How to Remove Lacquer From Copper

Copper Kitchen Utensils Arranged on Shelf In Kitchen

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From functional copper cookware to purely decorative wall plaques and vases, many factory-produced copper products are coated with lacquer to keep them from tarnishing. While this simplifies cleaning and care (and looks great on the retail shelves), sometimes you need to remove lacquer from copper pieces.

Why Should You Remove the Lacquer?

If you plan to display your copper item just as a decoration, it's fine to leave the lacquer intact. However, there are times when you'll want to remove the lacquer, such as:

  • When the lacquer on a vintage piece is peeling or bubbling.
  • When you plan to use the copper item for cooking, food prep, or serving.
  • If you prefer the soft gleam of bare polished copper to super-shiny lacquer.

There are three ways to remove lacquer from copper. You can use washing soda, acetone nail polish remover, or a commercial lacquer thinner. All three involve some elbow grease, but the methods are all fairly simple.

No matter which process you choose, wear gloves to protect your hands from the chemicals.

Method 1: Boiling Water and Washing Soda

  1. Add washing soda to boiling water, no more than one teaspoon per cup of water.
  2. Immerse the copper object and let it boil for at least 20 minutes. You should start to see some scum on the surface of the water. That means the lacquer is softening and starting to peel.
  3. Remove the object from the boiling water.
  4. Scrub under warm running water with a nubby dishcloth to remove the softened lacquer.
  5. Use a nylon pot scrubber or soft-bristled toothbrush, if needed, to remove from stubborn spots and crevices.
  6. Wash thoroughly in hot, soapy water.
  7. Dry completely with a soft cloth.
  8. Buff with a second dry cloth, using circular motions.
  9. Clean and polish the copper piece as needed.

Method 2: Acetone Nail Polish Remover

  1. Dip a cloth in acetone nail polish remover.
  2. Rub the copper piece until all lacquer is gone.
  3. Wash thoroughly in hot, soapy water.
  4. Dry completely with a soft cloth.
  5. Buff with a second dry cloth, using circular motions.
  6. Clean and polish the copper as needed.

Method 3: Commercial Lacquer Thinner

If the first two methods don’t get the job done, you may have to use commercial lacquer thinner from a hardware store. Consider it a pumped-up version of your nail polish remover, one that probably contains acetone and other solvents.

  1. Follow all instructions on the commercial lacquer thinner packaging.
  2. Wash the copper object thoroughly in hot, soapy water.
  3. Dry completely with a soft cloth.
  4. Buff with a second dry cloth, using circular motions.
  5. Clean and polish copper as needed.

Once you’ve removed the lacquer from your copper piece, it will tarnish. To keep the pinkish-orange color, you’ll need to clean and polish it regularly.