All you need are a few 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. The reason? It's caused by the natural, unstoppable reaction between the 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, however, when it comes to cleaning copper, which can be especially tricky; if you scrub too hard, you can scratch the metal and remove the finish. In order to safely and properly clean and polish this material, we've enlisted the help of Leslie Reichert, a green cleaning coach and the author of The Joy of Green Cleaning ($14.95, amazon.com), to compile tips using chemical-free products for effectively cleansing a wide array of copper products.

Before you get started, however, Reichert suggests checking to see if your copper has been sealed. If so, you will not want to clean it via 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 and salt mixture could completely remove the sealant." For items that aren't coated in a sealant, these treatments will amaze everyone who tries them and restore the natural vintage charm of even the most tarnished copper wares.

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Gather your ingredients.

Be sure to have the following ingredients on hand, says Reichert, to remove and prevent tarnish and polish up copper pieces: baking soda, lemon juice, salt, vinegar, ketchup, baby oil, orange juice (as an alternative), and baking soda. You'll need the last-most ingredient on this list if you're doing a deep clean; it 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 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.

Acidic fruits, like lemons and oranges, remove tarnish when combined with salt.

Lemon juice and salt are useful for removing tarnish from copper in just three easy steps. First, squeeze the juice of the lemon into a bowl and sprinkle the salt into the juice. Reichert does a 75:25 ratio, with three times as much lemon as salt. Next, stir for one minute until the salt dissolves. Finally, 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 scratching the copper," notes Reichert. If you don't have lemon juice, she suggests orange juice, instead, as it is also acidic.

Try vinegar or ketchup.

"If you have a large copper item and you want to clean it quickly, boil three cups of water and add a cup of vinegar and one tablespoon or more of salt," says Reichert. Next, stir the mixture until the salt is dissolved and then place the copper item in the water. "The tarnish will come right off." Though this method is the easiest, sometimes you want to apply a little elbow grease. If so, "use ketchup and spread it all around the copper. The acid in the tomatoes will remove the tarnish," notes Reichert. "After rubbing it all around the item, make sure to thoroughly rinse."

Prevention and care is key.

"Prevent the tarnishing of copper by wiping a light coat of baby or mineral oil over it right after cleaning," directs Reichert. Here's the thing: The metal must be cleaned completely before you apply the oil—but this is a step worth doing. "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." As for the very best way to care for your copper cookware and collectibles? Reichert recommends lemon juice and dissolved salt method the most; this cleaning option, she says, won't remove the finish or scratch the metal. "This simple process is totally liquid and will not damage the surface," she affirms, noting that you should clean these items as frequently as you wish—or at the very least at the first sign of tarnish.

Comments (32)

Martha Stewart Member
July 28, 2021
I used the "quick" method -- 3 cups of water, 1 cup of vinegar and a tablespoon of salt to polish a large hammered copper tray. I poured some of the solution on the tray and wiped it with a rag. The results were kind of amazing. The tarnish wiped off almost instantly but then the tray immediately began to tarnish again before my eyes. I couldn't wipe it fast enough to prevent it tarnishing. However, the new tarnish removed very easily with Brasso, which would have taken hours of hard labor had I not used the vinegar method first. So the vinegar/salt/water mix was a great pre-treatment but not an effective cleaner by itself.
Martha Stewart Member
April 1, 2021
Hi, I have some big antique copper laundry tubs. They are black from flames and soot. How can I restore them? cheers from Australia
Martha Stewart Member
February 23, 2021
The discussion about chemicals needs clarification as both sides are technically correct. we are surrounded by chemicals. We are surrounded by chemicals as one might consider any element or combination of elements a chemical. The difference is that many cleaning products contain synthetic chemicals derived from petroleum, aka petrochemicals. These did not appear until World War II when they were developed in laboratories but now they're ubiquitous. I try to avoid using them. Salt (NaCl or sodium chloride) is a natural substance as is vinegar (NH3). They are not human-made synthetic petrochemicals but most available silver or copper or brass polishes DO contain synthetic petrochemicals as do many products used daily by people around the world. Those ingredients you don't recognize in your shampoo or lotion or dish soap are most likely synthetic petrochemicals. And what do you think plastic is made from? If you say petrochemicals, you're correct. Do your research. It's easy enough using Google.
Martha Stewart Member
February 13, 2021
Absolutely AMAZING!! I had an old copper biscuit cutter, handmade, and very old...it was super tarnished, and kinda ugly...I had picked it up decades ago and used it for making biscuits all the time. It was so old and tarnished I wasnt even sure it was copper...I looked up how to clean it and found your tip. I had the saucepan on the stove with the water, vinegar, and salt heating up...and just dipped the cutter in (while warm) it started to clean up...but the magic happened when it started to boil...OMG!!!my old ugly tarnished cutter is now a thing of beauty..I wish I could post a picture!! This tip is amazing, who would have thought?
Martha Stewart Member
January 6, 2019
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Martha Stewart Member
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...
Martha Stewart Member
June 25, 2017
TRIED THE LEMON/SALT TO CLEAN COPPER BOTTOMS OF MY PANS .... IN WHAT YEAR ARE THEY SUPPOSED TO GLEAM?
Martha Stewart Member
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.
Martha Stewart Member
August 26, 2016
Thanks a lot website
Martha Stewart Member
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.
Martha Stewart Member
July 24, 2016
Lemon juice and salt are chemicals, you perhaps mean specially bought chemicals.
Martha Stewart Member
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!
Martha Stewart Member
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?
Martha Stewart Member
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.
Martha Stewart Member
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....
Martha Stewart Member
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.
Martha Stewart Member
May 15, 2013
Yes I have done this and it is amazing how the copper comes clean.
Martha Stewart Member
March 9, 2009
well used system in the middle east for ages.great
Martha Stewart Member
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.
Martha Stewart Member
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.
Martha Stewart Member
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.
Martha Stewart Member
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.
Martha Stewart Member
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?
Martha Stewart Member
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.
Martha Stewart Member
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.
Martha Stewart Member
March 5, 2009
Want to try the ketchup method---I assune you just put it on a cloth and go to work---------
Martha Stewart Member
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.
Martha Stewart Member
March 5, 2009
Yes vinegar cleaning lasts longer, I've done this for such a long time, lemon will stain quicker.
Martha Stewart Member
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?
Martha Stewart Member
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!
Martha Stewart Member
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.
Martha Stewart Member
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.