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How to Clean and Polish Copper Naturally

This one simple product, and it's not a typical cleaning solution, is perfect to clean and polish copper naturally whether it be copper cookware, copper jewelry, or a copper sink. It will work perfectly and well without the use of harsh chemicals or elbow grease.

Copper is beautiful when it's bright and shiny with that glorious pinkish tinge but tarnished copper is not a pretty sight. I'm talking about the kind of tarnish that's beyond a gorgeous patina and is downright icky.

How to clean copper - antique copper boiler wash tub before cleaning with ketchup

How I Stumbled Upon this Cleaning Tip

I have an antique copper boiler washtub that was my Grandma's. She used it to do laundry for her 8 children which totally boggles my mind especially when I think of how much I love my Kenmore.

The boiler has been soldered with metal added to the copper surface that is another metal all together but this particular copper vessel with all of its dings, scratches, and dents and of course, its history, is my idea of beautiful.

How To Clean Copper

I have had Grandma's boiler for longer than I can remember and I have tried, on several occasions, to clean it and shine it using purchased copper cleaner and a homemade copper cleaner or two but I have never had much success with those options and was always still left with a tarnished copper piece.

While looking for natural ways to clean copper I saw that using ketchup was an option that got great results so I thought I would give it a try.

Ketchup to Clean and Polish Copper?

It was Christmastime and I wanted to use the copper tub to hold one of my smaller Christmas trees but there was no way I was going to use it in its then-current state.

How-to-clean-copper from cupcakesandcrinoline.com

I brought it from my sunroom, where I had it stored, into my laundry room and started slathering it with ketchup and when I say slathering, I mean slathering.

How to clean and polish copper without harsh chemicals. Copper boiler bottom covered in ketchup.

The ketchup was left to work its magic and I came back to the boiler in a few hours (be sure to NOT let the ketchup dry in place) to check on the progress.

How to clean copper with ketchup a before and after

The results were what I was hoping for so I moved on to the next step.

The treated area was rinsed with warm water and dried with a soft cloth before moving on to the next area to be treated.


Why Ketchup Works

We have a simple chemical process to thank for its effectiveness. Copper oxide and the tarnish that follows is the natural result of copper being exposed to oxygen which can be dissolved by using a mixture of weak acid and table salt, both of which are found in ketchup!

Antique copper boiler wash tub after being cleaned and polished with ketchup

That's it! Doesn't it look so much better after?  Not perfect but I still love it!

Final Thoughts

Ketchup is my favorite method for cleaning copper and can be used to clean copper pans, a copper pot, a copper bracelet, and just about anything copper you can think of. I like the fact that it stays in place and can therefore be used almost anywhere, even on a copper shower head.

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Other Methods for Cleaning Copper

There are certainly other methods that can be used and while they do work, I don't think they work as well as this ketchup cleaning tip but I have listed them below in case you're looking for some other options.

  1. Baking soda and lemon juice. Apply the paste to the copper surface and start scrubbing and rubbing. It will be messy and requires some effort. When done, rinse well with water and buff dry with a soft cloth. (This is my least favorite option).
  2. Bar Keepers Friend - I use Bar Keepers Friend all around the house and buy it in bulk so I never run out. I especially like using it on stainless steel and always like the results but this method (like the one above) will require some elbow grease and lots of rubbing and buffing. You'll start by sprinkling the copper item with the cleanser, add water, and scrub! Rinse well and buff dry when done.
  3. Lemon and Salt - this method smells amazing but again, you'll need to use your scrubbing powers to get the copper shiny!
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12/07/2022 12:04 am GMT

How to Keep Copper Shining

Once you have cleaned your copper properly, the upkeep is minimal.

I like to use a polishing cloth on it every few weeks to keep it looking its best.

Antique copper boiler (wash tub) after being cleaned and polished

And here it was as part of my Christmas décor.

How to clean and polish copper without harsh chemicals.

How to Clean Copper

Mary Beth
The easy way to clean copper even if it's heavily tarnished and oxidized
5 from 1 vote
Active Time 15 mins
Total Time 5 mins

Tools and Equipment

Soft cloth or microfiber cloth, utility gloves, (nitrile, rubber, etc.), scrubber

Materials
 

Instructions
 

  • Slather a thick coating of ketchup all over your copper surface. I used Hunt's because it's what I had on hand but less expensive generic ketchup will work as well.
    How to clean and polish copper without harsh chemicals.
  • Rub the ketchup into any areas that are particularly problematic or have a thicker layer of oxidation.
    Let the ketchup stay on the copper for several minutes up to several hours but don't let it dry. The length of time you leave it on will depend on how much tarnish there is.
    How to clean and polish copper without harsh chemicals.
  • While the ketchup is still moist rinse the copper piece you are cleaning with water and wipe dry using a clean cloth (a microfiber cloth will work well) or a towel.
    Antique Copper Washtub after cleaning
  • Depending on how tarnished the copper piece you are cleaning is, you may need to reapply a second coat of ketchup to some of the areas and use a scrubber to get the tough portions clean. Rinse thoroughly with fresh water in between treatments.

Video

Keyword clean copper, how to dye, polish copper
Tried this DIY? Let me know what you think!Mention @TheHowToHome or tag #thehowtohome!
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24 Comments

  1. Diane | An Extraordinary Day says:

    Pinning! I have an old copper boiler in storage that could use a little shine, to say the least. Yours looks great! How's the color holding up these past 7 months? Do you think you need to wax it after cleaning it?

    1. Mary Beth says:

      It still looks perfect, Diane. It hasn't tarnished at all. I have it in the house now so that may be part of the reason it's holding up. When I had it in the sunroom it was exposed to changes in temperature and more moisture than I have in the house. I never thought of waxing it!!!! That's a great idea.

    2. Just a quick FYI get your self a gallon of tomato sauce use it on all your copper then go for your tile, yep I said tile ... what it does for the clean up is remarkable really old tile can be so dingy and almost colorless let the tomato soak over nite if you can then just mop it up the tile will look almost new and the colors were brilliant people thought she had it retiled ALSO if you get nailed by a skunk take a bath in it YEAH for natures acid. Good luck and have fun.

      1. Mary Beth says:

        Thank you so much for the awesome tips, Wendy!

  2. Becky Fry says:

    I would have never guessed ketchup! I was thinking baking soda since it's used on everything else..thanks for sharing!

    1. Mary Beth says:

      Thanks so much, Becky, and I agree...it's usually baking soda that cleans everything. 🙂

  3. Therese @ Fresh Idea Studio says:

    Ketchup is the bomb! I love this tip Mary Beth. I bought a set of copper canisters back in the Spring and cleaned them up the same way. It's pretty amazing how easy and awesome this worked.
    xxoo

    1. Mary Beth says:

      It's almost too easy! 🙂

  4. Leslie @ House on the Way says:

    What a "great to know" tip! I'd love for you to share it at my Twirl & Take a Bow Party. Hope you can stop by at http://www.houseontheway.com.
    Leslie

  5. Pam@over50feeling40 says:

    Would not have known to do this without your blog! Thanks so much for sharing with the Thursday Blog Hop!

    1. Mary Beth says:

      Thank you, Pam. Now I want to shine all the copper I see 😉

  6. Janet olson says:

    Caught this on Monday Funday. I used ketchup on our copper boilder like yours. Do you have a cover? We were very lucky and ours has one. Anyway I've never seen the slather ketchup and let it sit a few hours. No wonder my apply and scrub did such a poor job! Thanks.

    1. Mary Beth says:

      I do have a lid but it's a tin-like lid, not copper. I'm glad you found the tip. Let me know how yours turns out!

  7. I don't have any copper in my house any more, but I will keep this in mind for when I do get some. Who would have thought it could be so easy!

  8. GERALDINE BULLOCK says:

    Love the way you show your work .I'm try to get in panting &crats .I'm sure this will help. Thank you. GERALDINE.

  9. Ooops, no need of waiting several hours, just scrub with squeezed out lemon to get shiny copper

    1. Mary Beth says:

      Thanks for the tips, Satya. I can't wait to try it.

  10. I own a huge amount of copper that needs cleaning. Am planning on using your tip of Ketchup. Because I'm a one job per day gal I have concerns about the ketchup drying during the wait time. I was going to lay out a plastic sheet, like a paint drop sheet, massage the ketchup and wrap it up for the next morning. Question is, will the plastic inhibit the oxidation process?

    1. Mary Beth says:

      Hi Tirrel. I honestly don't know if the plastic will inhibit the process and I'm sorry I don't have that answer for you. I do know, though, that when I let the ketchup sit and dry I had to start all over again.

  11. I am a teacher and use this trick on old dirty pennies with my students for a science project. We have left the ketchup on over night before. The ketchup dried up and turned black. Wash off the next morning . It was a little harder to wash off dried ketchup, but like I said they were only pennies. Mush easier to wash off while still damp.

    1. Mary Beth says:

      Thanks so much for the advice, Lynn.

  12. Does ketchup work on a copper kitchen sink that has hard water stains?

    1. Mary Beth says:

      Hi Dianna, Ketchup should work on a copper sink. I would try it first in a very small, inconspicuous area first before tackling the entire sink or the portion that has the hard water stains.