Sacristan tools of the trade: cleaning the Thurible

Hi all,

I’m wondering if anyone (especially sacristans) have any helpful hints on cleaning a thurible. It’s not too bad cleaning out the burnt coals, but I’m having a little trouble with the residue that the burnt incense leaves on the top of the vessel.

Any help (and other helpful hints of the trade) would be greatly appreciated!

Peace, -Mike

I’ve heard of using “superfine” grade steel wool to polish thuribles… anything coarser than superfine apparently scratches the brass.

You might try the old “stand by” home remedy: a solution of distilled vinegar and salt (about 50-50). Soak the brass for a while then use a stiff brush and cloths. The solution should help dissolve the soot. If not, or if you want to try something else, you might want to give this a go.

As a former Sacristan for over eleven years I must say that I have seen my fair share
of hard to clean Thuribles. I have found that the “type” of incense used plays a major role
on just how sooty and caked on carbon or (“black cupric oxide”) can build up on the inside
top half of the Thurible. No doubt cleaning a Thurible can be an ardeous job especially if
their care goes overlooked. Most Thuribles have a thin high heat resistant clear lacquer
sprayed over the outside surface of the brass to keep it from tarnishing. Over the years
through repeated use even this clear lacquer can wear away causing more cleaning problems.
The moment one uses diluted vinegar or light to heavy duty solvent of various kinds on the
Thurible, the outer lacquer invaribully begins to erode. I never had the privledge
of cleaning newer Thuribles so I won’t go there. The three Thuribles that I experienced cleaning and repairing were in excess of 30 and 40 years old. Try Apple Cider Vinegar mixed with salt and elbow grease. Wear rubber gloves and remove brass from around any furniture. Soak for a day or two immersed in a bucket full of vinegar and salt solution;
it should be about half-and-half. Then, use a brush and rags to rub clean.
Ketchup also works to clean brass, but it’s much more expensive.
As mentioned before sometimes this method will remove lacquer from the outer surface
of the Thurible. If this happens remove remaining lacquer and purchase and apply
a recommended industrial brass polish and buff to a high gloss shine.
Purchase a spray-bomb can a clearcoat high heat resistant lacquer found in some BBQ retailers or hardware stores to prevent tarnish. And spray evenly on outside of Thurible.
Viola ! Good Luck I Hope this helps.


I’ve heard both you and centurionguard mention this 50-50 solution (vinegar-salt)…how do you do the salt side of it? Is it literally 50% salt or 50% some concentration salt solution?

I think I’ll try it on the older Thurible before I subject it to the newer one…and see where that gets me.

Thanks for all your help!

Peace, -Mike

If memory serves, it’s just that: 50-50. The solution is the salt dissolved in the vinegar.

As an aside, I’m thinking that adding some bicarb wouldn’t hurt. A baking soda paste works for scrubbing a burnt pot or pan, so why not a censor?

Oven cleaner.

Spray it with ez-off.

With a commercial product like oven cleaner or brass cleaner, don’t forget that you can learn a lot by reading the label. If the thurible has a manufacturer on it, you can also contact them. If you contact them, describe how the stain got onto the piece, and what it looks like in detail (color, texture, etc.), so they can better decide whether you’re dealing with a surface residue or a chemical change in the piece itself. They could be a wealth of information.

Whatever you decide to try, try it on an inconspicuous area first, to see what it does to the finish. If the finish endures the treatment without harm, then consider trying it on the area that shows. This is true for physical/abrasive measures, too. If you’re trying to physically knock off some of the excess before going to the chemicals, see how much abrasion the finish can stand without scuffing.

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