Shiny and warm -the gorgeous gleam of copper has long caught our eye, from ancient civilization to modern magic. -copper is a popular choice of metal for jewelry to wear with tunics, homeware, kitchenware, feng shui design and more. Whether it's bright copper pans adorning the wall or a copper bracelet glowing on the wrist, this earthly mineral is not only rich and evocative but is one of the most impressive metals there are thanks to its high conductive energy, healing, benefits, and amazing insulation properties.
It's important to keep your copper clean as copper pieces can tarnish if left to their own devices without due care. Copper can be a reactive metal which means that oxidation can occur (where the metal reacts with oxygen, chemicals, and even the sweat on your skin). This can cause a brown or black tarnish on the copper and cause it to lose that illustrious shine. For copper jewelry, this can also leave a green patina against the skin. Fortunately, keeping your copper bright and shiny is easy - not only will polishing your copper add to its spectacular visual impact, but it also helps preserve and protect your copper items too.
Determine the Copper Finish
Copper pieces can either be finished with a protective lacquer coating or not. The protective coating can act as a barrier between outside elements and the metal and can slow down the tarnishing process. Copper pieces that are non-lacquered tend to hold a more raw and authentic appearance, whereas the lacquer lends a longer-lasting shine and requires less cleaning and maintenance.
To work out if your copper household items or jewelry are lacquered or not, you can take the following steps.
- Visually check - hold your copper items to the light, and you may see signs of lacquer if they have been finished. This can be a smooth and glossy-looking finish as opposed to the non-lacquered look of being matt, more uneven, and potentially more discolored.
- Nail polish remover test - you can also use a small amount of nail polish remover on a less visible spot on your copper to see the reaction. Simply rub nail polish remover on a small spot (on the underside of your piece) with a cotton swab to see if any lacquer comes off. If the piece is non-lacquered, there will be no reaction to the acetone in the nail polish remover.
Preparing to Polish Copper
Cleaning the Copper Surface
The first thing you want to do when preparing to polish your copper is to make sure that the surface of your copper items are clean. Use a soft cloth to remove any dust or loose dirt as this will help prevent any scratching. You also want to check if the copper exterior is lacquered or not as this will have an impact on the type of cleaning method you choose.
Gathering Polishing Materials and Tools
Gather your materials and tools and get ready to put in some elbow grease to give your copper a great shine.
- Whether you are using a homemade copper cleaner or abrasive cleaners, you still want to make sure that you are in a well-ventilated area and that you keep yourself and your space protected. Here are some basic prep safety tips.
- If using chemical cleaners, be sure to wear gloves, avoid inhalation and contact with skin, and stay in a well-ventilated space.
- Whether using commercial cleaners or natural ingredients - you still want to protect your surfaces from spills and scratches, so lay down a towel or protective covering.
The best ways to polish copper
Techniques for Polishing Non-Lacquered Copper
There are many homemade solutions for polishing your copper that can be done with simple household staples. Here are some of our favorite homemade recipes for keeping your copper gleaming with easy natural solutions.
- Lemon juice and salt - mix together the lemon juice and table salt (or baking soda) to create a paste. Rub the paste onto your tarnished copper pieces with a soft cloth or soft bristled brush in a circular motion - let it sit for a few minutes and then rinse thoroughly.
- Vinegar and salt - similar to the lemon juice method, you can also make a mix of white vinegar, salt and lemon and apply this with a clean cloth to your copper pieces. Be sure to rinse thoroughly with warm water and dry properly.
- Ketchup - for heavier duty cleaning and for removing stubborn tarnish, ketchup can work like a charm. Use a soft cloth and a circular motion to rub a layer of ketchup in and let sit. Be sure to wash away properly with warm soapy water and dry with a clean cloth.
Commercial copper cleaners
If you have stubborn stains and need a deep clean that removes tarnish and leaves your copper gleaming, you can also use commercial copper cream or other chemical cleaning agents designed for copper. Always read the instructions carefully and apply your commercial cleaner according to the description.
Whether you are using a homemade paste with lemon juice or a commercial copper polishing kit, the same application rules can crossover. You may want to stock up on the following items to help you bring your copper back to its OG shine.
- Soft cloth - a soft cloth is important for both applying the cleaning agent and for bringing your copper to a buff shine. look for a cloth made of cotton or a microfiber cloth for the best results.
- Soft brush - for harder stains and a more invasive clean, you can also use a soft bristled brush. This can also be useful when cleaning copper with intricate areas or details - such as copper jewelry or even copper pipes.
- Sponge - if you want to clean your copper with warm soapy water or you want to clean a larger surface area (such as on copper kettles and copper kitchenware - a sponge can be an easy solution.
Tips for polishing intricate designs or hard-to-reach areas
If you have intricate beautiful copper pieces that require a little more care and effort to bring it back to its subtle glow, then you may need a few more tools and a little bit of elbow grease. Here are some tools for polishing hard to reach copper spots.
- Soft toothbrush - perfect for reaching hard spots and the bristles can help loosen dirt and debris.
- Q-tips - dip into a cleaning solution and then push down narrow spaces.
- Jewelry brushes - specially designed scrub brushes for nooks and crannies stashed in intricate designs.
- Toothpicks - can be used to scrape away tarnish in tight spaces.
- Compressed air - for when you really cannot reach a tarnished or dirty spot
- Soft cloth - a must when you have an intricate design on your copper that you don't want to damage.
Techniques for Polishing Lacquered Copper
Special considerations for lacquered finishes
- Avoid abrasive methods and hard scrubbing with steel wool and stiff bristles as this can remove the lacquered finish.
- Avoid acidic ingredients when cleaning as this can also degrade the lacquered finish
Recommended commercial lacquer-safe copper cleaners
- Soap and water is an easy solution for cleaning copper that won't have an impact on the lacquer finish.
- You can also seek out commercial cleaners that are lacquer safe by checking the label. It should specifically mention the fact that it's safe for a lacquered surface.
Application methods and tips for maintaining the lacquer finish
- Always keep it gentle when cleaning your lacquer finished copper items. Think soft cloths, sponges, and a light hand when applying pressure.
- If cleaning copper with a lacquer finish, you can also avoid the circular motion of cleaning and instead opt for gentle strokes in the same direction as this can prevent scratching.
- Avoid excessive polishing and buffing outside of cleaning as this can actually diminish the lacquer coating.
Rinsing and Drying the Copper Item
It's important to rinse and dry your copper items thoroughly after cleaning and polishing. This is too ensure that any traces of your choice of cleaner are fully removed. It also helps prevent further tarnishing as this is usually a reaction of the copper with air and moisture. You can also prevent drops of water forming spots on your copper and keep it gleaming with a gorgeous shine.
Tips for preventing water spots and tarnish
- Not drying your copper items correctly can lead to water spots and tarnish forming on your copper items. To avoid this you should be sure to dry your copper immediately with a soft cloth or towel rather than letting it air dry. This is especially true of copper cookware.
- If possible, you may also want to use filtered water for rinsing your copper goods as this will have fewer impurities than tap water and will be less likely to cause a reaction or leave hard spots.
- Make sure you store your copper items correctly away from high humidity and moisture. A cool dry place is always the best storage choice if you want to keep your copper shiny.
Optional: Applying a Protective Coating
There are benefits to applying a protective coating to your copper items - especially if you want to reduce the risk of quick tarnishing and make your copper last longer. Applying a protective coating will create a barrier between the copper surface and the air and moisture and other elements. This will slow down the oxidation process. As the layer acts like a shield, it also keeps dust and dirt at bay and reduces the need for constant copper polish and cleaning. A protective coating can also help your copper to last longer.
There are many protective lacquer options on the market and you can choose the brand that suits your preferences best. For smaller pieces of copper, you can also use clear nail varnish as an easy home solution. Always make sure to read the application instructions when applying a lacquered finish but usually its not a complicated process and can be done by hand with a brush or spray method.
Tips for Maintaining Polished Copper
Proper Handling and Storage
Try to store your copper items away from humidity and moisture as this can speed up the oxidation process. It's also a good idea to clean your hands before touching copper items to remove traces of chemicals, oils, and lotions which can also encourage a copper reaction. When storing copper pans and cookware you should also avoid stacking as this can cause friction and scratches.
Regular Cleaning and Maintenance
Keep your copper clean on a regular basis to avoid the build up of dirt and grime. A simple dust and rubbing with a soft cloth can be done every couple of weeks and then for a deeper longer clean - you can use mild cleaning solutions like white vinegar, mild dish soap, and cups of water. Heavily tarnished copper surfaces will require a deeper cleaning process.
Avoiding Common Mistakes
- Don't use harsh chemicals on your copper and if using commercial cleaners - ensure they are suited for copper products.
- Steer clear of abrasive cleaning techniques and stick to soft cloths, damp towels, and gentle bristles as opposed to steel wool.
- Keep your copper dry as much as possible and after cleaning use a dry towel to remove water traces that can cause spotting and tarnishing.
Polishing Copper Jewelry
All copper items require love and care to keep them gleaming and copper jewelry is no different. From copper crystal necklaces to crystal earrings and healing bracelets for women, this metal has long been a part of the spiritual and healing world. Part of the allure of copper jewelry is the fact that it has that beautiful red gold coloring. You can use the same methods for cleaning copper jewelry as with your other copper items. As your copper jewelry may be delicate - you also want to be delicate with your cleaning choices.
Copper is one of the most beautiful metals out there and with a little care and consideration you can keep it in its most celebrated state. Caring for your copper is easy and can be done at home with cupboard staples or with special store bought cleaners. Keeping your copper shiny and bright not only adds to the aesthetic pleasure but also ensures it stands the test of time.
How to polish copper to a mirror finish
Getting your copper to a mirror finish takes several steps. You should use a mild cleaning solution like soapy water to remove grime before applying a cleaning solution for deeper stains (either commercial cleaner or homemade solution). You can also use a buffing pad or wheel until you get that deep shine. Finally, you can hand buff it until it has a mirror like quality.
How to polish copper jewelry
There are several ways to polish copper jewelry. You can use a mild homemade solution to remove grime or look to lemon juice, baking soda, salt, and vinegar solutions for a hardier approach. After cleaning, you should rinse and dry and use a soft microfiber cloth to buff to a polished shine.
How to clean badly tarnished copper
Badly tarnished copper can be cleaned using a homemade solution of baking soda, lemon, vinegar, and water. You can also use ketchup or cream of tartare. For truly thought copper tarnish you can also buy special commercial cleaners.
How to clean copper naturally
You can clean copper naturally with a range of simple solutions and home products. Lemon juice, table salt, white vinegar, baking soda, and ketchup can all be used to clean copper.