particularly those looking to create a home that feels character-filled and storied. “I love unlacquered brass because it’s so timeless,” says interior designer Kristen Pena of K Interiors. “You’re not pigeonholed into a specific period or style of design because of the natural variation of the material.”

The other benefit of this adaptable unpolished go-to is that the collected sheen has a range of homes and styles it melds well with, says Pena. She prefers to pair it with a rich, saturated color palette. However, she adds that the look works well across various home styles, from transitional to Mediterranean, Spanish, and, yes, farmhouse. In other words, that muddled golden hue can work wonders, popping against white paint and worn antique furnishings alike. 

There are several ways to incorporate the look of unlacquered brass within a home. While the most common way is via knobs and pulls, there are also doorknobs, latches, and hinges. Or consider pot rails, vases, hooks, light fixtures, and accent ledge shelves. If you’re committed to the look, Pena even suggests seeking out kitchen and bathroom faucets in unlacquered brass, which can elevate a space. 

What Are the Downsides to Unlacquered Brass?

As much as Pena appreciates the look of unlacquered brass, she admits it’s not for everyone. “I would only suggest this to a client who would do well with natural imperfections inherent in a living finish.”

Another thing to note: This brass doesn’t necessarily wear evenly or quickly. So even if you yearn for hurried, darkened, dull hardware, it may take a year (or several!) for it to wear to its fullest potential. 

How often you clean the metal is one factor that plays into this desired wear and tear. Unlacquered brass is relatively easy to clean up. Simply use a mild dish detergent and a damp cloth for regular cleaning. Apply Bar Keepers Friend or Brasso to a microfiber cloth for a more aggressive scrubbing. But beware, because it may slow the gritty accumulation. After all, that’s the charm in unlacquered brass. As for Pena: “I’m team 'never polish,” she says. 

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