Best Way to Clean Copper Cookware, Ornaments, Utensils, Jewelry
Copper and brass develop an unsightly brown or green tarnish (patina), over time due to the oxidation of the copper on the surface of the item. This is a natural process and needs to be attended to regularly during the life of the copper item.
Unfortunately many commercial copper and brass cleaning products, and tarnish removers, contain formaldehyde an other harsh chemicals that can be toxic and dangerous to the skin and lungs.
Fortunately you can make your own safe, effective and inexpensive homemade copper and brass tarnish removers and polishes.
These remedies are non-toxic and do not damage your copper cookware, ornaments, decorations, sinks, kitchen utensils, coins and jewelry. These homemade remedies use simple and widely available natural ingredients available in most kitchens.
It is unwise to attempt to clean valuable copper coins, which should only be cleaned and preserved by professionals. Always check before cleaning antiques, jewelry and other valuable copper items as this may decrease their value.
This article provides advice on home remedies for cleaning copper and brass items and preventing tarnishing.
Tarnish (patina) is formed naturally through oxidation of the copper on the surface with oxygen. The patina actually prevents the copper underneath from corroding. This applies to many metal surfaces such as silver, stainless steel and aluminum. Copper that has been exposed to air, will get a dark brown patina as it tarnishes. If the copper is exposed to moisture as well as air, it will get a greenish-blue patina. Both of these patinas can be removed with weak acid solutions and very mild abrasives.
Home Remedies for Cleaning Copper
Vinegar and Salt
The combination of vinegar and salt is generally suitable for mild tarnishing. The acidic vinegar dissolves the oxidization that causes the tarnish and discoloration. The salt is a very mild abrasive that can help remove grime and stains. Simply dip a cloth or sponge in vinegar and rub over the tarnished area. For any stains that remain, simply sprinkle a little salt on the cloth and rub the area. Rinse the cloth in vinegar again and rub over to remove any remaining salt.
For tougher stains, make a paste from vinegar, salt and flour. Mix one tablespoon of salt with one cup of vinegar and add flour gradually to make a thick paste. Spread the cleaning paste onto the tarnished areas and leave it on for 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the severity of the tarnishing. You can also place items in a pot and boil to remove stains. Dissolve about one tablespoon salt in one cup of white vinegar in a large pot. Top up the pot with water and add the copper object so that it is fully immersed. Bring the solution to the boil and simmer gently until the tarnish comes off. Remove item and allow to cool, then wash with soap in warm water, rinse and dry with a towel.
Vinegar and Baking Soda
Add some vinegar to a spray bottle. Spray the tarnished area with a little vinegar, sprinkle on some baking soda, which will fizz when it reacts with the vinegar. For tougher tarnishing, spray a cloth with a little water and add enough baking soda to form a paste on the cloth. Rub the tarnish with the cloth. The baking soda provides a very mild abrasive action. Spray on the vinegar and wipe off with a damp cloth.
Lemon Juice and Baking Soda
Lemon juice can be used as a replacement for vinegar. To clean copper ornaments, pans, pots and jewelry, simply sprinkle salt on a lemon wedge.Rub the tarnished area with the salt covered lemon wedge, and then wash and rinse the surface with warm soapy water. Simply wiping the copper surfaces with lemon juice or a lemon wedge is a good regular remedy for tarnishing. As above, baking soda is used as an abrasive and it also reacts with the acidic lemon juice producing a fizzing cleaning reaction. You can also use salt with lemon juice.
Using ketchup and tomato sauce to clean copper sounds weird, but ketchup is acidic and it contains vinegar and salt. Simply wipe the tarnished area with ketchup and rinse off with warm soapy water.
Cleaning Copper Sinks
Don't use the cleaning solutions described above to clean copper sinks. The sink probably should have a coppery-brown tarnish color, rather than a bright shiny copper glow, that is impossible to maintain without using lacquers. Sinks are best cleaned with plain soap and water and a scouring pad (fine scratches don't really matter).
Tips for Cleaning and Maintaining Copper Items
- Keep your copper jewelry and coins in airtight bags when they are not being used. Keep copper items dry and away from humidity in enclosed spaces. Moisture and humidity increases the likelihood that these items will tarnish.
- Clean your copper items regularly to stop the tarnishing developing and becoming unsightly.
- Don't use silver polish on copper or brass items. Silver cleaners and polishes use a different process and often contain various abrasives that can scratch the soft surface of copper.
- Don't use steel wool and scouring pads on copper surfaces (apart from cooking pots) as this will scratch the surface.
- Avoid storing copper items in areas which are exposed to high heat or moisture because this will increase the rate at which the copper tarnishes.
- Make sure to use a soft, clean cloth. Any dirt on the cloth may scratch the surface. Stiff brushes and kitchen scouring pads can damage copper
- If the copper item is badly tarnished, repeat the cleaning process several times and try boiling the object in a pot of cleanser as described above. Only use chemical cleansers as a last resort and always spot test before using on the entire object.
Tips for Preventing Copper from Tarnishing
Copper that is cleaned may tarnish again relatively quickly. So, what can you do to prevent it? Essentially you have to provide a barrier that stops oxygen and moisture from getting to the surface. This can be done using oils, waxes and a number of clear lacquers that are available. Below are a few suggestions:
- Furniture Polishes - Renaissance wax, Johnson's paste wax, Mr Sheen, and various other furniture spray waxes are a good option because they do not permanently coat the surface.
- Hair Sprays - This is a relatively mild treatment that many people claim is effective.
- Commercial Lacquers and Polishes - There are many of these. Some examples are EVERBRITE Protective Coating and ProtectaClear, which are clear, protective lacquers with antioxidants designed to prevent tarnishing and corrosion on copper and other metals. They can slightly darken the surface finish.
© 2012 Dr. John Anderson
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