How to Clean Copper Naturally So It Looks Brand-New

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

As one of the earth's naturally occurring minerals, copper used for cookware, jewelry, and household items brings a warmth that other metals can't match. If copper is left unlacquered, it will develop a patina that becomes more beautiful with age—picture the Statue of Liberty. If you prefer your copper pieces to retain their shine, you don't have to lacquer them or purchase commercial cleaners. Follow these easy steps to clean copper naturally, using supplies that are already right in your kitchen.

How Often to Clean Copper

Copper reacts slowly with the oxygen in the air—a process called oxidation. The process produces copper oxide, a brown or black compound, or tarnish. Eventually, other chemicals from the atmosphere like sulfur will turn the "tarnish" blue or green. How often you should clean your copper pans and other pieces depends on how shiny you wish to keep them. If you love a brighter shine, clean the pieces every three months. If you like a deeper tone to decorative copper decor, cleaning every six months will keep the level of oxidation in check.

Cleaning frequency also depends on whether the copper is lacquered or natural. Shiny, glossy copper that does not change color or darken over time typically means it has a protective finish. If the copper tarnishes quickly, the surface is untreated or the lacquer has worn away.

What You'll Need:

  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Lemon juice
  • Salt
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Ketchup
  • Baking soda
  • Sponge or soft cloth
  • Sink or plastic bucket
  • Glass bowl
  • Lint-free dishtowels
  • Large pot

How to Clean Copper With Lemon and Salt

The citric acid in lemon juice reacts with the tarnish to break its bond with the surface of the copper. Salt acts as a mild abrasive in the mixture to scrub away the tarnish without damaging the surface of the metal. Here's how to clean copper pans and other household items.

  1. Wash the copper piece: Always begin your cleaning session by washing the copper item in warm soapy water with a soft sponge to remove dust and any greasy film on the surface.
  1. Make a paste: In a small bowl, mix two parts salt to three parts lemon juice to form a paste. If the paste is too runny, add more salt.
  1. Scrub the copper: Use a sponge to spread the paste over the copper. Working in small circles, gently scrub the surface. Mix more paste if needed.
  1. Treat stubborn stains: For stubborn stains where the tarnish is heavy, apply the paste and let it work on the stains for five to 10 minutes before scrubbing. Or, cut a fresh lemon in half and dip it in table salt to scrub the heavily stained areas.
  1. Rinse and dry: Once the copper is free of tarnish, rinse the piece in warm water. Use a lint-free towel to dry the copper piece. Allowing copper to air-dry can result in water stains or tarnish from the reaction of the minerals in the water.

How to Clean Copper With Vinegar or Ketchup

If you don't have any lemon juice, distilled white vinegar or ketchup works very well to polish copper. Vinegar contains acetic acid (ketchup contains vinegar as well as citric acid in the tomatoes) that reacts with copper tarnish and breaks its bond with the copper.

  1. Wash the copper: Start by washing the copper item with warm, soapy water to remove dust and grime.
  1. Make a vinegar paste: Combine three parts distilled white vinegar with two parts salt or baking soda (there will be fizzing) in a small bowl to make a paste.
  1. Apply the paste or spread the ketchup: Use a sponge to spread the vinegar paste over the copper. Or, squirt some ketchup directly onto the copper. Use a sponge to scrub in small circles to remove the tarnish. For stubborn tarnish, add a bit of baking soda to the ketchup to act as a gentle abrasive cleaner.
  1. Rinse and buff dry: Rinse away the paste or ketchup with warm water. Use a lint-free dishtowel to dry the copper and a second dry towel to buff it into a burnished glow.

How to Clean Badly Tarnished Copper

If the copper hasn't been polished in years and you've tried plenty of elbow grease with lemon juice or vinegar, heating the copper may help. Be sure that your piece has no parts glued on with adhesives that may be damaged by the heat.

  1. Select a pot: Choose a stainless steel pot that is large enough to allow the copper item to be submerged completely.
  1. Mix a cleaning solution: Mix three parts water and one part vinegar to make enough solution to cover the item. Add one to three tablespoons of salt. Place the copper item in the pot.
  1. Heat to a boil: Bring the solution to a boil. Do not walk away because you want to turn off the heat source as soon as the tarnish begins to fall away from the copper.
  1. Cool the copper: Leave the copper item in the solution until it is cool to the touch.
  1. Make a paste: Use a lemon juice/salt or vinegar/salt paste and a sponge to scrub the copper.
  1. Rinse and dry: After scrubbing, rinse in warm water and dry the copper with a lint-free dishtowel.

Tips for Keeping Your Copper Shiny

  • Do not use harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners on copper items.
  • Apply a thin layer of mineral oil immediately after the copper is cleaned to protect it from oxidation and slow the tarnishing process.
  • Store copper items in a cool, dry place.
  • Apply a thin coat of paste wax to jewelry or decorative items (this does not work well for copper cookware).
  • Clean copper items as soon as you notice tarnish beginning to appear.

READ NEXT: How to Clean Baking Sheets So They Look New Again

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