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Copper adds a ton of character and texture to your kitchen and home. But not all copper is created equal.
For example, most factory-produced copper cookware is covered with a thin layer of lacquer, which is a clear coating that helps prevent tarnishing. And many copper products are actually just copper plated, which means there’s a layer of copper covering another type of metal.
We’ll focus mostly on cleaning lacquer-free copper, as it tends to need it most. But don’t worry, later on we cover how to clean lacquered and copper plated copper as well.
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How to Clean Lacquer-free Copper
Take a close look at the copper you want to clean. If it doesn’t have a clear, shiny, coating, it’s probably lacquer-free. Lacquer-free copper can get dingy and tarnished simply by being exposed to water or air. Which seems kind of ridiculous, but it’s true.
When copper atoms combine with oxygen atoms, it creates copper oxide. If you’ve ever seen a dingy penny, it looks that way because of the copper oxide. Using acidic ingredients, like salt and vinegar, helps break up the copper oxide and return the natural copper shine.
Salt and Vinegar
Step 1: Wipe and sprinkle.
Start by wiping the copper with a soft, damp cloth. Your goal in this step is to remove any food bits, dirt, or debris. Once you’re done with that initial cleaning, sprinkle the copper with salt. The damp cloth should help the salt stick to copper. You don’t need a lot of salt, just a light dusting will do.
Step 2: Scrub with a vinegar-soaked cloth.
Dip a second soft cloth in vinegar and scrub the salted copper. The salt will disappear, as will the grime or tarnish. If you’re cleaning a large or especially tarnished copper item, your cloth will quickly get grimy. Swap it out with a fresh one before it gets too nasty.
Pro tip: Use an old toothbrush for problem areas. If there are any dents or dings, you might not be able to get completely clean the copper with a soft cloth. Instead, dip an old toothbrush in vinegar, and brush away the grime in those dented areas.
Step 3: Rinse, dry, and buff.
Rinse the copper with distilled water, then thoroughly dry with a soft cloth. Now that the grime is gone, take a clean cloth and buff the copper until it shines.
The Boiling Method
If scrubbing didn’t get the results you hoped for, boiling the copper might do the trick.
Step 1: Mix the ingredients.
Start by mixing one cup vinegar, one tablespoon salt, and 4-5 cups of water in a pot. You’ll obviously need a pot that’s large enough to hold the boiling water and your copper product. But big or small, keep those ingredient ratios as you fill up the pot.
Step 2: Bring to a boil.
Bring the mixture to a boil, add your copper product, then watch the magic happen. You’ll notice the tarnish start to dissolve. Wait until the grime is completely gone, then carefully remove the copper product.
Step 3: Rinse, dry, and buff.
Rinse the copper in distilled water, then thoroughly dry with a soft cloth. Buff the copper until it shines.
How to Clean Badly Tarnished Copper
If your copper is badly tarnished, and salt and vinegar and boiling didn’t work, here are few other things you can try:
Baking soda and white vinegar: Mix baking soda and white vinegar until you have a thick paste. These ingredient will fizz for a bit, but don’t worry, it will settle down. Rub the paste on the copper and let it sit for 30 minutes. Then, rinse with warm water and buff with a dry cloth.
Acidic fruit: Just like with vinegar, the acidity of lemon or limes helps dissolve the copper oxide. Grab a lemon or lime, cut it in half, sprinkle with salt and rub the copper. When the tarnish is gone, rinse with warm water and dry and buff with a soft cloth. If it’s easier, mixing salt with lemon or lime juice will also do the trick.
Bar Keepers Friend: This trusted cookware cleaner can work wonders on copper. Bar Keepers Friend is pretty powerful stuff, so follow the directions on the bottle closely. You’ll want to use some rubber gloves while you work to help protect your hands.
Bon Ami: If natural ingredients are more your thing, try Bon Ami. It’s powerful and gentle, and made by a trusted brand that’s been around for years.
Pro tip: Have a high dollar item? Leave the cleaning to the pros. If you have an antique copper item, or a cherished family heirloom it’s best to leave it to the pros.
How to Clean Lacquered or Copper Plated Products
If you have a lacquered or copper plated product, you’re in luck. Cleaning and general maintenance are a whole lot easier. If the surface of the copper is shiny or your copper cookware doesn’t change colors when you use it, it’s probably lacquered. And if a magnet sticks to your copper, it means it’s actually copper plated.
When you clean lacquered or copper plated copper, you can just use hot water and dish soap like you do with your other dishes. It’s important to avoid scouring pads, harsh cleaners, or other abrasive products. These types of products can remove the lacquer and damage your cookware.
Step 1: Wipe with a damp cloth and sprinkle with salt.
Step 2: Scrub the copper with vinegar-soaked soft cloth.
Step 3: Rinse the copper, dry with a clean cloth, then buff until it shines.