How to Clean Copper Pans and Other Copper Surfaces

Copper pot cleaned with cut lemon and salt

The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 5 - 10 mins
  • Total Time: 5 - 10 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $10

Copper is a wonderful material in decorative cookware and other household items. Copper's excellent heat conduction makes it ideal for pots and pans. Artisans appreciate its malleability and warm look, as well as its burnished color. Over time, though, copper pans (and all copper surfaces) can get dingy and covered with oxidation, and some people even shy away from buying copper pieces for this reason. Most people imagine that copper is like silver items, requiring particular chemicals to effectively clean and polish it. In reality, copper is quite easy to clean and polish without commercial chemicals, using ordinary household cleaners and a few other household materials. 

Is It Lacquered or Unlacquered?

How you clean and polish copper pans, copper sinks, and other copper surfaces will depend on whether the metal is coated with a protective coat of lacquer or if it is bare copper. If you polish a lacquered piece, you can ruin the protective finish. Unlacquered, plain copper can be cleaned and polished more rigorously. 

Here's how to distinguish plain copper from lacquered:

  • Does the piece get dusty or grimy without changing color or turning brown?
  • Does the piece have a glossy, shiny finish instead of a subtle glow?

If you answered YES to either question, your copper piece has a lacquered finish, and you should follow the next piece of advice. If the answer is NO to both questions, jump down to the section on unlacquered finishes. 

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Sponge or gentle scrub brush
  • Soft cloth or towel


Cleaning Lacquered Copper

  • Dish soap

Cleaning Unlacquered Copper

  • Whole lemon
  • Kosher salt for cookware or plain flat pieces of copper
  • Table salt for delicate, embossed, or engraved pieces


Materials and tools to clean copper copper surfaces

The Spruce / Almar Creative

How to Clean Lacquered Copper

Cleaning lacquered copper is simple, though if you prefer, you can remove the lacquer, and then clean your piece using the method for cleaning and polishing unlacquered copper. This might be the best option if the lacquer finish has already started to peel away or is otherwise damaged. But be aware that after you remove the lacquered finish, you’ll have to clean and polish your copper piece regularly to keep it tarnish-free.

  1. Wash in Warm Water

    Wash the piece in warm—not hot—soapy water.

    Copper cup placed in bowl with warm soapy water

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

  2. Scrub Gently

    If you must scrub the piece to get rid of grease or grime, be gentle. Use nothing more abrasive than you’d use on the non-stick coating of a favorite skillet. Take your time: Gentle, slow scrubbing is much better than harsh scrubbing. 

    Copper cup scrubbed gently with white sponge in soapy water

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

  3. Dry

    Dry the piece completely with a clean, soft cloth.

    Copper cup dried with soft cloth

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

How to Clean Copper That's Not Lacquered 

Cleaning and polishing unlacquered copper require a bit more elbow grease, but the method is still simple. Fortunately, there’s still no need for harsh chemicals. You can do the job using a few natural ingredients you probably already have at home.

Cutting board with cut lemons and bowls of salt with spoon full of salt

The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

  1. Prepare Lemon

    Cut the lemon in half, and dip the cut end into the appropriate salt.

    Salt rubbed on lemon half above bowl of salt and cut lemons

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

  2. Scrub With Lemon

    Scrub the copper piece with the salt-covered lemon, using circular motions, until all the tarnish is gone. Squeeze the lemon gently as you work to force more juice out, and reapply salt to your cut lemon as needed. If you’re cleaning cookware that has a brass handle, use the salt and lemon to clean the brass parts, too.

    Cut lemon with salt scrubbed on bottom of copper pot

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

  3. Rinse

    Rinse the copper piece thoroughly with warm water.

    Copper pot lid rinsed under running faucet

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

  4. Dry and Buff

    Dry the piece with a soft cloth or towel. Using a second dry, clean cloth, buff the copper using circular motions to polish the piece to a soft glow. The more you buff, the shinier the finish.

    Copper pot dried with microfiber cloth in front of sink

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida