5 Ways to Clean Your Pennies

Kids Have Fun Cleaning Pennies

Polished pennies
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Cleaning pennies can be a fun activity for kids of all ages. You can get Lincoln pennies by the roll at your local bank, or check with your parents or grandparents if they have a big-old-jar full of pennies and spare change sitting on top of their dresser.

Note: There are other ways to clean pennies that involve the use of chemical cleaners that contain acids or other harmful chemicals. I have chosen only to present methods that are non-toxic and safe for children.

WARNING: Cleaning coins is viewed by serious coin collectors as causing damage to the coin and thus reduces its value. Expert coin dealers can tell almost instantly if a coin has been cleaned or not. Some pennies are outrageously expensive and thus should not be cleaned. Therefore before you clean any coin, you should determine if it is a valuable coin. If in doubt, take the coin in question to a local coin dealer and ask for a free appraisal before you clean it.

1. Vinegar (or Lemon Juice) and Salt

This method is the best way to clean your pennies and it will produce a very bright orangey-copper color on your pennies. It does this by using the low levels of acids that are contained naturally in vinegar and lemon juice to remove the patina (brown oxidation) on the penny.

Start by adding a quarter cup of white vinegar, or lemon juice, into a cup or glass. Mix a teaspoon of salt into the liquid by stirring until it is dissolved.

Place your pennies in the bottom of the cup or glass so that they are not stacked on top of each other. Wait about five minutes and check your pennies. If they are not as bright as you would like them, let them sit for another five minutes. It may take as much as fifteen minutes to achieve the color you desire.

Remove the pennies from the solution and rinse under warm running water. Dry your pennies with a soft cloth. If you would like to add a little bit more shine to your pennies, do the "Bon Ami Cleanser or Baking Soda" method described below.

Materials needed:
  • Quarter cup of white vinegar (or lemon juice)
  • Teaspoon of salt
  • Spoon for stirring
  • Cup or glass (plastic or glass, but not metal)
  • Clean water
  • Soft dry cloth
Advantages:
  • Removes the brown oxidation and produces a bright colored copper penny
  • Can do more than one penny at a time
Disadvantages:
  • Liquids can spill and make a mess
  • Can take up to 15 minutes (not good for impatient children) 

Bonus: Put a couple of new steel nut or bolt in the pan with your pennies. As you clean more and more pennies the acid will dissolve some of the copper on the pennies. The copper that is dissolved in the vinegar will be attracted to the steel nuts and bolts. They will start to turn a copper in color as they sit in the solution. It may take several batches of pennies in order to put enough copper into the solution.

2. Pencil Eraser

This first technique is extremely easy and involves no liquids that can spill and make a mess.

First, lay your dirty penny on top of a piece of paper or clean cloth.

While holding the penny on a flat stable surface with one hand, use the pencil eraser to rub the dirt and brown oxidation off of the penny using a small circular motion. When it is clean and shiny to your liking, flip the penny over and repeat the same process on the other side. Old pencils with erasers that are rock-hard will be difficult to use and may leave deep scratches in the penny.

Materials needed:

  • One or more new pencils with soft erasers
  • Paper or clean cloth to work on
Advantages
  • No liquids to spill
  • You probably already have everything you need
Disadvantages
  • Small, physical, and repetitive motions (may be difficult for grandma or grandpa to help)
  • Eraser crumbs may get all over

3. Tomato Ketchup

This technique is very similar to the pencil eraser technique except that we add a little bit of ketchup to the process to help remove the oxidation.

This easy process begins by putting about a quarter cup of tomato ketchup into a small container. Pick up a little ketchup on an old toothbrush by dipping it in the ketchup. While holding the penny on a flat surface with one hand, use the old toothbrush to work the tomato ketchup into the surface of the penny using small circular motions. In about a minute your penny will turn from dull brown into a bright copper color. If you would like to add a little bit more shine to your penny, do the "Bon Ami Cleanser or Baking Soda" method described below. Rinse the remaining ketchup from the surface of the penny under warm running water. Dry the penny with a soft clean cloth.

Materials needed:
  • Quarter cup of tomato ketchup (or three ketchup packets from your favorite fast food place)
  • Small container
  • An old toothbrush
  • Clean cloth
Advantages
  • Brings out the copper color on the penny
  • Physically easier than the pencil eraser method
Disadvantages
  • Ketchup can splatter on people and things

 

4. Soap and Water

If your pennies literally have dirt (like from a garden) or some other sort of unidentified gunk on them, you will need to remove that before trying to make your pennies bright and shiny. If you know how to wash dishes, you will be able to perform this task quite easily.

First, mix a small amount of dishwashing liquid and water together. Dip your old toothbrush into the soapy water so that it is thoroughly soaked.

While holding the penny with one hand, use the soapy toothbrush to scrub the dirt and gunk off the surface of the penny. Rinse under warm running water and dry with a soft clean cloth.

Materials needed:
  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Warm water
  • An old toothbrush
  • Soft clean cloth
Advantages:
  • Materials are readily available
  • Easily removes dirt and gunk
Disadvantages:
  • Does not bring out the bright copper color on the penny

5. Bon Ami Cleanser or Baking Soda

For this final method you will use a commercially available cleanser called Bon Ami. If you can't find this exact brand name, you can substitute baking soda. In my experience, the name brand cleanser produces the best results.

This fun process begins by taking the powdered cleanser (or baking soda) and placing it in a small bowl or container. Start mixing small amounts of water into the powder until you have a paste like consistency. Pick up a small amount of the paste on your thumb and forefinger by dipping them into the container.

While holding the penny with your other hand, rub the mixture onto the front and the back side of the penny at the same time. Using small circular motions produces the best results. Rinse the penny and your fingers under clean running water and dry with a soft cloth.

Materials needed:
  • 2 tablespoons Bon Ami cleanser (or baking soda)
  • Small bowl or container for mixing
  • Water
  • Soft dry cloth
Advantages:
  • Produces bright and shiny pennies
  • Kids love this one the best
Disadvantages:
  • Very messy
  • May have to go to the store
  • Small, physical, and repetitive motions (may be difficult for grandma or grandpa to help)