A reader is tired of having to polish this brass table so often. (Reader photo)

Q: I have three engraved brass tables that require a lot of effort to polish, and then they tarnish after a few weeks. I have used a kit that restores brass and protects it, but it did not last long. I have heard that spraying it with lacquer will protect the brass, but I am not sure what product to use and do not want to do something that will cause more problems. Can you help?

Great Falls

A: You're right: Spraying with lacquer is the way to keep brass from tarnishing so quickly. Mohawk's Lacquer for Brass, formerly marketed as Behlen Lacquer for Brass, is designed especially for this use, as the name implies. A 13-ounce spray can costs $12 at the Woodworkers Club of Rockville (301-984-9033; woodcraft.com).

Phillip Pritchard, technical service representative for Mohawk Finishing Products (800-545-0047; mohawk-finishing.com), said this is a traditional nitrocellulose lacquer formulated with a resin that sticks especially well to brass, as well as ingredients that help keep brass from tarnishing. "You won't get those two features in standard lacquer," he said. "Standard lacquer will flake off, while ours does not. Standard lacquer may lie there and seem okay, but you can take your fingernail and it will shear right off."

However, he added that the product isn’t marketed as an industrial-quality finish and that the company doesn’t guarantee that it will stop tarnish forever. Hardware manufacturers that offer long-term guarantees against tarnishing use a baked-on lacquer finish, which is more durable. “But in an air-dry product, our lacquer is as good as it gets,” Pritchard said.

If your tables do eventually tarnish after you spray them with lacquer, there’s an easy, if smelly and messy, remedy: Use a chemical stripper labeled as effective against lacquer to take off the finish, polish off the tarnish and re-spray.

Lacquer for Brass is a solvent-based product, so be sure to read and follow the safety precautions on the label. Work outside, if possible. To ensure an even finish, clear the nozzle by spraying for a second or two on scrap paper before you begin to spray your tables. And keep the can aimed at the same angle as you move your body back and forth to pass over the surface; don’t just tilt the can in different directions.

Q: While remodeling a master bath in 2008, I had a towel warmer installed. About two years ago, it stopped working. I have been unsuccessful in finding someone to repair it. It is a Mr. Steam W510, an electric model. The replacement cost is about $1,000, so as it stands, I have a very expensive towel rack. I have tried my usual electrician and have looked online for someone who repairs these warmers, to no avail. Can you solve this problem?


A: It's too late to take advantage of the five-year warranty, but you may be able to fix the towel warmer yourself.

Troubleshooting the problem is easy, said Dan Ricardo, who answers technical questions at Mr. Steam, as the company is now called. "The simple question is whether the red light on the wiring box is coming on," he said. "If it is, current is going to the towel warmer." That means the problem has to be the heating element, Ricardo said. You can replace that by ordering Part No. 103963, which costs about $250, from the Distribution Point (866-837-2550; thedistributionpoint.com). For instructions on how to access the old part and replace it, Ricardo said to call him or one of the other people who answer technical questions at Mr. Steam (800-767-8326; mrsteam.com).

If the red light is not on, it means the unit is not getting power, Ricardo said. In that case, the problem is with something other than the towel warmer, such as a wall switch or a programmable timer that controls the unit. “The towel warmer itself has no on or off switch,” Ricardo said. “If it’s receiving voltage, it’s on.”