How to Clean Copper and Remove Tarnish

How to Clean Copper and Remove Tarnish
Tarnishing is a natural process for many fine metals, including copper. Though copper is often coated with a food-safe polish designed to reduce tarnishing, over time the coating will wear with use. After many joyful experiences with your copper, the shine may start to fade and some spots may appear. If it is your first pure copper purchase you will most likely be disappointed that you received a defective item. The good news is  ALL copper tarnishes and the bad news is ALL copper tarnishes. But, it is nothing to fear as you can always use a specialty food safe copper polish or household tricks to shine it back up.

Ways to Clean Copper and Remove Tarnish

There are 2 main ways that effectively clean copper, remove tarnish, and gain that shiny polish again. You can choose to make your own copper cleaner and tarnish remover from items you may already have in your pantry or you can purchase a ready-made copper polish from your preferred local retailer.

1. DIY Copper Cleaner and Polish with Household Items:

We have always favored handling tasks simply and naturally when its an option. This is especially true of products that our families and friends will be handling and/or eating and drinking from. Luckily, the simple DIY methods that are shown below use items that are all food ingredients that most of us eat frequently. The basic premise is to mix an acid based compound with sodium that work together to dissolve the tarnish and restore the copper finish. The salt/baking soda also provides enough grit texture to help scrub away the tarnish from the copper surface.


For lighter cleanings, you may just need to put everyone’s favorite burger condiment on your copper. Ketchup contains many of the ingredients that are needed to clean tarnish from copper. Unfortunately, they aren’t as potent but still work for minor cleanings.


  1. Squeeze out a generous amount of ketchup on your copper item.
  2. Use your hand and or a sponge to rub the ketchup into the copper surface.
  3. Continue to apply ketchup and scrub until the desired look is established.
  4. Rinse with water immediately to avoid permanent stains and discolorations then admire the shiny copper finish!
MEDIUM CLEANING: Lemon and Salt (or Baking Soda)

A boring lemon and a little salt are all you need to make your copper start to shine again. This combination is great for light cleanings or for heavier ones. For heavier applications simply add in a scrub sponge in place of just rubbing the lemon on the surface. Alternatively, you can swap out salt for baking soda.


  1. Pour Salt into serving bowl.
  2. Cut Lemons into halves or quarters.
  3. Dip the exposed end of the lemon into the salt.
  4. Begin to rub the lemon interior against the surface of the copper.
  5. Re-dip the lemon periodically and continue to rub the affected copper surface until you get the desired look.
  6. Rinse with water immediately to avoid permanent stains and discolorations then admire the shiny copper finish!
HARD CLEANING: Salt and White Wine Vinegar

For tougher jobs, salt and vinegar is a good choice. As the video shows below, it’s best to use white wine vinegar along with regular table salt and a rough sponge to deal with more layered tarnish.


  1. Put copper item somewhere to make cleanup easier like a sink or tub.
  2. Spread salt over the copper surface you wish to clean.
  3. Pour white wine vinegar over the same surface you just coated with salt.
  4. Add additional salt over the area.
  5. Leave for 20 seconds and it will start to show immediate results.
  6. Pour vinegar on the sponge and use it to scrub away tarnish and discoloration.
  7. Repeat on other copper surfaces as needed.
  8. Rinse with water immediately to avoid permanent stains and discolorations then admire the shiny copper finish!

2. Clean Copper with Commercially Available Products

There are dozens of different commercially available copper cleaning and polishing products available. Some will be food safe, others will contain harsh chemicals and may not be the best choice for the home. Many of these commercially available copper cleaners will also remove lacquer finishes that be coated on your copper to prevent tarnishing. So use caution when using them!

Commercial copper cleaners are generally very potent and will usually do the job quickly and without much fuss. Many people turn to these products if the tarnish is tougher to get rid of with more conventional home DIY methods.

If you choose to go this route then one of our favorite products is Wright’s Copper Cream.


Important Copper Cleaning Tips!

  1. Use a soft cloth to start when rubbing. Brushes, tough sponges or other scratch-worthy tools may damage or change the finish of the copper.
  2. Depending on the severity of the tarnish, you may have to repeat the cleaning process more than once.
  3. Vinegar can be substituted for lemon juice and vice versa. Salt can be substituted for salt and vice versa
  4. Most of the copper cleaning methods can be used to clean brass and bronze as well
  5. If your copper has a lacquered finish to prevent tarnishing, these cleaning methods will mostly likely remove it and expedite future tarnishing.
  6. In some cases warm soapy water may be enough to handle light tarnishing (little spots or marks).