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How to Oxidize Brass and Copper to That Gorgeous Brown Color

Updated on May 21, 2016

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.

That's it!

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!

Materials List

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.

Bead on a Wire: Making Handcrafted Wire and Beaded Jewelry
Bead on a Wire: Making Handcrafted Wire and Beaded Jewelry

This is the wire-wrapping Bible. It is my favorite wire-wrapping book, and it also covers patinas.


Did you try these methods? Did they work for you? Let me know!

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    • profile image

      Owesom 18 months ago

      Nice...but what is use for? Plss

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      Shelli Godinho 2 years ago from Ontario, California

      Thanks for the idea. I think I will try the Ammonia method

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      @deliasdelight: thank you very much, i will try it and will give a feedback if it worked!

    • deliasdelight profile image

      Monica 5 years ago from Illinois

      @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.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      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?

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      @deliasdelight: Great, I will try that. Thank you so much.

    • deliasdelight profile image

      Monica 5 years ago from Illinois

      @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.

    • deliasdelight profile image

      Monica 5 years ago from Illinois

      @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!

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      jtbmetaldesigns 5 years ago

      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.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      @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?


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      AJTivol 5 years ago

      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.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      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!


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      Ziva 6 years ago

      Very good info., Monica!

    • deliasdelight profile image

      Monica 6 years ago from Illinois

      @anonymous: I just added some more helpful info in case you needed some. I will be adding to this lens very soon!

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      Thank you! Just the answer I was looking for!!!

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      anonymous 8 years ago

      Thanks a bunch!