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:
- White vinegar
- Pot large enough for copper item
- Liquid dishsoap
- Soft cloths
The Copper Cleaning Process:
- Fill pot with water.
- Add 1 tablespoon salt and 1 cup vinegar to the water.
- Place the copper item in the cleaning solution.
- Bring the water to boiling.
- Allow the copper item to boil in the water for several hours.
- When finished boiling, remove from heat and allow to cool.
- 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:
- Wash the item with warm water and dry thoroughly.
- Using the soft cloth, apply a small amount of the cleaning solution to the tarnished areas.
- Work the cleaning solution onto the copper by rubbing briskly with the soft cloth.
- Rinse away the cleaning solution well with clean water.
- Dry the item thoroughly using a clean soft cloth.
- 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.