How to Clean Severely Tarnished Copper

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Things You'll Need

  • Salt

  • Lemon juice

  • Plate or tray

  • Cloth

  • Water

  • Dishwashing detergent

  • Commercial metal cleaner

Copper pots can develop severe tarnishing if not cleaned regularly.

Copper, the element Cu, is a reddish-orange metal mined in various areas of the world. It is soft and easily worked and was one of the earliest metals used by humans for a variety of uses. One of the most valuable properties of copper is its ability to conduct heat and electricity. This feature makes copper pots desirable for even cooking. Copper, however, often reacts with moisture and impurities in the air and becomes severely tarnished unless cleaned regularly.


Step 1

Mix salt and lemon juice together into a paste.

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Step 2

Apply the paste to the area of tarnish on the copper, rubbing it in vigorously.

Step 3

Allow the paste to sit on the tarnished copper for 15 minutes.

Step 4

Rinse the salt paste from the copper item and wash thoroughly in a dishwater detergent and water solution.

Step 5

Dry the the copper piece completely and buff to a luster.

Step 6

For severe tarnishing, apply a commercial copper polish according to label directions. Then, rinse thoroughly, wash and dry.


Step 7

Make your own copper cleaner to avoid the harsh chemicals and expense of commercial copper cleaners. Mix 1 tsp. ammonia, 1 cup calcium carbonate (available at art and hobby stores) and 1 pint of soap jelly (made from 1 cup shaved soap melted in a quart of boiling water), advises University of Florida professor Marie Hammer. Rub the mixture onto the copper surface until the tarnish fades.


In order to prevent tarnishing entirely, you must either apply a coating to the copper, which would not work for pots that are in contact with heat, or keep them in airtight containers.


Use rubber gloves when working with commercial cleaners. These products are also harmful if ingested and should be kept out of the reach of children.

Commercial copper cleaners may contain an ammonium agent or citric acid. These ingredients can be irritating to eyes and skin and must be used with care.


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