How to clean antique brass watches

By | April 11, 2021

Keep the brass bells shining


Clean dirt and grime. Soak the bells in soapy water. Use a cloth or small brush to clean dirt. Do not neglect any decorative cracks. If you have trouble removing any of the dirt, soak the watch more before scrubbing a second time. A child’s toothbrush or cotton swab can be useful for hard-to-reach stains. Rinse thoroughly to remove all soap residue. Then wipe the watch.


If necessary, remove the old varnish from your antique brass watch. Cleaning can reveal old flat paint. Varnish on metal usually lasts about 10 years, but needs to be applied again after that time. Use a commercial paint remover. You may need to use fine steel wool with the paint remover. Clean again with soap and water to remove residue from the paint removal.


Polish the watch. Use a commercial brass grain or mix calcium carbonate with rubbing alcohol or distilled water for a milder polish. Gently rub the whole watch.

Not all watches have a bright glossy surface. Some watches have intentionally dark or semi-gloss surfaces. Wash the watch with soap and water. An alternative is to use acetone (an organic solvent) to clean the surface. Preservatives often use acetone for cleaning.


Paint the antique clock. Applying varnish protects the surface of the watch from dirt, grime and oils. Wipe with a soft cloth immediately before applying the varnish. Avoid leaving fingerprints on the watch before applying the varnish. Use the brush to apply the varnish evenly stroke. Let dry.

5. Keep your antique brass watch clean by frequent dusting or wiping with a damp cloth. You should not have to polish the watch again until you see cracks or flakes in the paint.

Tips and warnings

  • If you use calcium carbonate instead of commercial brass cereal, mix it with enough alcohol or distilled water to make a heavy sludge. Use it to polish your watch.
  • When you use metal polished, it removes the metal. Polish with light and soft strokes to maintain the longevity of your watch. Fire bells, ship bells, cooking bells, sleigh bells, dinner bells and school bells – all these and many other types of antique bells are made of brass. Whether people collect them for decorative or functional purposes, all watches must be cleaned and polished to maintain luster and shine.