“Find a penny, pick it up – all day long, you’ll have good luck!” Maybe this rhyme is familiar to you, and perhaps you even have stopped to pick up a lucky penny lying on the sidewalk at some point in your life.
But in most cases, those pennies you collect look anything but lucky. Many are black or brown, and at times they’re so dirty and covered in rust that you can’t even tell whether they’re pennies!
The good news is, you can clean your luck copper coins in a few steps. And cleaning copper coins can be a fun activity for kids of all ages – so you can leverage this chance to bond with your children.
This post will take you through 6 easy steps to turn the dirty, dull brown copper coins into bright, shiny pennies.
Let’s dive right in!
How to Clean Copper Coins
Before you begin:
Before cleaning the old copper coins, it’s important to note that coins aren’t just fun collectible items; they can also be very precious. For instance, the 1943 copper penny garnered $329,000 in an auction in 2014.
Today the coin is valued at 1.5 million U.S dollars. Of course, when you collect such a coin, you’ll want first to clean it before checking with the local antique shop.
What do I need to clean old copper coins?
Before you can start to clean your old copper coin, you’ll need to collect a few items and tools, including:
- White vinegar, Lemon juice, Baking soda, an eraser, or Tomato ketchup
- Table salt
- Clean water
- A soft dry cloth/paper towel
- Small bowl
- Soap, and more.
Once you gather these items, you can then clean your old pennies as discussed below:
How can I clean copper coins?
There are hundreds of ways to clean your old penny ranging from washing it in warm soapy water to dipping it in cleaning chemicals. But you should be careful how you clean the copper coin as some methods will destroy its value.
Here are tested and proven methods to clean an old copper coin:
Method #1: Using a pencil eraser
This is perhaps the simplest method of cleaning pennies. The technique involves no liquids that may spill and cause a mess.
So, how do you go about it?
First, lay your dirty penny on a clean cloth or paper towel. Then use the pencil eraser to rub the dirt and brown crust off the penny in a circular motion.
Then flip the coin to clean the other side. Rinse the penny using warm water and dry it with a soft paper towel or cloth.
Method #2: Using vinegar (or orange/lemon juice) and salt
White vinegar added in water also works perfectly to clean the old copper coins. This recipe leverages vinegar’s acidic power and salt to create chemical reactions with the pennies to remove copper oxide.
Another great option to use in place of vinegar is lemon or orange juice. Citrus juices are acidic and will remove the copper oxide on coins.
Here is a step-by-step guide to cleaning copper coins using:
- Add ¼ cup of white vinegar into a small bowl. You can use a bigger bowl and more vinegar if you plan to clean several coins all at once.
- Pour one teaspoon of salt into the bowl with vinegar and stir until the salt dissolves into the vinegar. The salt helps remove the black spots from the coins, but adding more salt can damage the coin.
- Leave the coin soaked in the solution for about 5 minutes. If you’re cleaning several coins, spread them out so that the solution reaches both sides of each coin.
- For gradual treatment, dip an old toothbrush with soft bristles into the solution and use it to scrub the coin.
- Rinse the coin(s) with warm water to remove the vinegar and salt. The acidic power of the solution may wear off the copper if not well rinsed.
- Using a fiber cloth, dab the coin(s) and then let them air dry
Soak the copper coins in more vinegar solution if they still look dirty. Then put it in the piggy bank or sell it to coin collectors if it’s valuable.
Tip: Put several new bolts and nuts in the bowl with your copper pennies. As you clean more and more coins, the acid dissolves some of the copper on the coins.
The steel nuts and bolts will then attract the dissolved copper, forming a copper coating. And although it might take several pennies to fill the steel nuts and bolts with copper, it’s worth it.
Method #3: Using tomato ketchup
The tomato paste or ketchup also has little acid, meaning it can work perfectly to clean copper coins. The cleaning process is much like the pencil eraser method, only that we add tomato ketchup to help remove oxidation.
You’ll need tomato ketchup, a small container, a soft toothbrush, and a clean cloth to get started. Then follow this guide to clean your old copper coin(s).
- Add some tomato ketchup or paste into a small container, enough to cover your copper coin(s). Then put the coins into the ketchup, making sure that both sides are evenly coated
- You may also use brown colas or hot sauce to clean the coins. Like with the tomato ketchup, submerge the coin(s) in the hot sauce/brown colas
- Scrub the copper coins with an old toothbrush with soft bristles. Rub the coins as gently as possible to avoid damaging them.
- Using warm water, rinse the coins to remove the tomato ketchup. The acid in the ketchup will destroy your copper coins if left unwashed.
- Use a clean cloth to dry the coin
Once the coin(s) is clean, you can store it in distilled water or contact your local coin collectors.
Method #4: Using vegetable oil
Using cooking oil is another safe way to clean your copper coins without damage. You’ll need cooking oil, a toothpick, warm water, and a clean, dry cloth to get started.
Then, follow these instructions to clean the copper coin(s):
- Use a toothpick to clear off the dirt on the coins. Scrape the dirt found around the engraved parts, including images, letters, and edges.
- Run small amounts of cooking oil onto the coins. Then, use your fingers to work the vegetable oil around the penny.
- Rinse the coins using warm or hot water to wash away the oil. The debris will come off, leaving you with a shiny copper coin.
- You may also use a toothbrush for more substantial treatment. This is mainly for coins that have much dirt.
- Dry the coin using a microfiber cloth.
You should leave the coins out and exposed to the open air for about 5 minutes before storing them.
Method #5: Using soap and water
If the pennies are only covered in soil or have some unidentified gunk, you can clean them using soap and water. Performing this task should be as simple as washing dishes.
First, put water into a basin and add dishwashing liquid. Then, dip an old toothbrush into the solution and use it to clean your penny.
Once the dirt comes off, rinse the coin under warm water and dry it with a soft clean cloth. Then store it in a piggy bank or sell it if it’s valuable.
Method #6: Shining dulled copper coins using baking soda
If your copper pennies still look dull after cleaning them with a mildly acidic liquid, you may use baking soda to bring out their luster and shine. So, how do you go about it?
Here are simple steps to turn your dull copper pennies shiny:
- Add about one tablespoon of baking soda and warm water to a clean bowl and stir to form a paste. The quantity of baking soda to water should be 3:1 to obtain a paste-like solution
- Rub the paste over the copper pennies to make them shiny. Use your fingers to spread the paste to all parts of the coin.
- Rinse the coin under warm water and dry it using a paper towel or dry cloth. Check the penny after you’re done to see if it’s shiner.
- Apply more paste to the coin if it’s still dull
Note: Baking soda is not acidic like citrus juice or vinegar, so you may leave your penny in the paste for a while. And you may also use virgin olive to make your pennies shiny.
The bottom line
Cleaning copper pennies is like performing a fun science experiment at home. All you need is a few materials and solutions, and you watch the copper oxide dissolve away like it’s magic!
Now it’s your time to try these fun methods of cleaning copper coins at home. And who knows, you might be lucky enough to have collected a valuable copper coin, like the 1943 copper penny!