How to clean exterior door hardware | Brennan Enterprises
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How to clean exterior door hardware

Are you getting ready to clean some door hardware? For most of us, cleaning is part of our daily routine. Still, usually, it’s limited to cleaning inside the house — kitchen, bathroom, laundry, tidying up an office or bedrooms. Cleaning the exterior of our home seems to require a little more effort and planning — windows, doors, siding, and pathways. I think the same goes for cleaning our exterior door hardware. 

For the most part, a little soap and water or even a dry cloth can make a difference in the appearance of a dirty door handle and lock. But what should you do when that’s not enough? We did a little research and found some tips on how to clean exterior door hardware; if you want to skip to that part, click here. Read on for a little more information on different types of metals and finishes on door hardware. 

True or False?: “There are 114 million existing doorways in the United States, with about two million new ones added every year.1” Find the answer at the bottom of this post.

Types of door handle metals and materials

In the U.S., most door knobs and levers are made from brass. Historically, door knobs and levers have been made from glass, wood, clay, bronze, brass, iron, and steel. Today, most door hardware in the U.S. is brass, but you’ll also find options made from bronze, stainless steel, iron, pewter, and other metals. Some of these metals are pure, and others are mixed. Whether pure or composite, the metals’ quality can vary; some are better suited for doors than others2


  • The metal used in most high-end hardware
  • Malleable enough for ornate details
  • It may be available lacquered or unlacquered (living finish that will tarnish with age)
  • A lacquered finish can chip off, revealing the living finish
  • It’s a soft metal that can be damaged relatively easily


  • Strong material that’s easy to cast
  • Good in coastal regions
  • Real bronze has a living finish that will brown and darken over time

Stainless steel

  • Commonly used for decorative hardware
  • Steel is available in multiple grades; some are stronger and more resistant to rust than others
  • Generally low maintenance


  • Old pewter hardware may have lead contents
  • The soft metal is ideal for intricate designs
  • Can develop a patina
  • Can be damaged or dinged

How will you know from what material your handle is made?

Identifying the material of your door handle may be challenging. However, here are two tips that might help you.

  1. If the color of the hardware has changed, it could give you a hint at the type of metal it is. 
  2. If your hardware has a brand name, you could contact the manufacturer to ask about the product or look it up online.

Types of finishes used on door hardware

When we talk about hardware finish, we usually mean the color. However, it also refers to the types of coatings or processes used to achieve the final look and color of the product. Take a look at the five types of methods below3

5 types of finishing processes

Living finishes: oil-rubbed bronze, unlacquered brass, waxed finish 

A living finish will change color over time. The color of the hardware changes over time because of the oils on our hands. That means all the living finish hardware will eventually look different even if it looked the same or similar when purchased4

Living finishes are typically reserved for interior door handles. You can also choose a living finish for your exterior hardware, but it will oxidize or tarnish more quickly. 

Lacquered finishes

A lacquered finish is a protective coating commonly applied to hardware. Coatings are applied as a spray lacquer or baked electrophoretic coating; the baked coating is more durable. 

Lifetime PVD finish

A lifetime finish is applied through Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD). The process changes the properties of the surface of the hardware creating a durable, corrosion, and tarnish-resistant finish. Hardware with a PVD finish is a good option for homeowners in coastal areas where moisture and salt can affect metals.

Stainless steel finish

Stainless steel is made in several grades5. Door hardware is typically made with stainless steel in the 200 series or 300 series. Stainless steel grade 304 is the most common; in fact, it’s the same grade of metal used in some Schlage door levers6. Stainless steel stands up to the weather; it won’t rust or stain easily. Stainless steel is finished through various processes, including cold-rolling, applying acid solutions, brushing, sanding, and polishing7. Smooth stainless steel finishes are also hygienic; the lack of pores and crevices means there aren’t places for rust, bacteria, and dirt to hide. 

Chrome finish

Chrome looks similar to stainless steel but is finished differently. Chrome is finished through electrodeposition, where a layer of chromium is deposited onto the chrome using an electric current. The additional layer of chromium makes chrome hardware resistant to corrosion, easy to clean, and among one of the most durable finishes. 

Door hardware color finishes

Door companies and manufacturers who sell door hardware may change the name of their color finishes to sound more alluring to customers, but in the U.S., two finish code systems standardize colors. The two systems are the Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association codes (BHMA) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) U.S. standard finish codes8. Below is an example table with ANSI/BHMA finish codes, descriptions, and equivalent finishes9

How to clean exterior door hardware

We use our door handles so often that we don’t even think about it. High-touch surfaces need to be cleaned regularly, including door hardware on the exterior side of our homes. If you need some tips on how to clean external hardware, you’ve come to the right place. Below are some tips we’ve gathered for cleaning different types of handle metals. 

Cleaning tips

Before you start cleaning your exterior door hardware, ensure it is not damaged, especially if you are dealing with antique hardware. Corrosion, in particular, can make hardware brittle, and cleaning won’t improve its appearance. Most importantly, ensure you have the right cleaning supplies before you begin. If you’re unsure what kind of hardware you have, consider testing your cleaning products on a hidden area before proceeding. Certain chemicals can cause different reactions in different metals. 

Small buffing tools will make the process easier, but they don’t work around all handles and levers. Be prepared to do a bit of manual scrubbing and polishing. Some tools you’ll need to have handy include a soft-bristled toothbrush, scrubbing pads, and soft cloths. 

Now, let’s look at how to clean some of the various metals your hardware might be made of.

Cleaning brass and copper door hardware

Copper and brass hardware tend to discolor over time, and while this patina can look appealing, when there’s too much build-up, you need to remove it. The best option is to use a commercial copper or brass cleaner that is mildly abrasive. Apply a thin layer, allow to dry, and then buff. You might need to repeat the process if your hardware is very discolored and dirty.

Cleaning lacquered brass door hardware

As the name suggests, lacquered brass door hardware is coated with a layer of hard-wearing, durable lacquer. As long as this layer is not damaged, you should not have to do more than gently wipe your door hardware with a soft cloth and some warm soapy water. To add another layer of protection, use natural wax to polish the hardware when you’re done. 

Cleaning pewter door hardware

It would be best to clean your pewter door hardware every three to six months to avoid discoloration. You can clean pewter door hardware with a soft cloth and soapy water. However, if it’s begun to discolor, you might need to use a commercial polishing compound to remove the patina. 

Cleaning chrome and nickel hardware

A mixture of salt and lemon juice or commercial cleaners can be used to clean chrome and nickel hardware. You will need to clean bright and polished metals more frequently to preserve the shine. 

Cleaning sterling silver hardware

Sterling silver tarnishes when exposed to air. Like chrome and nickel, it needs to be cleaned more frequently. A commercial cleaning product is probably best to ensure that you don’t harm the surface of this valuable metal. 

Cleaning stainless steel hardware

Stainless steel hardware is made to be, well, stainless. So cleaning this metal shouldn’t be too difficult. A soft cloth and soapy water followed by a soft dry cloth should be all you need. Specialty stainless steel cleaners from the store may also be helpful. 

Remember to buff any metal after cleaning to preserve the shine!

An infrequent job

The good news is that contemporary exterior door hardware is made to stand up to the elements and frequent use. Unless you have an older home with original hardware or a home with antique hardware, you probably won’t have to clean too frequently except for hygienic reasons. Cleaning the hardware every few months should be enough to keep the hardware looking great.


True or False? Answer: False. There should be more than 114 million doorways in the United States. The statement above was shared on a “How products are made” article that doesn’t actually have a date stamp on it. According to the United States Census Bureau there were approximately 138 million housing units in 202010 and according to Statista, there were approximately 142 million housing units in the United States as of 202111. All that to say, there are many more doorways that are unaccounted for in the United States. 














Ariana Martinez
Ariana Martinez
August 02, 2022


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