Throughout the world, copper is valued for both function and beauty. For home use, that usually means cookware, because of copper’s excellent heat conduction, and decorative objects, for its malleability and warm burnished color. Despite its popularity, copper isn’t maintenance free, but owners aren’t always sure how to clean copper.
Is It Lacquered or Unlacquered?
Before you clean copper, you must know if the piece is lacquered or unlacquered. Polishing a lacquered piece will destroy the finish. The easiest way to determine which you have is to answer two simple questions:
- Does the piece get dusty or grimy without changing color / turning brown?
- Does the piece have a glossy, shiny finish instead of a subtle glow?
If either answer is yes, your copper piece has a lacquered finish.
Cleaning Lacquered Copper
Cleaning lacquered copper is simple:
- Wash in warm -- not hot -- soapy water.
- If you must scrub the piece to get rid of grease or grime, be gentle. Use nothing more abrasive than you’d use on a non-stick coating of a favorite skillet.
- Dry completely with a soft cloth.
If you prefer, you can remove the lacquer, and then clean with the unlacquered method. Once you do this, you will have to clean it regularly to remove tarnish.
Cleaning Unlacquered Copper
Polishing and cleaning unlacquered copper requires a bit more elbow grease, but it’s still simple. There’s no need for harsh chemicals. You can do the job with a few natural ingredients you may already have:
- Whole lemon
- Kosher salt, for cookware or simple pieces
- Table salt, for delicate, embossed, or engraved pieces
To clean and polish:
- Cut the lemon in half, and dip the cut end into the appropriate salt.
- Scrub the copper piece with the salt covered lemon, in circular motions, until all tarnish is gone. Reapply salt as needed. If you’re cleaning cookware with brass handles, this will clean the brass parts too.
- Rinse the copper piece thoroughly
- Dry completely with a soft cloth or towel.
- Use a second cloth, buffing with circular motions, to polish the piece to a soft glow. The more you polish, the more shine you’ll get.