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How to Clean Tarnished Copper

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Would you like to know how to clean tarnished copper so it gleams? This guide will assist you in learning more about why copper oxidizes or tarnishes and how to clean specific copper items. You will learn natural approaches to cleaning copper and how frequently you need to clean it.

How to Clean Tarnished Copper

Before you start cleaning tarnished copper, you need to consider what it is that you’re cleaning. Depending on what you’re cleaning, the process you need to use will change.

For instance, if you’re cleaning copper cookware, you need to clean as soon as you see tarnish. If you’re cleaning other copper vessels, you need to clean more regularly, as moisture can quickly tarnish and corrode the metal. Finally, you should only open clean copper jewelry once a week to keep it looking its best.

If your copper conveys a glossy and shiny finish, you only need to use mild dish soap and water to eliminate dust and keep copper clean. Lacquered copper surfaces only tarnish when they have been damaged.

Cleaning Solutions to Clean Tarnished Copper

If your copper has not been sealed with a lacquer, you can clean it with one of various natural products. You can find most of these products in your kitchen.

a clean tarnished copper pot
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Ketchup

You can use ketchup to clean slightly tarnished copper. Make sure you cover the copper utensil with ketchup, and allow it to sit for about 60 minutes. Rub the item until the tarnish fades. 

Follow up by cleaning the copper with a mild dish soap and lukewarm water before polishing it with a clean, dry, and soft cloth.

Worcestershire Sauce

You can also use worcestershire sauce to clean tarnished copper. Apply the sauce to the copper surface, allowing it to sit about an hour. Once you’ve finished, rub off the sauce gently.

Then, rinse with lukewarm water and a mild dish soap and wipe gently with a clean, soft, and dry cloth.

Tamarind Paste

Surprisingly, you can use the pulp from the tamarind fruit to return the luster to copper. Just rinse the item you need to clean first. Then, scrub the surface well with the pulp until the copper gleams.

Salt and White Vinegar

To clean tarnished copper with salt and white vinegar, add 1 ½ teaspoons of salt into a cup of white vinegar. Then, place the mix into a spray bottle and spray it on the copper surface.

Let it stand for about 30 minutes. Once you’re done, rinse off the solution. Finally, dry with a soft, clean, and dry cloth. 

If you still see tarnish, repeat one more time. If you see any dents holding dirt, use a soft toothbrush to remove the grime.

Baking soda

Baking Soda and Lemon Juice

You can use baking soda and lemon juice to clean tarnished copper. Start by mixing two dry tablespoons of baking soda with five teaspoons of lemon juice. Apply the paste with a soft, clean, and dry cloth.

Then, rub gently and rinse with lukewarm water. Finish by polishing with a soft, dry, and clean cloth.

Flour, Salt, and Vinegar

For getting rid of a more stubborn tarnish, mix 3 tablespoons of flour with an equal amount of salt, adding enough vinegar to create an easy-cling paste. Spread the mix over the copper with a soft, dry, and clean cloth.

Buff the surface while applying the paste. Place the copper item in a plastic bag for several hours. Gently dry the copper item with a soft, dry, and clean cloth. If you still see tarnish, repeat the process.

Tartar Cream and Lemon Juice

Use this method only for dealing with the toughest of stains, as cream of tartar can scratch copper. Blend the cream of tartar and lemon juice into thin paste – one that adheres well to the surface.

Leave the paste sit for about 5 minutes. Wash the item with mild soap and lukewarm water. Finally, rinse and dry with a soft, dry, and clean cloth.

Coarse Salt and Lemon Halves

For a major problem with tarnish, use coarse salt and a lemon halve. Pour out the salt onto a plate and rub the lemon half in the salt. Use the lemon half to scrub the surface. 

Rinse, using a mild dish soap and warm water, followed by a warm water rinse. Dry with a soft, dry, and clean cloth.

Various kinds of copper pots and furnishings

Why You Should Clean Copper

The orange-red vibrancy of copper makes it an appealing choice for use in a variety of items, particularly jewelry and copper cookware products and utensils. Because of the metal’s alkalizing and antibacterial properties, water is often stored in copper vessels, infused with the health benefits of copper. 

Known to kill harmful bacteria, copper, in ancient times, possessed a magical quality – one that kept people free of disease. In places without running water, copper can prevent disease-causing bacteria from forming and making people sick.

You would not think the metal had the above qualities when you see it in a tarnished state – one where it turns black or forms a greenish-blue patina. While artists often prize the patina, it should never come into contact with acidic foods or liquids. This type of exposure can trigger toxicity. By regularly cleaning your copper items, you can ensure their continued beauty and safety.

Why Does Copper Tarnish?

The tarnish we see on copper is known as copper oxide and results from exposure to oxygen. The black tarnish that collects on the metal’s surface occurs because of copper’s reactive quality. As copper ages, the tarnish forms a protective layer known as a patina – one that is greenish-blue.

Therefore, when you see this patina on copper, it signifies that the metal has aged. The green color in the patina is known as verdigris and can be toxic if seen on cookware.

What Elements Can Tarnish Copper?

You cannot own anything copper without it tarnishing. The following elements can all tarnish copper in some way or another.

  • Oxygen: The ions in oxygen and copper react, forming the copper oxide. The process is much slower in arid environments. However, oxygen is the primary reason that copper tarnishes.
  • Moisture: Any moisture in the air further catalyzes oxidation or copper’s reactivity. Therefore, always wipe the water off copper utensils. Never let them air dry.
  • Oils Present in the Skin: The oils present in the skin make it imperative that you clean copper frequently, as they quicken the tarnishing effects of the metal.
  • Dust: Particulates of skin cells and residue from pets and humans contain chemicals that speed up tarnishing. Make it a habit to wipe off the dust on your copper pieces regularly.
  • Acidic Substances: Acids can cause tarnishing almost immediately. Be careful, as the resulting corrosion can lead to the development of toxic copper salts, such as verdigris, copper sulfate, and bluestone (blue vitriol). 
  • Chemicals and Heat: Certain commercial cleaning products increase the reactivity of copper as does heat. Therefore, clean copper yourself instead of placing it in the dishwasher. Also, throw away copper pots and pans with damaged linings. Usually, these items are lined with another metal to prevent reactivity and toxicity.
Pile of copper pennies

All copper items appear glistening and shiny when they are first new. However, certain environmental elements have a way of changing things. A classic example is the copper penny

While it features a beautiful orangey luster when it is in a collectible state, it usually fades to brown when placed in circulation. However, even a wayward penny can regain its former luster if you know how to clean it.

How Can You Prevent Or Reduce Tarnishing? 

If you want to reduce or prevent tarnishing, follow the tips below:

  • Always wipe copper items dry after they have been washed.
  • Store items in a cool and dry spot.
  • In high-humidity areas, store copper items in plastic, and include a small silica-gel pack.
  • Coat copper with a light amount of olive oil, beeswax, or baby oil.
  • Spray on a copper lacquer onto jewelry.

Conclusion

Copper is a beautiful and health-giving metal. However, it can also react and be toxic if you do not know how to clean tarnished copper. Make sure you know what steps to take to ensure that your copper items remain well-preserved and beautiful.

Allen Michael is the Founder and Editor of Home Viable, a website that he started to provide readers with tips on home efficiency and automation. He draws on his engineering background combined with his family-of-four experiences for his articles.