Copper is valued for its strength, malleability, and ability to conduct electricity and heat. It is also non-magnetic, resists wear, and forms a green patina that makes it resistant to corrosion.
Common in everyday household items, copper is used to coat bottoms of steel pans to improve heat conduction, on decorative items, and in a few other cookware applications.
It is also used for electrical wiring, plumbing pipes, and more. Here are a few tips to keep your copper looking new and tarnish-free.
Determine Whether Items Are Solid Copper
Before you clean your copper items, you should determine whether they are 100 percent copper. If they are not, you could scrape or scratch the copper layer off with cleaning abrasives.
To tell, you can use a magnet. If the magnet sticks to the item, it is made from another metal. If it does not, your item is made of only copper.
Copper is sensitive to air and oxidizes, or tarnishes, faster in moist air. Coating the copper pieces, if not being used for food purposes, with lacquer, helps preserve its finish and preserves the copper.
Most pieces of decorative, modern copper are protected by a factory-applied baked-on lacquer.
Only dusting and an occasional washing with lukewarm, soapy water are needed to keep lacquered objects shiny. Never polish these pieces.
For extra-tarnished copper, purchase a commercial copper polish and follow the directions on the product. If your copper isn't already lacquered, you can purchase your own spray to preserve the color.
Bronze disease not only attacks bronze, but also attacks copper. Use warm vinegar and salt, lemon juice and salt, copper cleaner, or buttermilk to remove these patches of corrosion.
After treating, wash promptly with soap and water, rinse, and let dry for best results.
Copper Cooking and Eatingware
Copper pots and utensils should never be used with acidic foods, as the toxic compounds can be released and make you sick.
Even if copper pans are lined with tin, they should not be used for acidic foods such as fruits, fruit juices, salad dressings, tomatoes, vinegar-containing foods, etc.
You’re safe to use any food with copper if the inside is made with a different finish, like stainless steel or porcelain enamel. Avoid high heat that can discolor copper bottoms.
Removing Lacquer from Copper
Lacquer should not be used on copper that's used for eating purposes. To remove lacquer, place the item in two gallons of boiling water with one cup of washing soda. The lacquer will peel off.
An alternate method to remove lacquer is to rub with a cloth saturated with acetone or alcohol.
Cleaning Non-Lacquered Copper
An easy way to clean copper is by coating your items in salt and then pouring white vinegar over them. Let them sit for a few seconds, and then scrub with a vinegar-doused sponge. Rinse with water and dry thoroughly.
Paige is a contributing writer for DoItYourself.com. She's an experienced home improvement writer with a focus on sustainable gardening, and especially enjoys learning about lighting, deck construction, and interior design.
With over 20 years of professional home cleaning experience, Lindani has extensive knowledge about best practices, space management, and cleaning solutions. Lindani especially loves researching natural, non-harmful ways to clean. She holds an LLBS from the University of Zimbabwe, and is a lifelong learner who always seeks to improve the world around her.