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How to Clean and Polish Copper Easily

Antique Copper Washtub after cleaning
The easy way to clean copper even if it's heavily tarnished and oxidized

This one simple natural product, and it's not a typical cleaning solution, is the easiest way I have found to clean and polish almost any copper surface naturally. Whether you want to clean copper pots, copper jewelry, a copper sink or almost any copper item this is the best way to do it. 

It will work perfectly and well without the use of harsh chemicals contained in some commercial copper cleaners and requires just a little bit of elbow grease.

antique copper boiler wash tub with lots of tarnish before cleaning with ketchup

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 oxidized patina and is downright ugly.

Check out these tips for Cleaning Copper Coins!

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How I Stumbled Upon this Cleaning Tip

I have an antique copper boiler washtub that was my Grandma's. It had seen decades of use primarily in the role of doing laundry for her 8 children, which totally boggles my mind especially when I think of how much I love my Kenmore and doing laundry for a family of 5 is a bit of a task.

The boiler has been soldered with metal added to the soft metal 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 polish 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 pieces I saw that using ketchup was an option that got great results even when dealing with tough stains so I thought I would give it a try and share my results. 

Ketchup to Clean and Polish Copper?

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

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 a thick layer of  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 the good news is that when I returned a few hours later and witnessed the results of the chemical reaction that ensued, I was thrilled!  

How to clean copper with ketchup a before and after

An important side not, do NOT let the ketchup dry in place. You want to remove it to reveal the beautiful shiny finish while it is still damp and easily spreadable. 

Since I was happy with the results, I used a soft dry cloth (you could also use a soft sponge) and gently rubbed the treated area using a circular motion to remove any last bit of stubborn stains. When I was happy with my results, I rinsed the treated area 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 making it the best cleaning method in my opinion. 

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.

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 clean 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 a little 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 with a clean rag 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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01/13/2024 12:21 am GMT

How to Keep Copper Shining

Once you have completed the cleaning process you can keep your copper shining with regular cleaning and 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 Copper

The easy way to clean copper even if it's heavily tarnished and oxidized
Print Pin Save
How to clean and polish copper without harsh chemicals.
Hands On Time:15 minutes
Total Time:5 minutes

Equipment

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

Supplies

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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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

As with any of my recipes, calorie counts and nutritional information varies greatly depending on which products you choose to use when cooking this dish.

Calories:
Author: Mary Beth
Cost: $2.00
super shiny copper pan after cleaning with ketchup

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26 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.

  13. I have 2 huge copper pots . I am trying the kethup now .Thank you for the tip been using copper polish for a couple trys to get them shiny so hopefully this works

    1. Mary Beth says:

      Hi Norma,

      I hope this tip works for you. I had given up on getting anything to get my boiler clean and this worked wonders.

      All the best,
      Mary Beth