3 Ways to Clean Rusty Antique Drawer Pulls

You know that project that you keep saying you’re going to do, but you just really don’t want to? That was this antique dresser. 

I bought this dresser for a great price nearly a year ago and have stared at it during every meal and said countless times, ” I really need to repaint that.”

Well, I bit the bullet and finally completed the project that I had been dreading. Was it awful? No. Do I want to do it again? Also no. But it’s over and now my cute little coffee station doesn’t blend in with the walls anymore.

Refinishing the coffee station was one of my 2019 Home Project Goals. So happy to check it off the list!

See all the goals I’ve set for my home in 2019.

coffee bar update, before and after of a painted antique dresser

While I was waiting for a coat of paint to dry, I decided to try to clean up the drawer pulls a little bit. I honestly hadn’t thought much of the drawer pulls, but I figured since they were already off the drawers I should probably clean them now or it would never happen.

before and after of cleaning antique drawer pulls
The bottom drawer pull is after just a couple rounds with Bar Keepers Friend!

I had no idea they actually looked like this!!

After scrubbing off about 100 years of dirt and rust, these beauties were looking pretty good!

3 ways to remove rust and dirt from antique drawer pulls. from gross to glowing

I tried a few different methods for cleaning the drawer pulls. Here are the 3 cleaning methods that worked best for me.

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1. Baking Soda

A friend tipped me off to this method, and I’m so glad she did! Boiling water with baking soda worked the best of all the methods I tried. 

How to use the baking soda method

  1. Boil some water in a small pot
  2. Once the water is boiling, sprinkle in some baking soda
  3. Use metal tongs to dip your drawer pulls into the bubbly baking soda water
  4. Hold the drawer pulls in the water for a minute or so and watch the rust and dirt float away (so satisfying!)
  5. Place drawer pull on towel and lightly scrub in the crevices with a soft toothbrush while it’s still hot
  6. Repeat as necessary
clean antique drawer pulls with baking soda. Baking soda and boiling water is the easiest method for removing dirt and rust

A few tips for this cleaning method

  • Use metal tongs to dip the handles in and shake them a little bit in the foam/bubbles. This helped to knock more of the rust and dirt off.
  • Don’t do this in a cooking pot! I picked up a cheap used pot from the thrift store.
  • The baking soda will foam and bubble A LOT. Keep an eye on your pot so it doesn’t boil over.

2. Bar Keepers Friend

The first thing I tried when I decided to clean up this hardware was Bar Keepers Friend. This product is awesome for cleaning metal surfaces so I knew it would be a great choice for the drawer pulls. It worked really well, but it did require a lot of scrubbing.

How to use Bar Keepers Friend

  1. Get the drawer pull wet
  2. Sprinkle some Bar Keepers Friend on the drawer pull and pat it down so the powder gets into all of the little crevices
  3. Let it sit for 5 minutes or so
  4. Scrub with a toothbrush and rinse with water
  5. Repeat until your hardware looks squeaky clean
Bar Keepers Friend removed rust and dirt from antique drawer pulls

Some Tips for using Bar Keepers Friend

  • I don’t know if it’s necessary to wear gloves, but I did just to make sure the powder wouldn’t irritate my hands. These are the same gloves I wear for staining wood and they held up great against the Bar Keepers Friend.
  • Be gentle with your scrubbing. I accidentally scrubbed some of the finish off of the raised sections of these drawer pulls while trying to clean out the grooves.

3. Brasso

Brasso was the last thing I used on my drawer pulls and it did a great job of shining them up. It was my least favorite cleaning method because of the chemical smell of Brasso. It has a very strong chemical smell that left me with a headache even though I only used it for about 20 minutes or less in an area with an open window and fan.

The Brasso worked best on hardware that was already mostly clean. For drawer pulls that still had some rust and dirt I used a toothbrush to rub the Brasso in and gently knock the rust off.

How to use Brasso

  1. Squirt a little bit of Brasso onto a cloth rag
  2. Rub the Brasso into the drawer pull with the rag
  3.  For pulls with a lot of rust, use a toothbrush to get the Brasso into the small crevices and knock off the rust.
  4.  Buff the hardware with a clean rag
Brasso removed some of the remaining rust from the antique drawer pulls and gave the pulls a little shine

Tips for using Brasso

  • Make sure you’re in a well ventilated area and consider wearing a breathing mask
  • I wore gloves again because I wasn’t sure if the Brasso would irritate my hands.
  • Be sure to scrub all of the Brasso off of the hardware. It will leave a green tint anywhere that it is not rubbed off.

Related: Troubleshooting Drawer Slides


If your metal drawer pulls are rusted, you can opt to sand blast them.

You’ll need an air compressor for sandblasting as well as a sandblaster, but this can be a great way to give your drawer pulls a new look.

Cleaning Antique Drawer Pulls

My drawer pulls didn’t turn out perfect, but there are SO MUCH cleaner than before! I didn’t even know they had a pattern before I started cleaning them! Each of the cleaning methods I used worked well to remove the rust and grime from these antique beauties. 

If you’re not sure where to start, I recommend the baking soda and boiling water. It’s the cheapest method and made the biggest difference for me.

Good Luck!

3 easy ways to clean antique hardware. from gross to glowing, pinterest image