How to Clean a Penny - All About Cleaning Copper Pennies
A brand new, freshly minted coin is so much more attractive than one that's been in circulation for years. It is, of course, inevitable that after coins have been through the hands, pockets and wallets of hundreds of people, they look and feel dirty. Remember how yucky your hands feel after rolling some coins? You want some hand sanitizer or soap and water in a quick way!
This got me thinking about cleaning the coins and pennies in particular. I wondered how many ways I could find to clean copper pennies. It turns out that there is more information than you would expect on the simple job of cleaning pennies. Many of these ideas work for cleaning dimes, nickels and quarters as well. I haven't tried all of these myself, so proceed at your own risk, I can't guarantee that they will work or won't damage your coins.
First, make sure you really want to clean them. If they are collectibles, you may destroy their value by cleaning them. Look it up in a coin price guide or seek the advice of someone who knows the value for truly old coins.
None of these techniques are recommended for coins that have a value greater than the face value.
You should also be aware that pennies minted since 1982 are not really copper pennies, but are actually 97.5% zinc, and only 2.5% copper. This was done because it started to take more than 1 cents worth of copper to make a copper penny. And the zinc coins are degraded more by the acidic solutions like vinegar in these techniques, so use them with care.
Doctor Floyd Cleans His Pennies
Salt and Vinegar
This one sounds like a potato chip recipe. The most popular solution I've found is to combine a weak acid like vinegar or lemon juice with salt for a cleaning solution, which actually forms a mild hydrochloric acid. The process includes:Supplies: 1 teaspoon of table salt, 1/4 of white vinegar, and a shallow bowl to mix them in.Simply put the vinegar in the bowl, and mix in the salt. Add the pennies that you want to clean, and let them sit for up to 5 minutes. Be aware that if you put too many dirty pennies in the solution it will eventually beccome too dirty itself, and you will need to refresh your solution. Be careful with this approach with zinc pennies, as the vinegar attacks the zinc pretty agressively.
Pencil Eraser for Cleaning Pennies
One technique almost anyone can try is the pencil eraser. Simply start rubbing the penny with a clean pencil eraser. If you like this technique and have a lot of pennies to clean, those of us old enough to remember taking a drafting class remember the little motorized erasers that resembles a Dremel tool, and you can probably still find one at a drafting supply shop. These use a long eraser about the size of a pencil, so you can clean pennies a long time with a single eraser.
Another alternative is to use a vinyl eraser. Vinyl erasers don't contain the abrasives that can be found in typical pencil eraser so your penny stock is not as likely to be abraded.
Taco Sauce Cleaners
Probably the next most common approach is the use of taco sauce for cleaning pennies. For some reason Taco Bell hot taco sauce gets mentioned the most, but others can work as well. On site this guy evaluated several types of taco sauce for cleaning pennies
The bottom line seemed to be that the vinegar and salt in taco sauce were the active ingredients. If you want to try it, simply take the taco sauce and put a layer of the sauce on the penny, and let it sit for a few minutes. Then wipe it clean, and rinse it in water, and it should be cleaner.
There are commercial coin cleaners, but you probably need to clean a lot of coins to justify the expense. Other commercial cleaners that are popular choices include Brasso, but in general these are pretty strong cleaners and probably would not be your first choice.
Steel Wire Brush Technique
I guess this works, but if you are at all concerned about the penny being damaged, this doesn't look like the best approach. Basically, you use a small tool like a Dremel tool with a wire brush attachment, and clean the penny with that. Sometimes folks recommend using a cleaner like Brasso along with the wire brush, but all in all this seems like more work and more damage than it's worth. But it's an idea. A less destructive idea is to use a soft bristled tooth brush.
Cilit for Cleaning Pennies
This video is pretty entertaining. It's patterned after the popular show the Mythbusters, and they take a look at using the cleaner Cillit for cleaning copper pennies.
Links of Interest for Penny Lovers!
- PennyCollector.com - The official website for elongated pennies, penny
The original elongated souvenir penny book with the coin on the cover.Penny Machine locations around the world, Collecting Tips, EC History, Online Store, and more!