Copper pots, pans and decorative items can be attractive in a kitchen, but tarnish can dull the shine and beauty of copper. Tarnish builds up on copper when the metal reacts to oxygen in the air; grease can also dull the beauty of copper pots. While some use ammonia to degrease and clean tarnish from copper items, there are many other household items or specialty polishes that will bring back the bright color and shine of copper.
Some grocery and homegoods stores sell metal polishes formulated for specific kinds of metal like stainless steel, chrome, gold, silver or copper. Many copper polishes have acids and scouring ingredients as well as ingredients to make the polish stick to slick metal surfaces. These polishes can also contain harsh chemicals, but you can clean copper with common household items.
The acids in lemon juice can cut grease and remove tarnish from copper pieces. To clean and polish copper with lemon, you can simply cut a lemon in half, and rub the cut half over the copper item. Bottled lemon juice can also give the same effect. Soak a polishing or dish cloth with lemon juice, and gently buff away stains on copper pots. Rinse well with clean water to remove any remaining lemon juice.
Many metal polishing formulas have an abrasive in them to gently buff away grease deposits or tarnish on copper items, and you can get the same effect using salt. For larger items like pots and pans, Kosher salt is preferable because it is made up of larger crystals. Table salt, with smaller crystals, can be better for polishing delicate or engraved copper items. When polishing with a cut lemon, dip the lemon into salt before rubbing on the copper item.
Baking Soda and Vinegar
Vinegar is also an acid like lemon juice, and it can also remove tarnish from copper. Baking soda is a salt and provides the same gentle scouring action as table salt. Also, baking soda and vinegar will react to bubble away tarnish and stains. To clean, make a paste of a few drops of water, flour and baking soda, and rub onto the copper piece. Soak a cloth in vinegar, and rub it over the baking soda. The foaming action and gentle polishing will remove tarnish.
Some products have a clear coating called lacquer that protects copper from tarnish. If your copper piece has a shiny finish and doesn't tarnish when left out, it probably has a coating of clear lacquer. To clean lacquered copper pots or decorative items, simply wash them as you would a nonstick pan. Do not use any abrasive cleaners because they could scratch or scrub away the finish.