How to Clean Copper Naturally: 4 Sustainable Ways

You don't need harsh chemicals to renew its warm glow.

shot of copper and brass cooking utensils against brick

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Copper is found in many household items, such as jewelry, bowls, pots, and utensils. Over time, though, the surrounding air causes the metal to develop a layer of copper oxide, which makes it look tarnished—and who wants to display tarnished copper?

Tarnishing is a natural process, so it makes sense to use natural items to eliminate the dark, grimy appearance. Commercial copper cleaners often contain harsh chemicals, but you can naturally clean copper with the following materials that are probably already in your home.

Vinegar and Salt

cleaning copper with vinegar and salt

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Rub a mixture of 1 tablespoon table salt combined with 1 cup white vinegar onto the copper with a soft cloth and rinse. Alternatively, immerse the tarnished copper into a pot with 3 cups of water and the salt-vinegar mixture, bring to a boil, and boil until the grime and tarnish comes off.

Once the copper is cool, wash it with soap and water, rinse and rub with a soft cloth.

Ketchup

hands clean copper spoons with small bowl of ketchup

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Not just for your burgers, a small amount of this common kitchen condiment can be rubbed onto tarnished copper to restore its natural luster. Rinse and dry to finish the job. Ketchup works because it contains both acid and salt, the two ingredients needed to dissolve copper oxide.

Lemon

hand rubs lemon and salt on tarnished copper piece

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

To naturally clean copper pots and pans, and less fragile copper pieces, cut a lemon in half, add salt to the cut side, and rub gently onto the item. You can also make a paste with lemon juice and equal parts salt and non-oxidized cornstarch or baking soda. Apply this to the copper item.

Another option is to make a thin paste of ½ cup lemon juice mixed with 1 tbsp table salt and enough flour to make it spreadable. You can also use white vinegar, though lemon juice is more acidic. Rub it onto the copper, then rinse and buff to a shine. The flour gives a bit of scrubbing power.

Baking Soda

cleaning a copper bowl with baking soda and lemon juice

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Combine this mineral with lemon juice to clean copper, or sprinkle baking soda onto a damp cloth and polish the tarnished copper. Its natural abrasion does a good job at scrubbing away the tarnished layer.

To keep your copper shiny longer, you can spray or polish a lacquer. Try to keep the oils from your fingers and skin off the copper, as they can cause discoloration. If you are wearing copper jewelry, apply a layer of clear nail polish to your piece to prevent the copper from coming into contact with your skin.

Experimenting With Pennies

overview of DIY natural ways to clean brass lemon ketchup

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

When thinking of copper, people often think of pennies. But at least since 1982, pennies have been minted from almost 98% zinc, with a copper plating.

That plating, however, makes for a fun age-old science experiment for both kids and adults. Immerse your pennies into various types of liquids to see which ones make the copper surface shiny and which ones can remove the copper plating.

Now that you know which natural materials can clean your more precious copper pieces, you can figure out what will amaze your children.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • How do you restore badly tarnished copper naturally?

    The old-fashioned vinegar and salt technique works wonders to restore badly tarnished copper. If the item is small enough, boiling it in the mixture works best.

  • What happens when you put copper in vinegar?

    The combination of the acetic acid (vinegar) and sodium chloride (table salt) dissolves copper oxide and makes the copper shiny again.

  • Can you clean copper with Coke?

    Although perhaps not the most eco-friendly option—considering Coca Cola's notoriously negative impact—you can, indeed, clean copper with Coke. Simply soak the copper item in the fizzy beverage for an hour. No scrubbing needed.