How to Clean Coins, Like Pennies and Collectible Coins

Whether you collect coins or not, here's what to do—and not do—when cleaning coins, especially potentially valuable coins.

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Learning how to clean coins can be a fun activity (for kids and adults). After some time, coins of all types can get dirty and discolored. The dramatic transformation of watching dingy, grime-covered coins come out sparkling clean can be oddly satisfying. Plus, cleaning coins helps remove germs (many people usually handle coins).

Follow the simple steps below to get dull coins sparkling clean again using a slightly acidic solution that eats away at the brown oxidation. Bonus: A perfectly clean penny is an ideal candidate for pressed penny souvenir machines.

coins in a grid

How Often to Clean Coins

While there's no specific frequency for how often you should clean dirty coins, you can clean them when you feel they're too discolored or grimy. You can also clean coins as a rainy-day activity or before depositing them at a bank (while counting).

Considerations Before You Get Started

Always keep safety top of mind. Supervise children (if they're cleaning the coins) and use non-harsh cleaning solutions. You can even wear gloves while cleaning coins, which also helps avoid fingerprints on your freshly-cleaned money.

You shouldn't clean all your coins, especially if they're valuable. To help you determine whether or not to clean a coin, decide if you're cleaning a collectible coin or cleaning a regular coin just for fun.

If you don't know if your coin is collectible, have the coin appraised. Collectors consider a coin valuable and collectible when its appraised value is significantly higher than its intrinsic value.

Should Coin Collectors Clean Their Coins?

Before cleaning old coins, consider that appraisers and coin experts suggest not cleaning collectible coins yourself because the coins may lose their value. Using chemical cleaners or scrubbing the coins can leave behind scratches and marks, easily seen by a skilled coin appraiser. If you're serious about your coin collection, use professional services to clean coins in a way that won't diminish the coins' value.

overhead view of supplies needed for cleaning coins, including a plastic bin, toothbrush, vinegar, salt, baking soda, dish soap, a paper towel, and a bowl of pennies

What You'll Need


  • Jar
  • Distilled white vinegar (or fresh lemon juice)
  • Salt
  • Spoon
  • Shallow plastic container
  • Cloth or paper towel
  • Baking soda (optional)
  • Dishwashing soap (optional)
  • Toothbrush (optional)


How to Clean Coins With Vinegar or Lemon Juice

This is the best coin-cleaning method you can do at home to clean non-collectible or valuable coins. The steps below will clean a standard oxidized penny with ease.

  1. Mix a Cleaning Solution

    cleaning coins

    Combine 1 cup white vinegar (or lemon juice) with 1 tablespoon salt in a jar. Stir until the salt is dissolved.

  2. Fill a Plastic Bin

    cleaning coins

    Pour the solution into the plastic container. There should be enough liquid that pennies lying flat on the bottom of the container will be fully submerged (if not, add more of the cleaning mixture).

  3. Soak Coins

    cleaning coins

    Add the coins to the plastic bin in a single layer so no coins are touching. Wait 15 minutes.

  4. Remove and Wipe Coins

    cleaning coins

    Remove the coins and wipe them with a cloth or paper towel; they should look shiny. If the layer of brown oxidation doesn't budge, return the coins to the container and let them soak for five more minutes.

  5. Scrub Coins With Baking Soda (Optional)


    For a more hands-on approach to coin cleaning, try this method:

    • Add a small amount of water to a tablespoon of baking soda to form a paste.
    • Apply the paste to each coin using an old toothbrush and scrub gently.
    • Rinse the coins to reveal the now-shiny surfaces.
  6. Clean Coins With Dish Soap (Optional)

    cleaning coins

    If your coins are still dirty, follow these steps:

    • Fill the plastic container with a 1-inch layer of warm water. 
    • Next, add a squirt of dishwashing liquid and agitate the water to create bubbles.
    • Add the coins, and rub each one until the surface looks shiny.
    • Rinse with warm water, then dry.

How to Keep Your Coins Clean Longer

Use these tips from the United States Mint to help coins stay clean longer:

  • Handle carefully. Always hold coins between your thumb and index finger when handling them.
  • Cover your hands. For collectible coins or after cleaning your coins, wear gloves to avoid smudging the coin's surface or marking them with fingerprints. Your skin's natural oil can also be corrosive to coins.
  • Keep coins dry. Moisture can discolor coins, and saliva can create spots on coins that are difficult to clean.
  • Store properly. Use acid-free and PVC-free holders to store your collectible coins. Both acid and PVC can damage a coin, and PVC can create a sticky, slimy green coating on a coin's surface.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What should you not use to clean coins?

    Do not use chemicals like an acid dip or metal polish to clean coins. In addition to the risk of bodily injury (or even death), the chemicals can permanently damage coins. Harsh chemicals can cause abrasions or chemical reactions with the metal.

  • Can you clean coins with hydrogen peroxide?

    Yes, you can use hydrogen peroxide to clean coins. It can remove stains and tarnish and won't damage your coins' surface. However, it's best to use a diluted form of hydrogen peroxide instead of concentrated.

  • Is isopropyl alcohol safe for cleaning coins?

    When combined with salt, isopropyl alcohol (not to be confused with rubbing alcohol) can safely clean coins. Soaking coins in this mixture will help remove built-up dirt. Though safe for cleaning coins, isopropyl alcohol is more abrasive than vinegar.

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