How to Clean Copper

Copper is a versatile metal that we find in many forms from pipes to cookware to jewelry. Cleaning copper is an essential task, but the process has different natures depending on the item that is being cleaned. Some decorative copper has a lacquer finish that will keep it from tarnishing. To clean these items, simply wash with soapy water and dry thoroughly. Do not polish or scrub these items as it will remove the protective coating.

Lacquer-free copper offers a different scenario. After time, this copper tarnishes and turns dark and dull. This tarnishing occurs when the copper reacts with the air and a patina develops. The color of the patina will vary with the copper and what it is exposed to. Inside the house, copper will gradually get an antique penny brown color. But if the copper is exposed to water, the patina will gradually develop a bluish green look. The patina protects copper from corrosion, but many people prefer their copper to be shiny and brilliant. For lacquer-free items, try the following methods to help remove patina and maintain shine:

Cleaning Copper by Boiling

What You Will Need:

  • Salt
  • White vinegar
  • Pot large enough for copper item
  • Water
  • Liquid dishsoap
  • Soft cloths

The Copper Cleaning Process:

  1. Fill pot with water.
  2. Add 1 tablespoon salt and 1 cup vinegar to the water.
  3. Place the copper item in the cleaning solution.
  4. Bring the water to boiling.
  5. Allow the copper item to boil in the water for several hours.
  6. When finished boiling, remove from heat and allow to cool.
  7. Wash with liquid dishsoap, rinse, and dry with soft cloth.

Note: The salt and vinegar form an acid that cleans the copper during this boiling process. Please be advised, if there is zinc in the larger pan, this acid could  cause a reaction with the zinc as well. It can change the chemical composition and allow the zinc to bond with the copper. This will cause the copper to appear silver with the zinc coating. It does not form a permanent bond, so it can be removed. This could also damage the larger pan when the zinc is removed, as the composition of the metal pan will be altered. If you observe your copper piece changing colors (turning silver), stop the boiling process. Clean the silver discoloration away by scrubbing with a soft brush.

Removing Tarnish from Copper

What You Will Need:

  • Small bowl
  • Cleaning solution (choose one)
    • Mild tarnish: vinegar, salt, and flour paste
    • Moderate/severe tarnish: 1 part lemon juice and 1 part salt
    • Tomato paste
  • Rinse water
  • Soft cloths

The Tarnish-Removal Process:

  1. Wash the item with warm water and dry thoroughly.
  2. Using the soft cloth, apply a small amount of the cleaning solution to the tarnished areas.
  3. Work the cleaning solution onto the copper by rubbing briskly with the soft cloth.
  4. Rinse away the cleaning solution well with clean water.
  5. Dry the item thoroughly using a clean soft cloth.
  6. Buff the copper to restore it’s original luster.

Additional Tips and Advice

  • Polish copper surfaces with a soft cloth and beeswax to get a lasting copper shine.
  • Do not use abrasive cleaner or steel wool to clean copper.
  • High heat and moisture are enemies of copper and should be avoided.
  • Copper pots can become tarnished because of strong acids and alkalis and, therefore, acidic foods like fruits, tomatoes, and vinegar should never be boiled in copper pots or copper-clad pots.
  • Most pieces of decorative copper are given a factory-applied protective coating of lacquer. They will remain clean if we occasionally wash them with lukewarm, soapy water. Never polish them
  • If the eating and cooking utensils made of copper have a lacquer coating it must be removed before using. To do this, place the item in boiling water with some washing soda. You can also remove lacquer if you rub it with a cloth wet with alcohol or acetone.
  • Lacquered copper surfaces may require special care; follow all instructions from the manufacturer.
  • To remove tarnish from copper pots. Rub with lemon halves dipped in salt.

Comments

  1. C. Twanya says:

    Polish your copper with a combination of white vinegar and salt… just watch the tarnish disappear!! Cheaper and much safer than all those expensive and toxic copper cleaners in the stores.

    A heavy layer of tarnish might require a repetition of this process but your copper (especially copper bottom Revereware pots and pans) will end up sparkling like new!!

  2. Lynn says:

    This is the old standby, it cleans a lot of things. The easiest way is to cut a lemon in half, dip the cut end in salt and scrub the copper with it, reapplying salt to the lemon half as necessary. You can use vinegar and salt instead, but it doesn’t work any better than the lemon juice and smells infintely worse.

  3. Lynn says:

    I use these to clean my copper pots, although I wouldn’t use them for cleaning antiques. Just get some of those steel wool pads that have the blue soap inside them. Wet the pad, then gently scrub the copper clean. Thoroughly wipe or rinse off the blue soap, then buff the copper dry with a soft towel.

  4. Lynn says:

    You probably already have some of this under the sink somewhere – if you don’t, get some! Since the copper you’re wanting to clean is probably rounded instead of flat, pour a little BKF powder onto the counter next to the sink. Dip a wet dishrag into the powder, then carefully clean the copper with it a small section at a time. Rinse the copper clean and then buff it dry so it will shine. Don’t let the copper air dry, that can leave spots or give birth to more tarnish.

  5. Lynn says:

    Lemon juice and vinegar may be great for cleaning copper, but you shouldn’t cook things that have a lot of acid in them in a copper pot. The chemical reaction between the acid and the copper causes copper to leach out into the acidic food being cooked, and too much copper is toxic to humans. Modern copper cookware is usually lined with something else to prevent this from happening, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

  6. Lynn says:

    Some silver cleaners, the kind you dip silver in to remove tarnish, also work on tarnished copper. If what you’re trying to clean is too big to dip, you can put on a pair of chemical-proof rubber gloves and use a cloth dipped in the tarnish remover to clean your copper instead.

  7. Alice says:

    For cleaning windows, mirrors, or just about any surface, mix a T. of corn starch in 8 oz. of water. Spray and wipe with a clean soft cloth. Amazing and easy, inexpensive and no chemicals.

  8. Bill S. in Fort Lauderdale says:

    I saw this on TV and thought it was crazy, but tried it. Use tomato ketchup to clean the copper bottom of pots and pans. I spread it thinly over the copper bottom. I left it on for about a half hour, rinsed it off and my extremely dirty, discolored pan bottoms were like new. The bottom was shiny copper.

  9. Lana says:

    I use the blue scouring pads and it WORKS. Awesome!

  10. Ann says:

    How do you clean copper jewelry that had a protective coating that has worn off in spots?

  11. Annie says:

    Can anyone suggest how I can remove paint splatters off of the copper that is over my bay windows, on the outside of my house?

  12. Bridget says:

    Squeeze lemon juice onto copper and then rub. Lemon juice has citric acid so that cleans the copper.

  13. Robert says:

    I have a set of chimes. All the front chimes in the rack (17) are brass. The back (9) chimes are made of copper. They are all about 2.5 inches in diameter and are from 3′ long to 6′ long. They are over 70 years old. What would be the best way to clean them without damaging them?

  14. Todd says:

    Boiling isn’t the best idea… I followed the above directions, but only boiled it for an hour and 20 minutes because it was starting to lose its color. Sure enough, when I took it out, most of the copper color had turned into a silverish color… I thought the pots were ruined… somehow the lining from the pot I was boiling them in must’ve transferred onto the copper because when I scrubbed with lemon, salt, and steel wool, the top coating came off and the copper was still there.

    Note: The lining from the other pot is now screwed up. I suggest avoiding the “boiling method,” unless someone knows of a safe way to do it.

  15. Susan says:

    Todd,
    Thank you for sharing your experience. We have edited the post to reflect the new information.

  16. Lee says:

    The ketchup idea works beautifully (and smells better than vinegar). Half an hour is about right, just before it dries, and a very thin layer is all you need.

    I thought it would be a waste of a perfectly good condiment, but lo and behold, beat everything else I tried.

  17. John says:

    This method works great for almost any metal that gets the undesired tarnish. Simply rub a layer of toothpaste on the metal, then firmly rub with a soft cloth. Repeat the process until the desired shine takes form. Smells way better then ketchup or vinegar, and works amazingly well.

  18. JJ says:

    Simplest way to clean copper jewelry that is not coated…simply soak in ammonia and polish with a soft cloth.

  19. Cheryl says:

    I am trying to clean a copper patina bathroom sink. Do you have any ideas or suggestions?

  20. Essie says:

    Hi, I recently bought a copper pan, and it changed into a silvery color after being used twice in a strong heat. Any way to get the orange color back?

  21. Barbara says:

    I have a copper hood over my stove, probably from the 1970′s. We bought the property in 1989; the hood was beautiful, but now after all this time, it has become a worn-out penny. I tried cleaning it with copper cleaner, but it took forever and lasted two days! Any suggestions on what I might do to bring it back to life? Thank you.

  22. Paul says:

    Soy sauce works great too, all by itself :-) .

  23. Chris says:

    The lemon and salt did the trick. I haven’t cleaned my necklace in two years. I just put the copper in the solution and it disappeared. Thanks!

  24. Rachael says:

    I got a couple copper cups from a local Indian restaurant. Did I read correctly; they have to be boiled before drinking out of them? I am not sure if they have a coating or not. “If the eating and cooking utensils made of copper have a lacquer coating, it must be removed before using. To do this, place the item in boiling water with some washing soda. You can also remove lacquer if you rub it with a cloth wet with alcohol or acetone.”

    What is washing soda? Is that baking soda?

    They have black residue on the inside. I was just going to wash them initially in soap and water, but wanted to check and see if I needed to do more.
    Thanks.

  25. Raazianaqui says:

    All the ideas seem to be good. Any ideas on how to clean copper pots which are about 100 years old and have been unused for about 50 or more years?

  26. Ernot says:

    I bought a copper kettle at a sale and appears that someone mixed cement in it. Any ideas on how to remove dried cement and possibly some petroleum grease?

  27. Donna says:

    Hi,
    Can any one give me some advice please?
    My father has an old copper watering can and it is very brownish and has been outside for many years and was wondering if it could be brought back to life?
    I would like a shiny new effect; could this be achieved at all with any thing?
    Donna

  28. Carole says:

    Our neighbor has copper mailboxes…and mine is starting to look bad with rust and discoloration on the top. What method could I use to bring it back to life?

  29. Regis says:

    I AM HAVING DIFFICULTIES removing iron and antimony from the surface of copper recovered from burnt PVC insulated copper cables. Please help.

  30. Donald says:

    I want to remove the antique penny brown color of a baseball-sized object and bring it back to the original copper color. Is boiling the object with salt and white vinegar really the way to go? Seems like that would be really harsh.

  31. Scotty says:

    Lemon & salt or lime & salt are all BS! Maybe if you have very slight tarnish – maybe. If you have a MAN-SIZED tarnish – boiling is what works! I just bought four copper mugs from e****. They were filthy! Put them in a pot, added 2 cups of vinegar, 1 cup of table salt, 1 small lime cut in half, and let it go. Boiled for 2 hours. Flipped the cups over a few times, pulled them out and scrubbed them with a greenie in warm soapy water. WOW! What a difference. NOW, maybe, I can use a half a lemon and a handful of salt…but guess what…when I need to clean these mugs again…GONNA BOIL THEM. Don’t be dumb; use your resources! Spend more time drinking and hanging out with your family…not using ridiculous wive’s tales.

  32. Phil says:

    Hi, someone tried to clean my sister’s copper hood over her stove. It cost $4,000 and now it looks like parts of it has no lacquer where it was cleaned. What can I do…

  33. Mary C says:

    Will silver cloth wrapped around copper pots in storage keep the copper from turning color?

  34. Melanie says:

    The formation of tarnish will depend on a variety of factors, but using an anti-tarnish cloth or other anti-tarnish products could prevent copper from tarnishing.

    Source: Native American Jewelry Tips – Copper Jewelry
    Source: University Products: Anti-Tarnish Strips

  35. Marcia says:

    Thank you very much. Boiling water with vinegar and salt did the trick!! My copper vessel is now clean. Is it safe to store water in it for drinking or do I need to do something else?

    Thank you.

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