Help me restore the finish on antique copper!
April 24, 2010 8:11 AM   Subscribe

I have an antique copper pot that has lost its luster. It's an ordinary enough saucepan, but it was made and then brought from Russia by my great-grandparents in the 1880s. My own parents just recently passed it on to me and I'm proud to display it in my home. But it is rather dull-looking and is not as pretty as it could be. I would love some advice about how to polish it. I'm not interested in restoring it to a point where it looks like a knockoff, I'd just love to reveal the warm coppery glow I'm sure is lurking under the dullness.
posted by DrGail to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't have and answer but now I'm all curious and would love to see a photo.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:14 AM on April 24, 2010

My mom has an old copper teapot that was her grandmother's. She polishes it using lemon and table salt. Sprinkle some salt on a plate and cut a wedge of lemon. Dip lemon in salt and then rub that on the pot. She uses that on her old copper-bottomed Revereware also and they always come out looking nice.
posted by wondermouse at 8:16 AM on April 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I do the lemon and salt trick, too, and it restores a nice soft antique-y glow without the bright brash brand-new pinky-coppery shine that new copper has. I prefer it to the shiny look that cleaning products give to copper pans. If the salt-dipped lemon is tricky to handle, you can also make a paste to rub: salt, flour, and lemon juice or vinegar.

Either way, be sure to wash the pan with soap after, to get the sticky residue off, and polish gently with a clean cloth to bring up the shine.

(I'm sure you know, but just in case: if you copper pan is copper on the interior, too, be sure never to cook acidic foods in it.)
posted by Elsa at 8:37 AM on April 24, 2010

Would barkeeper's friend be too harsh? I've only used it on cookware, but it works beautifully.
posted by Gilbert at 8:48 AM on April 24, 2010

catsup (or ketchup, if you prefer), and maybe a little salt. highly acidic, highly viscous. coat the whole surface to be cleaned with catsup, leave it on for a while, then wash it off and dry it completely.
posted by toodleydoodley at 9:00 AM on April 24, 2010

The active ingredient in the ketchup is vinegar. A mixture of vinegar and salt works like magic, it isn't as messy, and you don't need to cut a lemon.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:11 AM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: How rude of me not to post pictures: Outside view and inside view
posted by DrGail at 9:15 AM on April 24, 2010

Incidentally, I use only the left-over sad remains of lemons for this. As long as they're reasonably fresh and have some juice left, they'll work fine. No need to cut a fresh lemon.

I tried ketchup, and it didn't work nearly as well for me as lemons and salt. Vinegar works fine, but because it's liquid, it's messy and hard to spread consistently (at least, for me it is) unless you mix the acid-salt-flour paste I described above.
posted by Elsa at 9:21 AM on April 24, 2010

If you want it to be a little shinier the weak acids above will do that, but I thought I should mention that removing patina often lowers the value of an antique. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with owning something and wanting it shiny, but if you are the type to obsess about value, think twice before polishing an antique.
posted by advicepig at 9:59 AM on April 24, 2010

Brasso is the thing. I wouldn't consider anything else for cleaning metal.

This will make it properly shiny, as old school copper saucepans should look, but as people have mentioned above it might seem a bit harsh. And as advicepig says, may affect the value (metal cleaning is by its nature a mildly abrasive process).

Also, you're going to have to re-do this fairly frequently. I've a copper necklace that is beautiful when its polished up, but I have to re-polish it every other time I wear it.
posted by Coobeastie at 10:08 AM on April 24, 2010

Get a bucket, a brick, a gallon jug of vinegar and a fistful of salt. Combine all ingredients with the brick inside of the pot (in case it tries to float). Leave for a few hours. Come back to shiny copper! It'll patina soon enough just from sitting around, if not being used, so don't worry about that if you're freaking out about the shiny.
posted by rhizome at 11:22 AM on April 24, 2010

n-thing vinegar or lemon + salt. My advice, though, is: leave it as it is. The patina is nice and the vinegar treatment will give you a 'new' copper sheen. Of course it will oxidize again in a while, but that is the point, actually.
posted by _dario at 3:28 PM on April 24, 2010

If you don't use the pot then you can get it looking the way you like, and lacquer it so it doesn't tarnish any more.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:24 AM on April 25, 2010

« Older How do you advance your freelance career at the...   |   Economics for physicists Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.