How to Burnish Copper

Burnished copper has a bright, rosy shine.
Burnished copper has a bright, rosy shine. (Image: Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

When copper reacts with oxygen in the air, it turns dull, dark and even green. This tarnish is called a patina. The patina covers only the surface of the metal and can be removed by burnishing, or polishing, which restores the copper's rosy color and shine. You can make your own polishing agents from weak household acids and salt, or buy a commercial copper cleaner. For heavily tarnished items, you can also use an abrasive scrubber, such as steel wool.

Things You'll Need

  • Lemon juice or vinegar
  • Salt
  • Flour
  • Bowl
  • Spoon
  • Soft cloth
  • Warm water
  • Copper cleaner
  • Grade 000 steel wool

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Natural Polishing Agents

Make a paste of lemon juice, salt and flour in a bowl. You can replace lemon juice with vinegar for mild tarnish.

Dip a soft cloth into the paste and rub the copper with quick, circular motions.

Rinse off the paste with warm water when the color and shine have returned. Dry with a soft cloth.

Commercial Copper Cleaners

Put a small amount of copper cleaner onto a wet cloth.

Briskly rub the copper with the cloth.

Rinse off the cleaner when the patina is removed. Dry with a cloth.

Using Steel Wool

Evaluate the condition of the copper. Steel wool should only be used on heavily tarnished metal, as it creates small scratches in the metal.

Select a grade 000 steel wool or finer. Wet the wool with warm water.

Rub the copper with brisk, circular motions until the patina is removed. Rinse the copper with warm water, and dry with a soft cloth.


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