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How to Clean a Penny - All About Cleaning Copper Pennies

Updated on July 3, 2017

Cleaning 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.

Commercial Cleaners

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.

Comments - Your Favorite Ways to Clean Pennies

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    • profile image

      cat 3 years ago

      but the eraser technique isn't good for collecting pennies cuz it leaves scratches if u look at it in a microscope

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      cooljames 4 years ago

      omg i also hear u can clean it with taco sause and lemom juice and also an eraser that is real cool to know

    • johnr54 profile image
      Author

      Joanie Ruppel 4 years ago from Texas

      Thank you! Glad it stirred up some good memories!

    • LongTimeMother profile image

      LongTimeMother 4 years ago from Australia

      What a lovely hub. We haven't had copper coins in Australia for many years now, but when I was a girl I used to clean them by dropping them in coca-cola. I wish I'd known about all these other options to play with back then. :)

      Voted up!

    • profile image

      wa 4 years ago

      awesome

    • johnr54 profile image
      Author

      Joanie Ruppel 5 years ago from Texas

      What an awesome find! Glad you enjoyed the hub.

    • profile image

      ThePennyCollector 5 years ago

      I just found an 1890 Indian Head penny on the ground outside! Must be worth a lot. I took the penny home and used one of these techniques on it. Wow! Incredible shine! An 1890 penny, looks straight from the mint! Thanks for your advice, I'll treat this rarity very well.

    • profile image

      alyssa 5 years ago

      that was so cool

    • johnr54 profile image
      Author

      Joanie Ruppel 5 years ago from Texas

      Congratulations! A good grade I hope!

    • profile image

      Imran Ali 5 years ago

      very nice

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      Brenny campbell 5 years ago

      I can't believe I did this project i'm so excited. (:

    • johnr54 profile image
      Author

      Joanie Ruppel 5 years ago from Texas

      Best of luck to your daughter (and you!).

    • Jennifer Kirby profile image

      Jennifer Kirby 5 years ago

      My daughter is doing her science fair project on "what cleans pennies best?" and will be testing 10 different household liquids. It will be interesting to see how they compare to yours...

    • profile image

      andre 5 years ago

      cool

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      85 6 years ago

      need new was to clean pennys

    • profile image

      jjboom 6 years ago

      thanks i will try it

    • profile image

      twithcy 6 years ago

      u can also use tapatio it also cleans it ;D

    • profile image

      Daddyo 6 years ago

      Heinz sweet relish cleaned my penny with absolutelu NO RUBBING in five mionutes

    • profile image

      bob 6 years ago

      i love pennies

    • profile image

      Malt 6 years ago

      Mothers mag aluminum polish

    • profile image

      Ms. science project genius 6 years ago

      I did a science project on cleaning copper pennies, i didn't use any of these ones though but the best one that I used was lemon and salt together for 30 secs. you should try it.

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      Jerry 6 years ago

      Ketchup is the best to use when cleaning copper pennies.It works out great,believe me.Smear it on and let it set a few mins or more.Rub off with clean dry towel or sponge,then rinse under water.

    • profile image

      Kc 6 years ago

      These might work for my project!!!

    • JD Barlow profile image

      JD Barlow 6 years ago from Southeast US

      Pre 1982 pennies are now worth 2 cents in copper value. So Congress made it unlawful to scrap pennies.

    • JD Barlow profile image

      JD Barlow 6 years ago from Southeast US

      The rare 1943 penny was made from cannon brass. MCD Big Mac sause works well also.

    • profile image

      Chrisie 6 years ago

      These methods are so unbelievably cool. I am working on a project for a science fair. It's my first science fair so I want to get an A!!!I wrote down all these methods and I'm crazy enough to try them all. My dad might be scared because I told him I would use clorox and now he says I need goggles,gloves, and so much more. Thx whoever you are!!!^.^

    • profile image

      Annie 6 years ago

      there is a penny from 1943, that ot worth around $40,000-$60,000!! these are very rare though, and do not stic to a magnet. most of these pennies have been found, but there are still a few out there that are VERY rare and valuable!! (:

    • profile image

      Kim 6 years ago

      wow that is a cool experiment!!! cool for kids too.

    • profile image

      Kiki 6 years ago

      Ill use this for an experiment!

    • profile image

      Me and also me 6 years ago

      Thx... Was going to use this to help my bro for extra credit points but he didn't want it.. I tried it anyway and it worked soooooooooo.....….. :o)

    • profile image

      Mr. D's Teacher Resource Website Matthew De Gasperi 6 years ago

      This sounds like a cool experiment for little kids. Thanks for sharing this Hub!

    • profile image

      juweria 7 years ago

      this is great

    • profile image

      Susan 7 years ago

      I use the vinegar method but I rarely use salt with it. They looks beautiful in a matter of minutes but if you leave them in too long they start to go blue (and the vinegar). Make sure you rinse the coins with water after or tiny crystals will start to grow.

      Susan x

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      Alyssa G. 7 years ago

      wow, this is great for my science project! thx a lot!

    • profile image

      Ben J. 7 years ago

      Cleaning coins is NOT for old or anything collectible! You could have a very rare coin worth $1000s and just by cleaning it you could drop the value to $10 or LESS! PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE check that the coin you want to clean is worth only face value before you do ANYTHING to the surface. This goes for any coin. A dirty surface can make it worth less than a shiny one, but cleaning damages the coin and can make it worth nothing.

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      TheDaughterDoing the job 7 years ago

      these are great. at first my dad and i used the viniger and salt method, it cleaned it a bit, but this coin was really dirty, it even had clumps of clay on it! then dad was busy on the phone. i became fascinated and very eagre to clean the 1936 penny he had found on a job. so then i tried the eraser method, i got a bit of the shine up, but it was too slow for me. then i tried the steel wool method, great results, i highly recommend it. theres still a bit of dirt on the penny, not much though. it is now resting in ajax because we dont have any cillit. thanks heaps for the advice :D

    • profile image

      coolkid 7 years ago

      Basicly anything acidic or carbonated can clean a penny so orange juice, lemon juice, sodas, vinegar, or many cleaners like windex will also work.

    • profile image

      Des 7 years ago

      OMG! I didn't know that any of these would clean pennies(except the salt and vinegar). I might do this for a science fair project and thank you for this idea! Also thank you to everyone else who gave different ideas! I just tried the pencil eraser one and it worked really well surprisingly! well thanx again!

    • profile image

      Deontinator 7 years ago

      Thanks for helping yo I have got good info for my project

    • profile image

      diamond 7 years ago

      i got to help my cousin with his science fair project and lemon juice is working

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      imahalestorm 7 years ago

      The eraser works pretty well but you have to be willing to spend a lot if time on it because it takes a while. So good luck all you penny cleaners out there!

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      alexia 22 7 years ago

      I did not use the pencil eraser but i will tell you what cleans good. I think that orange juice is the best.

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      Brooke :P 7 years ago

      Me and my friend are doing a science fair project, and found that lemon juice works really well!! :P

    • profile image

      kwow 7 years ago

      urrg i cant find others peoples results for cleaning pennies anywhere. Can anyone help

    • profile image

      Triston 7 years ago

      i'm doing this for science and i will try it thanks.

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      jenirae 7 years ago

      Great writing! I really will double think eating taco sauce next time. If it can do that to a penny, well I'm sure you see the humor. Thanks for the read.

    • profile image

      GISELLE 7 years ago

      I THINK IT IS COOL.I AM BBBBBBB

    • profile image

      me myself and i 7 years ago

      i love the pincil eraser it so worked i got a 100

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      awesomekennedy 7 years ago

      ha im doing this for the science fair. the pencil eraser worked the best. u can also use lemon juice.

    • profile image

      j.gurl 7 years ago

      orange juice is also a good way to clean a dirty penny also is coke

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      science fair 7 years ago

      im doing what liquid cleans a penny the best i hope this works !!!

    • profile image

      higirl 7 years ago

      nice job

      i am doing a science project on these

      your website really helped

      i am gonna use the pencil eraser one on my project

      thanks a lot

    • profile image

      abi 7 years ago

      I going to be doing a science project on what kinds ofjuice cleans pennies best. any advice?

    • profile image

      nicky brown 7 years ago

      cleaning pennies is a fun project

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      claudia 7 years ago

      i used the eracer method. it dose work. you would need a bigger eracer than the one at the of a pencil.

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      Taylorrrr(: 7 years ago

      OMG, This Website Is Awesome.. Bahaa:)

      It Helped Me A LOT :D

      Thank Youuu(:

    • profile image

      fruit loops 7 years ago

      which cleans a penny faster salt and vineger or lime juice

    • profile image

      lolly 7 years ago

      try using orange juice

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      maria  7 years ago

      try ketchup and lemon juice iy works !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      england rules

    • profile image

      holly 8 years ago

      oh my gosh these products are fantastic

    • profile image

      Jen 8 years ago

      I used taco bell taco sauce and it totally worked!

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      Tangy 8 years ago

      I tried the pencil eraser one and it totally worked. One question though: How do you get rid of the green stuff on it?

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      fishy 8 years ago

      do these methods really work??

    • profile image

      dorks!!!! 8 years ago

      Were doing a project on pennies too. what's the best way 2 clean a penny? write back soon!!!!!!!!

    • profile image

      kylee 8 years ago

      i have not tried any of these yet but i have heard of the eraser and heard it worked so i am going to do that for a project at school!!

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 8 years ago from London

      anything that might even be valuable shouldn't be cleaned in any of these ways, as you so rightly say!

    • profile image

      Margiie 8 years ago

      i'm doing a science project on cleaning pennies :]

    • profile image

      Headtrauma 8 years ago

      ketchup works well also

    • profile image

      sciencefair502 8 years ago

      i had to do a science fair experiment for school on witch worked the best, salt and vinegar, pencil eraser or taco sause. i havnt done the project yet but they were good ideas thanks a lot.

      paige

    • profile image

      advicetaker 8 years ago

      I did the eraser method and it worked

      nice job :)

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      bryn 8 years ago

      I found a penny from 1925 and it is almost black that it is so dirty. but i dont know if i should clean it.

      I used the eraser method on a pennie from 1978 and it worked really well

    • profile image

      student101 9 years ago

      Nice hub i had to do a scince project and i used the erasour method, it really worked and you got me an A+!!!!! THANK YOU!!!!!!

    • profile image

      Dave 9 years ago

      Have you thought of getting out more?

    • glassvisage profile image

      glassvisage 9 years ago from Northern California

      What a great hub! There are so many ways to do this.

    • compu-smart profile image

      Compu-Smart 9 years ago from London UK

      Great cleaning tips which i will use for other more important things that need cleaning in my home because i give all my pennys to charity:/

      ps.

      Hub reminds me of this song "Penny lover" by Lionel Richie!

    • Caryl Oliver profile image

      Caryl Oliver 9 years ago from Australia

      Drop your pennies into a glass of Coca-Cola for a short while and they will clean up beautifully - but don't leave them in too long or they will disappear completely!

    • johnr54 profile image
      Author

      Joanie Ruppel 9 years ago from Texas

      Don't take this as investment advice, but I seem to always hang on to my change. We used to collect little coin banks as souveniers, so I've got change hanging around from 30 years ago. But, don't clean them if you really think they are worth something.

    • MarloByDesign profile image

      MarloByDesign 9 years ago from United States

      Do you think I should hang on to my pennies because the value will go up? That is what I have heard, so I bought some rolls (and have hung on to a bunch). Now I know how to clean them.

    • livelonger profile image

      Jason Menayan 9 years ago from San Francisco

      Great writeup! I used the eraser method when I was a kid.

    • writerlady profile image

      writerlady 9 years ago from South

      I never realize you could cleanse pennies in so many different ways