All you need are kitchen ingredients and some elbow grease.

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Metal pieces made of brass, silver, and copper add warmth and elegance to any room. Over time, however, they're bound to lose their luster, developing a layer of tarnish. Even in optimal conditions-a cool, dry setting out of direct sunlight-tarnish can't be avoided. That's because it's caused by the reaction between a metal object and its environment. While tarnish itself isn't harmful, it can be unsightly. Luckily, it's easy to polish away. (Though a little patina is sometimes desirable, too.)

You'll want to take extra care when it comes to copper. Cleaning it can be especially tricky - if you scrub it too hard, you can scratch the copper and remove the finish. In order to safely and properly clean and polish this metal, we've enlisted the help of Leslie Reichert, green cleaning coach and author of "The Joy of Green Cleaning," to compile tips using chemical-free products for effectively cleaning a wide array of copper products.

Before you get started, Reichert suggests checking to see if your copper has been sealed. If so, you will not want to clean it using the methods below. "The sealant could be an oil or a lacquer that was applied to prevent tarnishing. Cleaning the copper with a paste or even a lemon juice/salt mixture could completely remove the sealant."

For items that aren't coated in a sealant, these treatments for cleaning copper amaze everyone who tries them, restoring the natural vintage charm of even the most tarnished copper wares.

Gather Your Ingredients

Below is a comprehensive list of products you would want to have on hand to prevent tarnish, clean copper, and remove tarnish, according to Reinhart.

  • Baking soda
  • Lemon juice
  • Salt
  • Vinegar
  • Ketchup
  • Baby oil
  • Orange juice (as an alternative)
  • Baking Soda for Deep Clean

Note: Baking soda works well for spots that need a little extra attention like the bottom of copper cookware. "The baking soda can be sprinkled on the area, followed by the use a sponge with warm water to gently go over the spot. Don't be too aggressive–you don't want to scratch the copper," says Reichert.

Using Lemon Juice and Salt to Remove Tarnish

Lemon juice and salt are useful for removing tarnish from copper in three easy steps:

  1. Squeeze the juice of the lemon in a bowl and then sprinkle the salt into the juice. Reichert does a 75:25 ratio, with three times as much lemon to salt.
  2. Stir for a minute until the salt dissolves.
  3. Dip a cloth into the solution and wipe the copper.

"It's magic how it immediately removes the tarnish. I use this method instead of dipping the lemon in the salt to prevent the salt from scratching the copper," notes Reichert. Additionally, she advises that if you don't have lemon juice, you can use orange juice as it is also acidic.

The Quick Clean Method

"If you have a large copper item and you want to clean it quickly, you can boil three cups of water, add a cup of vinegar and one tablespoon or more of salt," says Reichert. Next, you would stir until the salt is dissolved and then place the copper item in the water. "The tarnish will come right off."

Reichert details the process to use if you want to use more of a rubbing action for cleaning copper. "You can use ketchup and spread it all around the copper. The acid in the tomatoes will remove the tarnish. After rubbing it all around the item, make sure to thoroughly rinse."

Prevent Copper from Tarnishing

"You can prevent the tarnishing of copper by wiping a light coat of baby oil or mineral oil over it right after cleaning," says Reichert. She adds that you have to be very careful that the copper is cleaned completely before applying the oil. "Copper starts to tarnish as soon as it's cleaned. The oil will seal the copper from the air and slow down the tarnishing process."

Avoid Removing the Finish of Copper

Reichert recommends using the process of the liquid lemon juice and the dissolved salt to avoid removing the finish or scratching the copper. "This simple process is totally liquid and will not damage the copper surface."

How Often You Should Clean and Polish Copper

Because copper starts tarnishing as soon as it hits the air after rinsing, it is your discretion as to how often you would like to clean it. The baby oil trick will slow down the process so you won't have to clean it as often.

Comments (28)

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January 6, 2019
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Anonymous
November 18, 2017
Every site has you use salt & lemon. So that gets rid of the tarnish but makes the copper very dull! So where does the 'gleam' come from? Cause it doesn't come from the salt/lemon...
Anonymous
June 25, 2017
TRIED THE LEMON/SALT TO CLEAN COPPER BOTTOMS OF MY PANS .... IN WHAT YEAR ARE THEY SUPPOSED TO GLEAM?
Anonymous
March 26, 2017
I recently had friends staying at my house while I was away. They used just about every copper pan in the kitchen but did not clean any after use. I wish I had left them a note with these copper cleaning tips.
Anonymous
August 26, 2016
Thanks a lot website
Anonymous
August 12, 2016
I like your advice on cleaning copper kettles. I noticed comments re this not being chemical free. I agree with you stating chemical free as salt & lemon are NOT exactly chemicals most people associate as such i.e. Clorox, Ammonia, etc.
Anonymous
July 24, 2016
Lemon juice and salt are chemicals, you perhaps mean specially bought chemicals.
Anonymous
September 18, 2015
I've recently started collecting copper.Some pieces were quite expensive. I've been told not to clean older pieces. But I like shiney copper. What's the best way to clean it. Been told brown sauce!
Anonymous
August 6, 2015
I have a cooper top table that gets heavy dark marks on it from many different things (cups, hand oils, etc...). When cleaning with purchased solutions the "stains" become lighter but do not completely go away. I tried the lemon and salt rub, and it cleaned a little better than the purchased cleaner. Is there another suggestion to get these spots to disappear?
Anonymous
July 27, 2015
Love this solution and will be using it. However please do not call this "Chemical free". Salt is a chemical Sodium Chloride. The active ingredient in the lemon is also a chemical acetic acid. All substances are chemicals. This is as chemical free as is opium which is a "natural" substance from the poppy.
Anonymous
May 13, 2015
I have a huge Copper to plant a Yukka... anyone got an idea for that??/ maybe in a spray bottle?/ vinegar salt....
Anonymous
May 8, 2015
These ingredients work great to also clean a glass coffee pot. Add some of the lemon's juice by giving it a little squeeze, throw lemons in and add salt. Swish around for a few minutes and it removes all the baked on brown coloring on the glass from the coffee.
Anonymous
May 15, 2013
Yes I have done this and it is amazing how the copper comes clean.
Anonymous
March 9, 2009
well used system in the middle east for ages.great
Anonymous
March 6, 2009
In southern part of India, we use tamarind soaked in water and the natural coconut fibre to scrub it. We don't use salt for this cleaning.
Anonymous
March 6, 2009
in italy we are cleaning copper with a different mix, which is also chemical-free. we mix some vinegar with 'powder' salt, not coarse salt to prevent scratching. you can put salt directly on the object to clean then add the amount of vinegar to make the salt dissolve (a couple of spoons) and rub on it.
Anonymous
March 5, 2009
I've always made a paste. Store it in a small margarine tub. Take 1/4 cup flour; add a tablespoon or so of salt and enough vinegar to make a paste. Put some on your dishtowel or plastic scrubber and rub in circles on copper bottoms of pots. Cleans quickly and beautifully with no dripping.
Anonymous
March 5, 2009
I've always made a paste. Store it in a small margarine tub. Take 1/4 cup flour; add a tablespoon or so of salt and enough vinegar to make a paste. Put some on your dishtowel or plastic scrubber and rub in circles on copper bottoms of pots. Cleans quickly and beautifully with no dripping.
Anonymous
March 5, 2009
I've never heard of this, but am glad to learn of it. I just have one question - does the salt scratch the copper?
Anonymous
March 5, 2009
Lemon and salt are all I have ever used for copper. For my porcelin sink, I use lemon and vinegar and baking soda.
Anonymous
March 5, 2009
Wow i just ran to the kithen to try the lemon and salt fantasic!!! i have a copper cuff wide one w/native marking on it. Been looking for something thanks. the bottle of cleaning stuff did very little.
Anonymous
March 5, 2009
Want to try the ketchup method---I assune you just put it on a cloth and go to work---------
Anonymous
March 5, 2009
Interesting that no one has mentioned catsup/ketchup as another green alternative. That's what I've used in the past and it works due to the vinegar it contains. Plus it's not quite as runny and lemon juice or vinegar.
Anonymous
March 5, 2009
Yes vinegar cleaning lasts longer, I've done this for such a long time, lemon will stain quicker.
Anonymous
March 5, 2009
isn't the "salt" part of this formula too abrasive for the copper? Don't you have to be careful to keep the salt from "pitting" your stainless portion of the copper bottom pans?
Anonymous
March 5, 2009
When I was a preteen, one of my chores was to clean the copper bottoms of my Mom's Revere Ware. We lived in Southern California and had a lemon tree in the backyard. Mom had me rub the pans with the cut lemon, sprinkle on regular table salt, then rub with the lemon until they gleemed. I loved doing this and do it today to my own copper. It's cheap if you own a lemon tree. It truly works!
Anonymous
January 13, 2008
Wow! I just used Rosannabelle's suggestion on my copper counter top and am amazed. I poured the salt on first, and then poured on the white vinegar, and saw immediate results. A little rub with a sponge did the trick for the tough spots. Easy, inexpensive, and quick.
Anonymous
January 9, 2008
White vinegar and salt works well too. My mother cleaned all our copper bottom pots that way and after a lifetime of use they still look "new". I found the vinegar seems to work faster than the lemon with less rubbing.