Copper is a versatile metal that we find in many forms from pipes to jewellery to cookware. Some copper is finished with a lacquer to stop it tarnishing so all it needs is a wash in warm soapy water and drying completely to avoid watermarks developing. However, copper finished in this way should never be polished or scrubbed as it will remove the protective coating.
It’s a different situation with lacquer free copper, which when exposed to air turns dark and dull and the colour of the patina it develops can vary depending on what it is exposed to. Household copper develops an antique brown colour and it can look quite effective if left in this state, but copper exposed to the elements especially water, can develop a bluish green colour.
Copper pots and pans can become tarnished because of strong acids or alkalis, so acidic foods like fruits, tomatoes and vinegars should never be boiled in copper pots or copper clad pots as the acid causes the copper to leach out into the food being cooked. Too much copper can be toxic to humans, having said that copper cookware is usually lined to prevent this happening.
Copper jewellery can tarnish and even the lacquered copper will get dull over time due to the exposure to the air or the sweat on your skin, so for this reason, a lot of copper jewellery is coated to stop it tarnishing. Depending on the kind of coating used, it could eventually make once beautiful jewellery look dull and uninteresting.
….Lets Take a Closer Look
There are numerous ways of cleaning copper, either for cookware, ornaments or jewellery Some are simple and quick, some take a little longer, it’s all a matter of preference as to how you keep the shine on your copper items. The simplest of methods is to buy a readymade paste that you can just wipe on and wipe off again but if you prefer to use natural ingredients then here are a few tips.
- An application of white vinegar and salt will bring your copper back to new but if there is a heavier layer of tarnish then the process may need to be repeated a few more times.
- Cut a lemon in half and dip the cut flesh in salt then rub over the copper until the tarnish is removed. For jewellery make up the mixture and dip the jewellery in it.
- Try using Tomato Ketchup on your copper, spread thinly over the whole area and leave for about half an hour, rinse off and dry thoroughly. Soy or Worcester sauce is also a good alternative.
- Toothpaste is also a good alternative to lemon juice and vinegar and smells better too, it can also be used for cleaning gemstones.
Never use wire wool cleaners on your copper, this can leave very fine scratch marks that won’t come out, however, the wire soap pads such as brillo are very effective while being gentle on the copper.
Cleaning Antique Copper
The value of antique copper can quite quickly be lost if the original tarnish or patina is removed. If dust and dirt is not an issue for you then it is advisable to leave well alone. However, if the value of an object is not a priority then go ahead and clean the item in any way you prefer. This all depends on the preference of the owner whether the patina or the shine is of importance, though I would suggest getting a valuation of an item is a good idea before any value is destroyed. Having said that, not all antiques lose their value after being cleaned, sometimes a bright shiny copper item can be more appealing to a collector than a dark dirty one.
Arts and crafts copper often began as an “antique” look as opposed to a bright shiny look. Copper that had that “old” tarnished look was the style in those times and although the colour would have got darker over time, cleaning the copper with special products would possibly alter the patina and therefore devalue the item. It would lose its arts and crafts appeal, so a simple way to clean this type of copper is to just moisten a cloth with mild soapy water and gently wipe away any dirt and dust from the item. Gently rinse with clean water and make sure it is thoroughly dry as any water may affect the oxidation and leave marks.
Whether too clean or not depends entirely on the individual and their preferences. Copper can look wonderful in any situation, shiny or dull and should be admired for its versatility and beauty, whether it is cookware or jewellery and even polished copper pipes can look stunning in the right setting.