How to Clean Copper

How to Clean and Polish Copper without Using Chemicals

Copper Suacepans
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Though many aren't sure how to clean copper, they want it for both its function and beauty. Copper's excellent heat conduction makes it ideal for pots and pans. Artisans appreciate its malleability and warm, burnished color.

Despite its popularity, copper isn’t maintenance free. That doesn’t mean you have to buy commercial copper cleaners. You can clean and polish copper using simple, chemical-free ingredients you probably already in your kitchen.

Here’s how to clean copper:

Is It Lacquered or Unlacquered?

Before you clean copper, you must know if the piece is lacquered or unlacquered. Polishing a lacquered copper piece will destroy the finish. The easiest way to determine which you have is to answer two simple questions:

  1. Does the piece get dusty or grimy without changing color / turning brown?
  2. 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.

How to Clean Lacquered Copper

Cleaning lacquered copper is simple:

  1. Wash the piece in warm -- not hot -- soapy water.
  2. 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.
  3. Dry the piece completely with a clean, soft cloth.

If you prefer, you can remove the lacquer, and then clean your piece using the unlacquered method. But, after you remove the lacquered finish, you’ll have to clean and polish your copper piece regularly to keep it tarnish free.

How to Clean Copper That's Not Lacquered 

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

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

To clean and polish:

  1. Cut the lemon in half, and dip the cut end into the appropriate salt.
  2. Scrub the copper piece with the salt-covered lemon, using circular motions, until all the tarnish is gone. 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.
  3. Rinse the copper piece thoroughly with warm water.
  4. Dry the piece with a soft cloth or towel.
  5. Use a second dry, clean cloth, buff using circular motions to polish the piece to a soft glow. The more you buff, the shinier the finish.