How to Clean Copper Cookware

Copper pot dried with microfiber cloth in front of sink

The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

Have your copper pots, pans, and mugs lost their shine? If your copper cookware is looking dull and tarnished, it’s probably time to give it a polish to restore its original beauty. Here’s everything you need to know about how to wash and polish your copper pieces to keep them looking beautiful for years to come.

How to Wash Copper Cookware

The best way to wash copper pots and pans is with warm water and dish soap. Use a soft, gentle cloth, brush, or sponge to scrub away any residue. To remove stuck-on food, soak the pan in hot, soapy water for 15 minutes, then scrub again.

It’s important to avoid using rough, abrasive cleaning implements or harsh cleaners like Bon Ami on your copper pots and pans. Always hand-dry your copper pots and pans immediately after washing. Allowing them to air dry can leave water spots and cause the metal to tarnish more quickly. 

Can You Put Copper in the Dishwasher?

Copper cookware should be washed by hand, never run through the dishwasher.

The exceptions to this rule are copper-colored utensils and other kitchen tools. These are made from stainless steel coated with copper-colored plating, but they don’t actually contain copper. It’s a good idea to double-check the manufacturer’s directions, but usually, these items are fine to put in the dishwasher.

How Do You Tell If Copper Is Lacquered?

Some copper cookware items are prized because of how the material interacts with what’s inside. For example, copper mixing bowls help egg whites stabilize when whipped, and a copper pan’s smooth surface and ability to conduct heat are ideal for jam making. 

However, some copper cookware is lacquered to a shiny, reflective finish rather than the subtler glow of unlacquered copper. Lacquer also prevents copper from tarnishing, so if the piece doesn’t develop a slight patina over time, there’s a good chance it’s lacquered. You can always check the packaging or inquire with the manufacturer to be sure.

How to Clean Lacquered Copper

To clean lacquered copper cookware, simply wash the item with warm, soapy water, rinse it, and dry it by hand with a soft, clean cloth.

How to Clean Lined Copper

Some copper cookware is lined with tin or stainless steel on the inside to provide a non-reactive cooking surface. These items should be washed and dried thoroughly by hand. You can polish the copper exterior of these items, but avoid polishing the tin or stainless steel lining. 

Note that lined copper cookware made with tin may darken and develop a patina over time. These items may also need to be re-tinned after years of use. Bits of copper showing through the tin lining indicates that it’s time for re-tinning.

How to Remove Tarnish From Copper Pots Without Chemicals

Over time, even well-washed unlacquered copper pieces will develop a slight tarnish as they interact with oxygen, moisture, dust, sunlight, heat, and oils from our hands. Left unchecked, the metal will corrode over time. Tarnish looks like brown or black spots or dark areas rather than a glowing, uniform finish.

For items that don’t come into contact with food, you can leave this patina in place if you find it attractive. But if you plan to use the item in your kitchen, you’ll want to polish away that tarnish. Note that because copper is reactive, it’s recommended to avoid cooking acidic foods like tomatoes and lemons in unlined copper. Doing so can leach copper into your food and make you sick.

You can purchase a product like Wright’s Copper Cream to polish your copper items every six months or so, but there are plenty of effective do-it-yourself methods for cleaning copper pots and pans that don’t involve investing in harsh chemical cleaners. The basic formula for cleaning copper requires acid and salt.

How to Clean Copper With Ketchup or Tomato Paste

One method to handle mild tarnish on copper is to rub a mixture of two parts tomato paste or ketchup and one part coarse salt on the copper surface. Let the paste sit for a couple of minutes, then rinse and hand-dry the pan.

How to Clean Copper With Lemon and Salt

For stubborn copper tarnish, you can try dipping a cut lemon into kosher salt, then scrubbing the cut surface on the surface of the pan. Within a few minutes, you should see the shine return to the copper. Once it’s brightened to your liking, wash the item with dish soap and water, then hand dry thoroughly.

How to Clean Copper With Vinegar

A really tarnished item may benefit from heat in addition to acid and salt. This method works with items that can fit inside a larger pot on the stove.

Combine a cup of white vinegar, three cups of water, and a tablespoon of salt in a large, non-reactive pot over high heat. Place the tarnished item in the pot to submerge it in the liquid and bring to a boil. When you see bits of tarnish falling away from the copper item, turn off the heat and allow the pot to cool down. Remove the item and use one of the other methods to clean off any remaining tarnish.

Article Sources
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  1. Cooking Utensils and Nutrition. U.S. National Library of Medicine MedlinePlus. Updated November 30, 2021.