There are actually several ways to get that gorgeous brown patina on your copper or brass. You can use chemicals, or more eco-friendly methods.
Some chemicals can be caustic and must be used with care. I use clear household ammonia, which works on copper and brass. Then of course there are the more common chemicals such as Liver of Sulfur, Black Max (which contains hydrochloric acid and tellurium), and antiquing solutions that contain iron nitrate.
The Hard-Boiled-Egg Method
This is an eco-friendly way to oxidize copper and sterling silver. The process takes four to six hours. Here is what you need:
- Two or three hard-boiled eggs (boiled for at least 5 minutes; the yolk should be solid).
- A small shallow dish on which to place your metal or jewelry pieces.
- A plastic container with a tigh- fitting lid, or a Ziploc bag. The container or bag must be large enough to hold the small dish plus the hard-boiled eggs with room to spare.
Chop the boiled eggs. Place your jewelry or metal pieces on the small dish. Add the chopped boiled egg to the plastic container or Ziploc bag. Place the small dish in the middle of the plastic container or inside the Ziploc Bag. The egg should not touch the metal or jewelry pieces. Cover with the lid or close the Ziploc Bag. Leave it alone! You will be tempted to look but don't! Using a Ziploc bag or a clear plastic container will help you withstand temptation. You can open the container or Ziploc bag when the metal or jewelry pieces darken to the color you want. Throw away the eggs, and shine your piece leaving some of the detail oxidized.
Using Household Ammonia for Copper and Brass
Using the fumes of household ammonia to oxidize metal is really quite easy and is an inexpensive way to oxidize copper and brass. I have tried this method on finished pieces that included freshwater pearls and turquoise which are usually considered delicate materials. All you need is a clean pickle jar with a lid, a piece of wire or fishing line to suspend your piece, and clear ammonia. It is a little smelly, but if you are quick the smell should be no problem. At no time should the metal or finished jewelry come in physical contact with the ammonia liquid; it is the fumes that will produce this patina. I do not know the scientific reason why, I just know it works!
First and foremost, clean your piece of brass or copper with either alcohol or acetone to remove any oils or dirt so that the patina is consistent throughout the piece. Do not touch the surface that you want to patina.
Pour about one inch of ammonia into a pint or quart size glass jar.
You can use wire or fishing line to suspend the metal or piece of jewelry just below the mouth of the jar. I taped the ends of two pieces of fishing line to the outside of the jar to create a little cradle. The piece must not come in contact with the liquid ammonia.
Screw on the lid and wait a couple hours. You can check the piece to see what color you want to stop at.
The ammonia odor on your piece should fade quickly, but if you want, you can leave the piece out for a while before very gently buffing out any high points for contrast.
Using More Traditional Chemicals—Safety First!
Of course you can use the tried and true, non-eco-friendly method of adding a patina to your metal with the use of chemicals like Liver of Sulphur, Black Max, and Antique Patina Solution. Some chemicals can be caustic and must be handled with care, both during the process of patination and while disposing of the chemicals afterward. Here are some safety tips:
- Make sure that you have a well-ventilated area to work in.
- Clear off your work surface and lay down paper, because accidents do happen.
- Always have a cup or bowl of clean water at the ready, as well as a bowl of water with a little baking soda mixed in. I usually take old coffee mugs and fill them up about halfway and add about a teaspoon of baking soda.
- Have paper towels, old t-shirts, or clean rags ready in case of spills, and to dry off your pieces after you rinse off the chemical you are using.
- Use safety glasses. Yes, no one likes to wear them, but are you willing to jeopardize your eyesight for one accidental splash? I think not!
- Use rubber/nitrile gloves. I prefer nitrile, as they are a bit thicker and sturdier than the thin latex or plastic gloves. They do cost more but I reuse them as many times as I can before they break. I just wash my hands with the gloves on when I am done, and pat the gloves dry with clean old towels before I take them off.
- Have lots of water handy. I personally like to use running water when I can, but when I teach classes that is not always possible, so a gallon jug of water is always at the ready!
Have these things on hand when you "patina" metal.
- Cotton swabs, cotton balls, or cotton pads
- Brass brush (this can get wet)
- Stainless steel brush (this shouldn't get wet)
- Green scrubbie pads, of the type you use for scouring dishpans. You can find them at any grocery store. My favorite brand is 3M.
- ProPolish pads. These are spongy pads that contain permanently bonded micro-abrasives. They are used to shine up the highlighted areas of your patinated pieces. You can purchase these at most online jewelry supply/bead shops.
- Cool Tools Patina Gel: Liver of Sulfur in Gel Form, 1.25 oz
This is my favorite form of Liver of Sulphur because it is so versatile. I can use it straight from the bottle, using a paint brush or cotton swab to apply it directly where I want, or I can dilute it in hot water to dunk the whole piece.
- Reactive Metals: Antique Patina for Copper and Brass
This is hands-down the best and fastest patina solution for copper and brass. A little goes a long way so use it very sparingly. I usually dip a cotton swab in water, place a drop or two of this solution on the swab, and rub it on the piece.
Choose which chemical you want to achieve the patina you want. The most important first step is to make sure your piece is clean before you start. You can use a paint brush, cotton swab or small piece of cotton/paper towel to apply your patina solution if there are pearls or other sensitive materials close to your metal. If the piece is all metal, I usually dunk the whole thing in a very warm solution of Liver of Sulfur and water. I will dunk until I get the color I want then immediately dunk in a cup of cold water with a teaspoon of baking soda mixed in to stop the oxidation process. Liver of Sulfur is probably my favorite for getting different colors on Copper and Silver. Black Max is the best for getting the metal completely black. You can use Liver of Sulfur to get your pieces black but it will take longer.
I always dip my oxidized pieces in a solution of cold water and baking soda to stop the oxidation process no matter what chemical I use. I then gently wash the piece in a solution of dish soap and water, rinse and dry. Dawn dish soap is my favorite but any will do as long as it is transparent. The ones with moisturizers in them just make them greasy, in my opinion.
Depending on the look you are going for, you can either use a clean soft cloth to buff the piece for a nice shine or if it has raised areas you can use a Propolish Cloth, Sunsheen Polishing Cloth or green 3M scrubby to gently remove the patina from the raised area while leaving the recessed areas dark.
Keep in mind that the patina on oxidized metal is temporary, unless you seal it with some kind of fixative. You can use an acrylic spray, acrylic liquid, or any other clear fixative to seal in the surface color. I would not recommend patinas on rings though. You wash your hands and rub against many things with your hands so the chances of that patina being scratched off or worn out will happen quicker than you will like, even with a fixative.
Store your pieces in a clear bag so they keep their patina and do not get darker or cause other jewelry to tarnish.
Did you try these methods? Did they work for you? Let me know!
Questions & Answers
Question: Where can I get copper that will antique well in patina?
Answer: You can get Raw Copper sheet or wire at any distributor like RioGrande.com or Monsterslayer.com, but there are many more places.
Question: I can’t find a way to do coiled wire...if I hang it with the ammonia method it patina unevenly. If I dunk it in solution I can’t get it all dried?
Answer: If your wire is already coiled, wash it before you oxidize it. Sometimes before I use my wire I will run it through a high grit sand paper or fine steel wool to give it some tooth. I would then wash and dry it and loosely coil it around my hand being careful not to handle too much so it doesn’t pick up any oils or use rubber gloves. Then oxidize it before you make coils. When you are done doing whatever you are going to do with the wire you can use either a sunshine cloth or pro polish pad to bring up highlights or lighten the patina.
Kaye Nutman on January 27, 2019:
Great instructions. Trying it out now on a copper ring. Thanks!
RickLanham@att.net on April 21, 2018:
I want a green patina on red and yellow brass.
Shelli Godinho from Ontario, California on April 10, 2015:
Thanks for the idea. I think I will try the Ammonia method
anonymous on May 26, 2012:
@deliasdelight: thank you very much, i will try it and will give a feedback if it worked!
Monica (author) from Illinois on May 25, 2012:
@anonymous: I have had that happen but only when I used Liver of Sulphur. I usually lightly sand the surface with either a green scrubbie pad or fine grit sponge prior to oxidizing as it will give the metal some tooth to hang on to the oxidation. Also make sure that the copper or brass is clean, even though it maybe polished, it might not be clean from any polishing compound you may be using. You can use any number of clear fixatives to seal in the color such as Future floor polish (crazy as it sounds, it is basically a very thin acrylic sealer, use a paint brush) or a spray acrylic fixative. Keep in mind though that when you apply an acrylic layer, any irridescent color you have achieved will dull because you are covering it with an acrylic. Hope this helps.
anonymous on May 18, 2012:
Very nice post! One question though - is it possible to "cure" the oxidation layer? that is - i used the egg method on my brass-copper jewelry and in the morning it looked veeery nice, brownish brass and almost black copper, but when i touched it with my fingers the black oxide which was on the copper cleaned away from the piece leaving it just a bit darker, but far away from that amazing black effect before. I understand that it can be desirable effect when the jewelry is hammered, spinned or has other irregular forms, because part of oxide goes away and part stays, but mine was flat and perfectly polished. I would like to be able to treat exide in some way to fix the color. How can i do it?
anonymous on April 19, 2012:
@deliasdelight: Great, I will try that. Thank you so much.
Monica (author) from Illinois on April 16, 2012:
@anonymous: Hmm,...that has happened before. Are you using Bare Copper/Bare Silver or Artistic Wire/Parawire? Some of the "Jewelry" wires have a coating on them that resists oxidation. I would suggest using a very fine piece of steel wool to the wire pieces and then washing with a paste of baking soda and a really good rinsing. I usually take my wire and use a green scouring pad to draw the wire before I use it. I also will oxidize my wire before wire wrapping with it. Mind you your hands will turn black from working with the oxidized wire but it will wash off and go away within a day or two. This method also affords the ability to buff out the high points and get some really nice contrast to bring out the wire wrap design.
Monica (author) from Illinois on April 16, 2012:
@anonymous: You can try the Fuming method first to see if that works. My inlaws had the same issue every time they cleaned the sink. It will get back to a patina eventually. When cleaning try using a solution of water, a little white vinegar and a couple of drops of antibacterial hand or dish soap. Apply it with a spray bottle and use a soft sponge. Good Luck!
anonymous on April 15, 2012:
@deliasdelight: Hello, I have tried the hard boiled egg method a couple of times now. I have cleaned the pieces thoroughly, however, they are oxidized unevenly and spotted - some parts are black, while others do not oxidize much. Any suggestions on how to oxidize more evenly?
AJTivol on April 15, 2012:
How nice to see such a thorough list of safety gear and supplies -- I never think to pull these things together until I'm mid-mess and then I'm scrambling. Now I can just put most of these things together in a kit with a list of everything I need and I'll always have what I need at hand. Nicely done.
anonymous on March 12, 2012:
could you please tell me which method warranted that beautiful gold color on the bracelet and the turquoise necklace? We just bought an old copper sink and I cleaned it with "bar keepers friend" and It completely lost all of it's patina! :( It doesn't match the faucet anymore, which is the exact brown on those two pieces of jewelry. Thank you so so much!
jtbmetaldesigns on December 09, 2011:
I thank you for this informative lense. I mean hard boiled eggs? Hard to justify using 3 eggs since my family goes through a dozen a week.
Ziva on May 21, 2011:
Very good info., Monica!
Monica (author) from Illinois on May 20, 2011:
@anonymous: I just added some more helpful info in case you needed some. I will be adding to this lens very soon!
anonymous on May 20, 2011:
Thank you! Just the answer I was looking for!!!
anonymous on February 14, 2009:
Thanks a bunch!