Thursday, 8 July 2010

When Life Hands You Lemons...Clean Copper!

Hi this is Anne-Marie from ByAmor.Though this week’s trade secret isn’t exactly a huge revelation, it may of use to some of you. It’s a time-honoured, natural recipe for cleaning copper items and jewellery.
This turned out to be the messiest article I’ve ever put together, having squirted juice in my eye and food-stuff all over my ‘photography area’, better known as the window sill. Granted, I did have a camera in one hand at the time, so hopefully it will work out easier for you. Ireland has a long history of mining copper, a metal popular for kitchen utensils, jewellery and artefacts, not to mention brewing and distilling paraphernalia. Copper is also attributed with healing properties, believed to help inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. Traditionally, it is the given on the 7th wedding anniversary. I love it because it has a natural, warm glow and in jewellery, it goes well with cool colours such as turquoise and aquamarine.
However, this beautiful metal does tarnish over time. The good news is, it’s really easy to clean, using simple ingredients found in most kitchens. Before attempting to clean copper, you must find out if the metal has been lacquered or not. Lacquer is a coating that prevents the metal from changing colour. If the item gets dirty and grimy-looking, yet always keeps its colour, then you can be sure it has been lacquered. Polishing or stripping with acidic solutions will destroy the coating.

This is a lacquered copper jug that was stored away and forgotten. It has not changed its basic colour. It is simply dirty. The best way to clean it is to wash it in warm, soapy water and to dry thoroughly with a cloth. Copper is relatively soft, so avoid scratching with very abrasive materials. With time, untreated copper naturally takes on a darker patina, usually reddish-brown, and it eventually goes green. This tarnishing process accelerates if the metal is exposed to the elements.
To clean a smallish copper piece, raid your kitchen. All you need is water, salt and lemon juice, though ketchup can be handy for tricky items and larger utenstils.
Put some water in a non-metallic bowl and squeeze in a few drops of lemon juice.
Add a shake or two of salt (about a teaspoonful.)Pop the item into the solution. Though soaking for a while may be required, this copper hook started to brighten before I had a chance to get my camera ready!Rinse well in cold water. Dry thoroughly with kitchen paper or a soft cloth such as a tea towel. Polish up with a cloth specifically designed for cleaning metals such as silver and copper. The hook on the left is the one I just cleaned. It’s hard to tell in the photo, but it came up even brighter than the one originally used for comparison.

Take utmost care with gemstones. If you are careful, you may be able to dip some pieces without splashing the stone.Do not use this method of cleaning at all for jewellery containing cameos or pearls. Also avoid it for softer, more delicate stones which you wouldn’t clean with commercial, chemical cleaners, for example, turquoise, sodalite or Connemara marble. Ketchup can also be used to remove tarnish on copper. It can be easier to manage when cleaning copper around or between gemstones, but again, take utmost care to avoid getting the sauce on the stones as the acid in it can be damaging. Use a soft tooth brush, a cotton bud or a cloth to apply and be sure to clean it off well with a wet cloth. Again, dry thoroughly and then polish with a jeweller’s cloth. You may find ketchup on a cloth is easier to use on larger items such as pots and pans. Alternatively, you can pour some salt directly onto half a lemon and try that to wipe the bigger item clean. Copper (and silver) jewellery will stay bright for longer if stored in an airtight baggie. You can buy anti-tarnish strips to place inside. It is cheapest to purchase bigger pieces of the paper and cut into strips. Of course, ready-made, anti-tarnish baggies and boxes are available from most good packaging or beading suppliers. I keep my stock in said baggies, safe inside airtight, plastic lunchboxes – unused ones I must add! I store my own personal jewellery in such bags in my jewellery box too, as this also prevents stones from scratching off my other favourite baubles. Pre-tarnished copper should not be cleaned up at all, other than to wipe off dust and grime. Neither should ‘antique’ copper, which is an alloy of metals, meant to look dark. As an experiment, I made this green marble and mint amazonite necklace using a mix of real copper focals, lacquered copper beads and darker, ‘antique’ copper spacers. The two focal beads have started to tarnish and will go as dark as the spacers. I could brighten them up using a bit of tomato sauce, but I like how gracefully they are aging. Hmm, wish I could say the same for myself!
Find copper items by the Crafty Ireland Team on Etsy


  1. Thanks for the useful tip! I don't usually work or wear copper, but maybe I will, looks great!

  2. Copper and turquoise is ever so pretty!!!

    Thanks for this article and the great pics! I don't think I've ever cleaned copper, but now I know what to do if I ever do!!!

    Your necklace is beautiful! And yes, ageing gracefully would be a good idea - I am certainly ageing rather disgracefully...

  3. Big thanks to Ruth of Nicedaydesigns for sorting out my posting mishap (again!)
    You and Purls have been so helpful!

    Yes vivibiojoux, I don't use a huge amount of copper myself but it's so lovely with greens and blues in particular I'm beginning to fall in love with it.

    Haha Purls - againg 'disgracefully' is very naughty of you!