How to Clean Copper

Why Does Copper Tarnish?

Tarnish is formed naturally in a process called oxidation which protects the copper from further erosion.

Because copper is an alloy, it will change color when exposed to other elements. This color is known as a patina.

If the copper has been exposed to air, it will get a dark patina like a penny. If copper is exposed to water, it will get a greenish-blue patina.

Luckily, you can easily clean copper with everyday household products.

Cleaning Copper:

Copper pans, sinks, pennies, jewelry and other coins are exposed to other elements such as skin oil, grease, burned food, and acidic or alkaline spills.

No wonder you need to clean them frequently. Removing tarnish is not difficult. So lets get started cleaning it!

Cleaning Tools:

  • a pot large enough to fit the copper item inside
  • toothbrush
  • soft towels to dry
  • copper cleaner (below)

Cleaning Solution Recipes:

Vinegar and Salt:

Vinegar and salt are great for cleaning copper because acidic vinegar strips oxidized tarnish and the abrasive salt help to remove any of the built-up grime.

At about $1.00 for a gallon of vinegar and even less than that for a box of salt, you can’t beat the price of this cleaning solution.

Lemon Juice and Baking Soda:

If you don’t have vinegar, acidic lemon juice works just as well. Baking soda is used as the abrasive in this recipe, but you can substitute that with salt if needed.

Cleaning Paste:

A great way to clean large areas or spot clean is to make a paste. To do this, mix 1 TBSP salt, 1-cup vinegar and enough flour to make a thick paste.

Apply the cleaning paste onto the copper item and let it sit for 15 minutes to an hour.

Use a green scrubby or toothbrush to remove tough tarnish or grime if needed.


An easy way to clean copper in a pinch is to use ketchup. Yes, using ketchup is surprisingly effective because it contains vinegar and salt and the tomato paste in ketchup is also very acidic.

You can use it to clean copper by rubbing a small film over the item, letting it sit for a couple minutes, and then wash it away.

Cleaning Pennies, Coins or Other Small Items:

Small copper pieces are easy cleaned by hand. Make a cleaning solution of 1/2 cup of lemon juice or vinegar and 1 tablespoon of salt or baking soda.

Moisten a clean cloth with the cleaning solution and rub until the tarnish is removed.

Rinse the item thoroughly with water after cleaning and polish with a dry soft cloth.

Tarnish on Copper Jewelry:

Lay delicate copper jewelry on a clean soft cloth. Make a cleaning solution of 1/2 cup of lemon juice or vinegar and 1 tablespoon of salt or baking soda.

Dip an old toothbrush in the cleaning solution and scrub gently in all the cracks and crevasses until the tarnish is removed.

Rinse the jewelry thoroughly with clean water and then buff to dry and polish.

Tarnished Copper Pots:

Mix one tablespoon of salt and one cup of white vinegar in a pot large enough to hold your copper pot.

Put the copper item into the pot and fill it with water. Boil the solution until the copper is clean.

Be warned that if the pot you use has zinc, a reaction could happen which would damage the pot. If the copper begins to get a silvery look, then stop boiling!

Cleaning Copper Sinks:

Don’t use these cleaning solutions to clean copper sinks. The sink should have a tarnish that is coppery brown.

Sinks are best cleaned with plain soap and water. If you would like a bright copper finish on the sink, investigate adding a lacquer or wax to the finish after you have cleaned it.

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