Easy, effective methods for cleaning copper

Copper is a metal and, while it's harder than silver, it's still softer than either brass or bronze. It comes in two types: lacquered and unlacquered. Lacquered copper, which is usually on decorative items, has a finish baked on at the factory. Unlacquered copper, found mostly on cookware, tarnishes easily but will brighten up with elbow grease and the right techniques.

Easy, effective methods for cleaning copper

1. How to clean decorative copper

  • Rarely will you see lacquered copper cookware or utensils. If you do, you should remove the finish before using them for eating or cooking.
  • To clean a copper item with a lacquered finish, you only need to dust the piece with a dust cloth or vacuum as part of your regular cleaning process.
  • If it's dirty, you might want to wipe it with a damp cloth.
  • Lacquering on decorative pieces works fine until cracks start to appear in the finish. Then the piece must be stripped of its coating with acetone or lacquer thinner, applied full strength with a cloth.
  • Or, boil the item in 7 litres (7 quarts) of water with 250 ml(1 cup) of sodium carbonate crystals (available from supermarkets).
  • The lacquer should peel right off.
  • Wash with dishwashing liquid, rinse with running water and dry with a soft cloth.
  • If you want to lacquer the piece again, employ the services of a professional metal finisher.

2. How NOT to clean copper cookware

First be aware of the don'ts.

  • Don’t ever use any scratchy cleaning tool on copper. You run the risk of leaving marks.
  • Don’t use bleach because it will seriously discolour copper if it is left soaking for a few hours or more.
  • Don't use oven cleaners or glass cleaners either — they'll make quick work of your copper because they will corrode it.

3. How to clean copper cookware

  • If your copper cookware is really in bad shape, remove any corrosion before you polish. Several methods exist to do this:
  • Salt mixed with a little white vinegar and applied with a soft cloth.
  • Cut a lemon in half, dip it in salt and rub.
  • As long as the piece can stand the heat, boil it in a large pot filled with water, 125 ml (1/2 cup)of salt and250 ml (1 cup)of white vinegar.
  • Whatever method you use to clean your cookware, rinse well with fresh water, dry with a tea towel and buff with a soft cloth.
  • If you want more shine, apply a commercial copper cleaner according to the product's instructions.
  • Crevices — where the handle joins the pot, for instance — can be tough to clean. These spots can also be magnets for paste polish build-up. Use a cotton swab or horsehair brush and alcohol to get rid of the gunk.
  • Wipe small copper items with tomato or Worcestershire sauce applied to a cotton cosmetic pad or cotton swab. You'll be surprised by how quickly they gleam.
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