Will a Metal Detector Find Brass? The Chameleon of Metals

  • By: Chris
  • Last updated on February 4, 2023
  • Time to read: 7 min.
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Brass is used in making all sorts of interesting items. Whether you’ve got your hopes set on discovering antique brass furnishings or finding something personal you lost, you’re in luck.

The metals that make up brass have electrically conductive properties a metal detector will find easily.

But before you run off with your answer, you should read a bit more.

Finding brass with a metal detector is simple, but knowing it’s brass when you see it is an entirely different problem to solve.

Will Metal Detectors Detect Brass?

A metal detector detects brass effortlessly because the traditional copper and zinc components in a brass alloy disrupt the magnetic field of a metal detector.

will metal detectors detect brass
Metal detecting brass? Pshh, no problem!

Copper and zinc have the properties necessary to carry an electrical current. In fact, copper is one of the best electrical conductors you’ll find.

And if you didn’t already know, a metal detector detects objects primarily based on their conductive ability.

The issue, which could be why you’re still here, is that metal detectors react the same to brass as other metals. And to top it off, brass actually looks like these other metals too.

Hence, the chameleon reference.

So how do you know what you found with your metal detector is actual brass?

Is Brass a Solution?

First things first, what is brass? What is it that makes it so confusing to identify?

To start, brass is not a naturally occurring metal.

Brass is a solid solution which is a term used to describe a mixture of two different solid state atoms; in this case, copper and zinc generally.

is brass a solution
Believe it or not, brass is a solution or a mixture of two different solid state elements.

But don’t be surprised if your brass has other metals like lead or aluminum to achieve the desired characteristics for its purpose.

Sometimes brass is made to be more malleable. And other times, someone needs brass that has a bit more durability.

That’s why the metals used to make brass can change depending on the need. And when the composition of a brass object alters from traditional copper and zinc, its appearance transforms.

How to Identify Brass

If this chameleon metal is so tricky to spot, how do you identify it?

It does take a little practice, but you won’t need a certification to figure it out. Just patience and deductive reasoning.

how to identify brass
Identifying brass comes down to acknowledging what it isn’t.

In its most common state (copper and zinc alloy), brass takes on a dull yellowish color.

But if its copper element far outweighs its other metals, that dull yellow can start to look more reddish brown.

And if you dig up some antique brass, you may notice some oxidation that alters the color to bluish-green, black, or even coral.

However, the best way to identify brass is to know which metals it’s confused for and how they differ.

The main culprits are gold, copper, and bronze.

By comparing these three metals with brass, you’ll have the foundations to correctly identify your metal.

How to Separate Gold From Brass

There are several ways to separate gold from brass, like comparing their color, weight, hardness, and reaction to external solutions.

While both metals are yellow, gold is brighter, even in the shade, than the dull tone of brass.

As for their other physical attributes, gold is much heavier but surprisingly softer than brass.

how to separate gold from brass
While gold and brass might look the same at first glance, they react differently to abrasive materials.

You can feel the extra weight of gold for sure. But if you try to scratch it, you’ll make indentations if it’s pure quality. Brass will only leave behind some scuff marks.

Gold less than 24 karats will not be as distinguishable because of other alloy properties.

And if you come across pure gold, it won’t ever corrode, no matter how old it is. Usually, that’s a dead giveaway when separating gold from brass.

Finally, performing an at-home acid test can determine if your metal is brass or gold. Although, be sure you aren’t endangering the value of a relic.

To perform this test, expose the metal to a drop of nitric acid and watch for a reaction.

Gold generally has no reaction to acid if it’s pure. Brass, however, will fizzle, smoke, and turn colors because of the copper makeup.

How Can You Tell the Difference Between Copper and Brass?

You already know that copper is what’s used to make brass. But brass and pure copper can appear the same at times. Actually, it’s tricky to tell them apart.

Brass with an overriding amount of copper will take on a reddish-brown tint.

The easiest way to tell the difference between copper and brass is to hold each metal side-by-side to identify which is slightly darker.

Copper will never change color unless it corrodes. So spotting the consistent reddish-brown from a lighter brass can do the trick.

But if it’s too close to say for sure, there are three other methods to try.

  1. A magnet test
  2. A hardness test
  3. A sound test

Copper has no reaction to magnets. But brass, depending on the other alloys, is somewhat magnetic. So if you get a little movement from a strong magnet, you can rule out copper.

brass is somewhat magnetic
While brass isn’t highly magnetic, pure copper pales in comparison.

As for a hardness test, it’s not conclusive, but it can help. 

Because of the other metals within brass, it’s usually more durable than copper. But to test it out, you’ll have to be willing to damage your find and see how it holds up.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not too fond of this method.

Lastly, the sound test. I hope you have a sharp ear.

The idea is that brass, when struck, has a clear ringing tone. Copper sounds more dull and low.

But if your metal detecting find is a small decorative piece, I doubt the sound test will help.

How to Tell if Something is Brass or Bronze?

The last brass lookalike is bronze. 

Bronze is an alloy similar to brass. But bronze is made of copper and tin instead of copper and zinc.

Bronze presents a new problem as it looks like brass and copper due to its reddish-brown color.

If you think you’ve found an antique piece of bronze, you can tell the difference from brass by the patina formed over it.

brass has a black film patina
Notice the black layer of oxidation setting in.

More often than not, brass ages with a layer of black film over it, while bronze tends to be browner-looking.

Bronze is also noticeably heavier than brass, but you’d need similar-sized objects to tell if there is a difference.

I don’t know if you’d be working any brass you find metal detecting, but this can be another way to tell if something is brass or bronze.

Bronze is a tough material, but it’ll break easier than brass because of its denser composition.

Lastly, you’re more likely to detect brass than bronze with your metal detector.

I’m not saying you won’t ever find bronze, but brass is just more electrically conductive.

Some bronze is as low as 7% as conductive as copper, compared to the average 28% of brass.

How to Detect Brass?

how to detect brass
An all-metal mode or something more precise will work to detect brass with a metal detector.

Now that you know a metal detector can find brass and spot the difference from other lookalike metals, let me tell you how to detect brass.

There’s no hidden secret to it, honest!

Detecting brass can be done with any metal detector, but you’ll have less trouble by adjusting your device’s discrimination level.

Using an all-metal mode will pick up everything around you, including brass.

But by adjusting the sensitivity and discrimination features, you will save a ton of time digging through the junk if you have them.

Best Brass Metal Detector

Not every metal detector is the same, and neither are the exact discrimination settings for brass.

I did mean it when I said any metal detector would work for finding brass.

Feel free to check out my many articles where I compare metal detectors for specific occasions.

But if you’re looking for something specific and top-notch to boot, you can’t go wrong with the Garrett AT Pro metal detector.

It’s a well-done upgrade to the Garrett ACE series and has the power to find brass and any other metal you desire.

Garrett AT Pro
Garrett AT Pro
  • Water won't stop you, thanks to your 10-foot submersible search coil.
  • Includes a pinpointer feature to help you zero in on your brass treasure.
  • Headphones are included to keep your finds to yourself.
  • Lock in on all the nearby brass with features like target separation, Digital Target ID, detection depth, high-res discrimination.

FAQs About Your Brass Finds

There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to brass. I won’t cover it all here, but let’s talk about a topic that comes up a lot when digging up brass items.

Can Brass Rust?

Brass doesn’t rust because it doesn’t have the necessary iron elements that rust originates from.

However, brass is susceptible to corrosion, which is not the same as rust.

Brass will develop an oxide with enough time and exposure to air and moisture.

At first, corrosive brass will appear as a bluish-green film (primarily green). Over an extended time, the oxide will eventually turn black.

The good news is oxide found on brass is reasonably easy to remove.

How to Remove Green Oxidation From Brass

The most popular method to remove green oxidation from brass is to rub against the corrosion with a vinegar-soaked rag and finish by rinsing any remainder oxide under water.

This may take several attempts depending on the level of green oxidation, but it usually proves to be a simple process.

Of course, there are other methods, like using more abrasive chemical cleaners or trying your hand at electrolysis.

Using electrolysis on brass isn’t without risks, but it can work when all else fails.

Wrapping Up

So yeah, you can find brass with a metal detector. It’s easy, and any detectorist can do it.

But I hope you learned that it’s not just about finding brass; it’s also about identifying it.

It would be a shame to discover that your so-called brass relic turned out to be some copper knockoff.

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