The best way to clean copper does not involve any harsh chemicals—everything you need is in your pantry.

By Marla Christiansen
Updated: March 20, 2019

Similar to stainless steel, copper turns black and develops a patina over time and when exposed to oxygen. This patina adds charm to vintage pieces, but when you take the time to learn how to clean copper properly, the shiny rose-gold metal becomes a real showstopper. So, how do you clean and polish copper to reveal its golden glow? Luckily, you don't need store-bought products filled with chemicals to restore your copper's shine—here's the best way to clean copper naturally using ingredients you likely already have in your kitchen. Follow the steps below to clean and polish copper, whether pots and pans, a tea kettle, a decorative tray, or any other copper accents you have around your home. 

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What You'll Need: 

  • Dish soap 
  • White vinegar
  • Table salt 
  • Lemon 
  • Soft cloth 

Follow These Steps for How to Clean Copper:

Depending upon how stained and tarnished your copper is, it may require more or less serious polishing and cleaning methods to get it to shine. Start with the mildest cleaning method below, then progress to the later steps until your copper sparkles. 

1. Check for a finish: Before learning how to clean copper, it's important to figure out if the surface is lacquered. A shiny, glossy finish that does not change color or darken over time typically means there is a protective finish on it. If there are tarnished spots on an otherwise shiny copper piece, it’s possible that the lacquer finish has been damaged. Because it's very difficult to clean a damaged lacquer finish, your best bet is to actually strip it entirely and then follow the steps below. 

2. For lacquered copper: If your copper has a shiny finish on it, wipe the surface with a soft cloth dipped into a solution of water with a squirt of mild dish soap. Once the dust and grime is removed, rinse off the soap with a damp cloth. Follow with a dry cloth, being sure to remove all water from the surface. 

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3. For unfinished copper: Mix fine grain salt with enough vinegar to form a paste. Using a soft towel, rub the mixture onto the surface of the copper. Allow it to sit for a few minutes before buffing it to a shine with a clean cloth. 

4. For tough stains: Start by cutting a lemon in half and dipping it in salt. Place the lemon directly on the piece and begin scrubbing. For more delicate items, add salt to lemon juice to form a paste. Then, using a soft cloth, rub the paste in a gentle, circular motion to remove any spots. To clean hard-to-reach and deeply stained areas, let the paste sit on longer. 

5. Bring the heat: You may need to add heat to the mix if your copper just won’t shine. In a pot large enough to fit your item, mix one cup vinegar, one tablespoon salt, and three cups water. Place your piece in the pot and bring to a boil. Wait until the tarnish begins to fall away from the copper. Careful, let the copper cool down before removing it from the pot. While it’s likely you’ll still need to scrub the item once it's cooled down, getting it to shine won’t require nearly as much elbow grease. 

6. Buff and dry: Just as important as learning how to clean copper the right way is how to dry it properly. Copper must always be rinsed and dried thoroughly after being cleaned. At this point, any acid, abrasive, or water left on the piece will create uneven splotches and water marks. To get a glistening finish, use one soft cloth to carefully dry and a second cloth to buff.

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