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how to clean copper

Wondering how to clean copper? So was I. So I did some experimenting and here is what I found out about cleaning with natural copper cleaners. These methods work on all sorts of copper, including pots. If you have an antique, however, please consult a specialist before applying anything.

My husband gave me a beautiful copper tea kettle years ago. He was expecting me to actually use this thing, but I knew that it had a coating on it that I needed to remove. This was before the days of the internet and we were living a little off the beaten track, so I think I just haphazardly tried something (who knows what) and then decided it hadn’t worked.

So I put the teapot on display in my kitchen and there it remained for years. It even spent two years in the hot and humid Amazon jungle. It gradually developed dark spots all over it and certainly wasn’t looking bright and pretty anymore. This a perfect opportunity for me to learn how to clean copper and share it with you.

Removing The Protective Coating from the Copper

Copper items are many times sold with a lacquer finish that protects them and keeps them looking shiny and tarnish-free. If you do not intend to use your copper item to cook with, you can just leave this coating alone. The only care your copper will then require is an occasional wash in mild soapy water, rinsing, and drying.

However, with time, copper can develop tarnish even underneath this lacquer finish (this is what happened to my teapot). Then the only option if you want to get the copper clean, is to remove the lacquer.

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If you decide, as I did, to remove this lacquer, you could use acetone. However, a less harsh method, and perhaps easier, is to simply boil the item in a pot of water to which you’ve added some baking soda (1/4 cup baking soda per quart of water worked well for me). The lacquer coating will lift and you can easily peel it off after about 15 minutes of boiling.

Natural Copper Cleaner

If you have a decorative piece of copper that is evenly covered in tarnish, you might consider leaving it this way. The tarnish is not harming the metal, and many people find it more attractive in its tarnished state.

If you decide to remove the tarnish, there are several methods you can use, and there is no need for you to buy a special cleaner in your quest for how to clean copper. Note that you shouldn’t use abrasives, such as salt or steel wool, as these can scratch the surface. The baking soda used in method 3 is a very mild abrasive and I didn’t note any scratching from using it.

Three Methods ForHow to Clean Copper

Method 1. Add one cup of white vinegar and 1 teaspoon of salt to a large pot of boiling water. Boil your piece of copper in this for several hours (be sure to add more water as needed). This method removed the overall orangey tarnish on my teapot, returning it to a shiny pinkish color. However, the smaller, darker spots of tarnish remained even after boiling for several hours.

Method 2. Make a paste by dissolving 1 teaspoon of salt in 1 cup of white vinegar, and then adding enough flour to make a thick paste. Cover the copper item in this paste and allow it to sit for an hour. Rinse with warm water and use a soft cloth to polish dry. This is basically a variation on method number 1 and the goal is to get something acid (the vinegar) in close contact with the tarnish. This method decreased the intensity of the tarnish spots, but they were still there when I looked closely.

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Method 3. Lemon and baking soda. Sprinkle a slice of lemon with baking soda and use this to gently polish the copper surface. You could also just mix vinegar and baking soda together to form a paste and use a soft cloth to rub this on the copper surface. With a little application, this method got rid of the last traces of tarnish on my teapot.

How to Clean Copper Pots

Copper cookware is loved by chefs and home cooks for its even and quick heating and also its beauty. However, if you have invested in a copper pot, you will need to be careful to maintain it correctly. A stained pot will no longer conduct heat evenly.

If you are using a solid copper pot or bowl to cook with, never place anything acidic in it. The acid in tomatoes, lemon, fruit juice, vinegar, etc. reacts with the copper and will release toxic compounds into your food. Most copper cookware these days though is lined with stainless steel.

You can use the how-to-clean copper methods above for cleaning your copper pots after washing them with regular dishwashing soap and water. Never be tempted to use tough abrasives or scouring pads on your copper. If you do it regularly, copper-bottomed pots shouldn’t need mild rubbing with vinegar and baking soda paste to maintain them.

Don’t put your copper cookware in the dishwasher. You risk damaging it from the harsh detergent which may even pit the metal. Instead, try to enjoy taking care of your beautiful cookware!


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Mary Ann

I'm a mom of 3 and spend a good chunk of my time cleaning and organizing our crazy home. My goal is to help people keep their homes tidy in a way that saves them time and money! I hope the resources on this site are a help to you and your family.

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