What Happens to Brass When It Gets Wet?

Have you ever wondered if the old saying that ‘brass will tarnish when exposed to water’ is actually true?

Well, the answer might surprise you. When brass comes into contact with moisture, a series of chemical reactions are set in motion that can alter its appearance and properties.

But what exactly happens to brass when it gets wet?

Stay tuned to uncover the fascinating transformations that take place and how they can impact this alloy’s durability and aesthetics.

Chemical Reaction With Water

When brass comes into contact with water, a chemical reaction occurs that can lead to visible changes in the metal’s appearance and properties. This water interaction initiates a process known as metal degradation. The reaction typically starts with the formation of a thin layer of copper oxide on the surface of the brass. This oxide layer contributes to the tarnishing of the metal, resulting in a dull and discolored appearance. Additionally, prolonged exposure to water can lead to the formation of greenish-blue copper carbonate, commonly known as patina, which further alters the brass’s visual appeal.

Metal degradation due to water interaction is a gradual process, but it can be accelerated in the presence of impurities or pollutants in the water. Chlorine, for example, can expedite the corrosion of brass when combined with moisture. To mitigate the effects of water on brass, it’s essential to keep the metal dry and implement proper cleaning and maintenance routines to prevent significant degradation over time.

Formation of Patina

Upon contact with water and air, brass undergoes a chemical reaction that leads to the formation of a greenish-blue copper carbonate layer known as patina. This patina formation occurs due to the oxidation of copper in the brass alloy. When exposed to moisture and oxygen, copper atoms react with carbon dioxide in the air to form copper carbonate, which deposits on the brass surface as a thin layer of patina.

The formation of patina on brass isn’t just a chemical process but also contributes to the aesthetic appeal of the metal. Many people appreciate the unique look that patina gives to brass objects, as it can create a sense of antiquity and character. Patina is often associated with age and history, adding a vintage charm to brass items such as sculptures, decorations, and instruments.

While some may prefer the shiny appearance of polished brass, the natural patina that develops over time can enhance the visual appeal of brass objects, making them stand out with a distinct and weathered beauty.

Impact on Brass Color

Exposure to moisture alters the color of brass due to the chemical reactions occurring on its surface, resulting in a transformation that impacts the metal’s appearance.

When brass comes into contact with moisture, it starts to undergo color changes due to the formation of surface tarnish. Initially, the bright, golden hue of brass may shift to a darker, more subdued tone as tarnish begins to develop.

This tarnish is primarily a result of the oxidation process, where the metal reacts with oxygen in the air and moisture to form a thin layer of corrosion on its surface.

As this tarnish layer thickens over time, the color of the brass continues to evolve, ranging from brownish hues to greenish tones, depending on the specific environmental conditions and the composition of the brass alloy.

The color changes in brass due to surface tarnish are a visual representation of the ongoing chemical reactions taking place, ultimately altering the metal’s appearance and giving it a weathered, aged look.

Corrosion and Oxidation Process

After brass comes into contact with moisture, the corrosion and oxidation process initiates, leading to significant chemical changes on the metal’s surface. When exposed to water or humidity, brass undergoes a series of reactions that result in rust formation and metal degradation.

The presence of moisture triggers the oxidation of the copper within the brass alloy, forming copper oxide on the surface. This initial layer of copper oxide further reacts with moisture and oxygen, leading to the development of a patina or greenish layer known as verdigris. Additionally, the zinc in the brass alloy can react with oxygen to form zinc oxide, contributing to the overall corrosion process.

These chemical transformations weaken the structural integrity of the brass, making it more susceptible to pitting, tarnishing, and overall deterioration. Understanding the corrosion and oxidation process is crucial for implementing effective preventive measures to prolong the lifespan and appearance of brass items.

Preventive Measures and Maintenance

To effectively protect brass items from corrosion and oxidation due to exposure to moisture, meticulous preventive measures and regular maintenance are essential. Taking care of your brass items will ensure their longevity and keep them looking their best.

Here are some preventive measures and cleaning techniques you can implement to safeguard your brass possessions:

  • Dry Thoroughly: After cleaning your brass items, make sure to dry them thoroughly with a soft cloth to prevent water spots and minimize the risk of corrosion.

  • Apply a Protective Coating: Consider applying a thin layer of wax or clear lacquer to create a barrier between the brass surface and moisture, helping to prevent oxidation.

  • Regular Polishing: Regularly polish your brass items using a brass cleaner to remove any tarnish and restore their shine. This will also help prevent the formation of corrosion over time.


In conclusion, when brass comes into contact with water, a chemical reaction occurs leading to the formation of patina. This patina alters the brass color and can eventually lead to corrosion and oxidation.

To prevent these effects, regular maintenance and preventive measures should be taken. Remember, a little moisture can bring out the unique characteristics of brass, but excessive exposure can cause unwanted changes.

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