How do I clean a filthy pile of everyday American coins?
October 31, 2007 3:30 PM   Subscribe

How do I clean a filthy pile of everyday American coins?

Nota Bene: These are NOT collector coins.

I have a pile of American coins - pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters - that have accumulated in my car in a place under the dashboard where you toss things (I'm sorry, I don't know how else to describe it.)

They have accumulated over many months, and the copper pennies are a bit oxidized, and the rest of the lot are gummy from spilled drinks (colas, coffee) and the vagaries of heat, cold and humidity.

It's not a lot of cash, but I can't tender them at any reputable place without offending anyone due to their filthiness, and I can't put them in machines, they'll gum up the whole works. It would be silly to throw them away, but they just aren't usable at this point.

My web searches turn up a lot of useful information about cleaning precious or collectible coins, which is not helpful. (Actually, the advice on those is DON'T, you'll ruin their value.)

Is there a simple way to launder (ha ha) this money without resorting to Aqua Regia, or scrubbing each and every one individually? Some magic combination of vinegar, ammonia and shoe polish in a Crock Pot or something?

Extra points for telling me what that place under the dashboard where you toss things is called. Also tell me if there's a better category for this other than "grab bag", kthxbai
posted by sidereal to Grab Bag (29 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Sealable plastic bottle + dish soap + sand (optional - good for cleaning chunks)(I use a gatorade bottle).

Add hot water, coins and soap. Shake vigorously. Let soak. Shake and repeat. Works every time :)
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 3:34 PM on October 31, 2007 [2 favorites]

I think that soaking them in water + dishsoap for awhile, occasionally rummaging through to agitate, would pretty much do it.
posted by desuetude at 3:36 PM on October 31, 2007

Extra points for telling me what that place under the dashboard where you toss things is called.

The glove compartment, or glove box. (In British cars at least. The whole boot/trunk, bonnet/hood thing may apply to this too.)
posted by afx237vi at 3:49 PM on October 31, 2007

I had a pile o' dirty coins in my car too, a few years ago. I did what Cat Pie Hurts did - sans the sand, but it makes sense as it is abrasive - and it worked. I let them soak for a while in hot soapy water to soften up the grime and shook it vigorously a few times. IIRC, I had to do it twice because they were just that dirty. But it worked and did not involve anything special or involved.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 3:50 PM on October 31, 2007

No, we call it glove compartment or glove box as well. I'm in California.
posted by lou at 3:55 PM on October 31, 2007

Almost anything on them will be water-soluble, since it's cola residue and the like. Put them in a jar, add water and soap, agitate for a couple of minutes, and you should have perfectly usable coins again.
posted by Malor at 4:03 PM on October 31, 2007

Bring the coins to a rolling boil in a large pot with a tiny smidge of detergent. Strain and rinse vigorously with cold water.
posted by rolypolyman at 4:05 PM on October 31, 2007

no, the space under the center of the dash that has cupholder/cigarette lighter in it is the console. The glove box is the spot in front of the passenger seat that has a little door that opens.
posted by cosmicbandito at 4:05 PM on October 31, 2007

When I was a kid, I'd clean pennies with ketchup. It worked like a charm and made them look new and shiny again. Yes, I was an odd child.

I have no idea why it worked--probably acid from the tomatoes or something. So, either ketchup or vinegar might be helpful in this situation.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:10 PM on October 31, 2007

I can't put them in machines, they'll gum up the whole works.

I wouldn't be so sure, the machines the banks have take most anything (they do jam, but in my limited experience the reasons seem far removed from the actual coins going through.) Personally I'd take them to my bank and put them through their sorting machine -- if you're really embarrassed you could mix them in with good coins.
posted by advil at 4:32 PM on October 31, 2007

Soaking in vinegar or lemon juice removes tarnish from copper. Soak until shiny, then rinse thoroughly.
posted by textilephile at 4:33 PM on October 31, 2007

Put them in a colander in the dishwasher.
posted by Capostrophe at 4:38 PM on October 31, 2007

Best treatment, seriously, tabasco. Makes 'em look like new. Second to that is vinegar, which is why ketchup works.

So, just for cleany, I would say the gatorade bottle thing. For real shine, it's all about tabasco and time.
posted by TomMelee at 4:42 PM on October 31, 2007

coke, then rinse
posted by jpdoane at 4:48 PM on October 31, 2007

i've heard that denture cleaning tablets work wonders...
posted by kidsleepy at 4:53 PM on October 31, 2007

I've heard soaking them in water and alka seltzer works, but I've never tried it. To clean the gummy ones, I always just put a few in a wetnap or paper towel soaked in windex or the like, and rub.
posted by birdlady at 5:01 PM on October 31, 2007

When I was in the dorms we used 8 molar nitric acid for about 3 seconds.
posted by rhizome at 5:03 PM on October 31, 2007

Soak them in Borax, then rinse well.
posted by Rumple at 5:12 PM on October 31, 2007

all those leftover hot sauce packets from Taco Bell and/or Del Taco? perfect opportunity to get rid of them.
posted by killy willy at 5:35 PM on October 31, 2007

No need to clean them beyond a quick washing off with soapy water. Throw them in a CoinStar machine and call it a day. I dumped "backpacks" worth of coins into those machines, had people standing in line behind me going WTF. $300 worth of dimes, nickels, pennies, (quarters go to laundry day)... As long as they don't stick together, no problem.
posted by zengargoyle at 5:36 PM on October 31, 2007

Drop them in a net bag or lingerie bag or even a sheer stocking, knotted, and then put them in the utensil basket of the dishwasher. You might have to run them through a few times ...
posted by thinkpiece at 5:38 PM on October 31, 2007

Faced with exactly the same problem --- a big pile of accumulated pocket change held together by a sludgy glue of syrupy dried cola, dust, stray hairs, and time ---- I dumped the coins in a big bowl with a few drops of dishwashing soap, covered them with hot water, and let them sit half an hour or so, to soften the crusty, sticky goo. Then I swished and clanked the coins around with my hands, drained off the water, added fresh water, swished again, drained again, and let them dry on a towel. The next morning, I took them to the coin machine at the bank, which netted me a tidy amount of folding money...

... and a few coins, so I could start the whole operation over again.
posted by Elsa at 5:41 PM on October 31, 2007

Long ago I worked in the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, where they would give customers their change from transactions in shiny clean coins (and crisp new currency bills straight from the Federal Reserve bank). The coins were washed in a tumbler device with soapy water, same as the methods described here. They employed a very nice old gent whose job it was to launder the money. I would be interested to know whether they still do this, if anyone knows.
posted by beagle at 7:07 PM on October 31, 2007

When I was in the dorms we used 8 molar nitric acid for about 3 seconds.
posted by rhizome at 8:03 PM on October 31

I second this. IT works wonders, but don't leave it in too long or you'll strip the copper off your pennies and leave them a shiny silver.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:41 PM on October 31, 2007

Salt, lemon juice and water in a sealed jar. They'll smell really nice afterwards, too.
posted by Frank Grimes at 7:49 PM on October 31, 2007

When some dumbass would pour a coke or other liquid into the coin mechs of our laundry units (thereby filling up the coin collection tray) we'd toss the sticky mess of coins into a heavy woolen sock and run them through a load in the washing machine.
posted by Mitheral at 7:59 PM on October 31, 2007

Cillit bang of course!!

don't know whether it's available in the US though
posted by derbs at 6:08 AM on November 1, 2007

Diet coke. Less sticky.
posted by electroboy at 11:42 AM on November 1, 2007

If you know someone who owns a vibratory or rotary tumbler, you can use that to clean coins. (Note: I don't really trust the recipes given in that article -- they seem really excessively abrasive -- I was just posting it for the concept.)

Tumblers are frequently used to polish and clean metal parts, particularly brass cartridge cases prior to reloading, which can get pretty dirty. It seems to me that what works for dirty brass ought to work fairly well for coins. Typical metal-cleaning media include crushed walnut shells (what I use) or shredded dry corn cob, spiked with a little jeweler's rouge. Walnut-shell is generally assumed to be more 'aggressive' in terms of cleaning, corn-cob is more of a polishing agent. (Though you can start a fight over this sort of thing in the right company.)

I would say if you could find someone with a tumbler/polisher, regardless of what media they run, ask them if they're willing to toss in a bunch of your coins and run them for a cycle. It might just do the trick; at worst it might wear them, but since coins are mostly made of harder metal than brass cases, I doubt it'll do much serious damage.

I've never put coins in mine, but now I'm kinda tempted to try it.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:19 PM on January 18, 2008

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