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Cleaning Copper

If you have copper that has been around for a while (especially if it has been left out of a sealed space for too long) it is bound to be tarnished by a black or green coating. Naturally, this is no good, seeing as how the main reason you have copper is to show off the natural beauty of the mineral.

Why it Happens
The main culprits staining your copper is

  • cupric oxide
  • copper sulfate
  • copper chloride

This tarnishing is unacceptable to any collector of copper goods. Therefore, if your copper piece has any value, you should keep it as clean as possible. Have no fear though. Cleaning your copper like a professional is quite easy and often does not require complicated techniques and expensive chemicals.

Getting it to Shine
Of course some methods work better than others, but all involve some sort of caustic solution. Be careful not to breath in any of the cleaning solutions and treat them with respect. Also, most solutions must be applied and left for several hours, so make sure they are out of reach of curious children.

Start by making a rudimentary paste out of flour, salt and vinegar. Stir this up, then apply it to the copper. The acid in the vinegar will begin to dissolve the tarnish immediately. If the tarnish is thick, you may need to apply more coatings.

Many museums use a more sophisticated, but only slightly more effective, method. They create a blend of three parts Rochelle salt and one part caustic soda. They then add this to 20 parts distilled water. You must then suspend the copper piece in the tub of the solution with a wire (no sides of the copper can be touching the tub). This is almost guaranteed to remove tarnish.

There are also several folk remedies for cleaning copper. These include scrubbing with buttermilk, ketchup, olive oil or baking soda. These may all work (all have their own form of acid) but whether they work for you is undeterminable.

Parting Tips
No matter which method you use, just be sure not to damage the copper itself. If it is an heirloom, you can devalue it substantially if it is not cleaned properly. So make sure that you rinse it very very carefully after each application of cleaning solution. Even if it is ketchup.

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