A gleaming copper penny is a thing of beauty, especially when it catches your eye among a handful of more typically dirty and dull coins. With a little time, minimal effort and some basic household supplies, such as vinegar and baking soda, you can bring out the shine in even the dingiest of tarnished pennies. Cleaning coins with baking soda and white vinegar is effective and easy to do. Your reward is clean, shiny coins that are perfect for crafting, pressed-penny souvenirs or just the pleasure of having nice-looking pennies in your piggy bank.
Stop! Don’t Clean Antique Pennies
Before you get started cleaning coins with baking soda and vinegar, be certain that they're not valuable or collectible coins. Even gentle cleaning can leave scratches in the surfaces of old coins. You might accidentally remove identifying marks and seriously diminish a coin's value. Antique experts advise that coins are more desirable to collectors in their found condition, even if that means they're tarnished and dirty. If you believe your coins have any value as antiques and might want to resell them, resist any urge to clean them.
Give Your Pennies a Good Wash
Before turning to stronger, more abrasive cleaners, such as baking soda and vinegar, give your dirty pennies an initial wash in warm water with a dash of dish soap. This step won't get the pennies perfectly clean and shiny, but they should emerge noticeably cleaner and free of any sticky residue.
Depending on how many pennies you are washing, you might fill a dish pan or a smaller plastic container or cup with soapy water. Swish around the pennies in the soapy water using your hands for a minute or two and optionally brush them gently with an old toothbrush. Drain the water away, rinse off any soap bubbles and transfer the pennies to a dish towel to dry them.
Start With Salt and Vinegar
Before cleaning coins with baking soda, soak them in a solution of white vinegar and salt. In a suitably sized cup, bowl or basin, stir salt – approximately 1 tablespoon of salt per cup of vinegar – into white vinegar until it's dissolved. Prepare enough solution to fully submerge the pennies.
Add the pennies to the solution and let them sit for five to 15 minutes, giving them a swirl or stir every few minutes. You should be able to watch the pennies gradually become cleaner and free of tarnish, revealing their original, bright copper color. Remove the coins from the vinegar solution when you're pleased with the results and rinse them with water before drying.
Cleaning Coins With Baking Soda
If your soap-washed, vinegar-soaked pennies still need more cleaning, scrub them with baking soda. As a gentle abrasive, baking soda is great for getting into the tiny nooks and crannies of coins to polish away the last traces of dirt and tarnish.
Simply rub the surface of each penny with a pinch of dry baking soda or alternatively, a paste of baking soda with a little water. You can use your fingers for this or an old toothbrush. Rub the baking soda all over the coins in a circular motion and then rinse them thoroughly with water. Repeat and then dry the pennies when you're satisfied with the shine.
Copper vs. Zinc Pennies
All pennies have that distinctive copper color that looks so good when cleaned to a high shine. However, not all pennies are solid copper. Pennies minted before 1982 were 95 percent copper, whereas pennies minted after that year are 95 percent zinc with a thin copper plating. Unless you're a coin collector – in which case, you shouldn't be washing your coins – this won't affect the cleaning process. The vinegar and baking soda method is equally safe and effective for both zinc and copper pennies.