How to Clean Copper Cookware & Remove Tarnish

You’ll need to know how to clean copper cookware once you’ve invested in a set. It’s a great material for cooking, but it can become tarnished over time if you don’t clean it correctly.

Clean copper pot on kitchen island

Fortunately, it’s easy! Here are some of the best ways to clean copper cookware.

How to Wash Copper Pots

When you use your cookware, you’ll need to know how to wash it afterwards. Here are the basic steps.

Wait for the pot to cool: washing a hot pot can cause warping or damage to the copper.

Rinse with warm water: this will remove any loose debris or food particles.

Use a gentle cleaner: a mild dish soap like Dawn is all you need for basic cleaning. Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive scrubbing tools like steel wool, which can scratch the copper surface.

Scrub gently: a soft sponge or cloth will gently scrub the copper surface. Don’t use a lot of pressure.

Rinse thoroughly with warm water: this will remove any remaining soap or cleaner.

Dry immediately: this is the most important step! Always wipe the pot dry with a soft, clean cloth or towel. This will prevent it getting water spots and tarnishing.

Never use: abrasive cleaners, bleach, steel wool, or stiff brushes or scrubbing pads.

Can you wash copper pots in the dishwasher? 

The short answer is no. Copper is reactive and can easily be damaged by the high heat and harsh detergents used in dishwashers.

Dishwasher detergent is usually alkaline, and that can strip the natural patina and finish of copper. And the high heat of the dishwasher can cause the copper to warp or degrade over time. 

How to Avoid Tarnish on Copper Pots

Copper can tarnish due to a natural process called oxidation. When copper is exposed to air and moisture, it reacts with oxygen and forms copper oxide on its surface.

This is the stuff that looks like a dark or greenish-brown discoloration on the copper surface, commonly known as tarnish.

Cooking acidic foods is another culprit. Avoid cooking with (much) vinegar, tomato or citrus juice. Copper reacts to food acids and forms copper salts, which can discolor the surface.

Tarnish will not hurt your pots or your food. Some people prefer the look of tarnished copper cookware. It has a rustic look that’s beautiful in its own way. If you like it, there’s no need to try to remove it.

How to Clean Tarnish from Copper Cookware

There are several homemade solutions you can use to clean your copper pots and pans, depending on how tarnished it is. Here are the basic steps you’ll follow, whichever solution you decide to use.

  1. Wash your cookware in warm water and dry it completely.
  2. With a soft cloth, apply a homemade cleaning solution to the tarnished areas, rubbing in brisk circles.
  3. Rinse the solution off with clean water.
  4. Dry it with a soft cloth, then buff it to bring back the original shine.

Homemade Copper Cleaning Solutions

Vinegar and Salt Paste (Mild Tarnish)

Mix equal parts white vinegar and salt to create a paste. Apply the paste to the copper and let it sit for 15-20 minutes. Scrub the surface with a soft-bristled brush, then rinse with water and dry with a soft cloth.

Lemon and Salt Method (Moderate Tarnish)

Cut a lemon in half and sprinkle salt over the cut side. Use the lemon like a scrubber to rub the copper surface. 

The acid in the lemon will help to remove tarnish and the salt will act as a mild abrasive. Rinse the copper with water and dry with a soft cloth.

Ketchup (Severe Tarnish)

Apply ketchup to the copper surface and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. Scrub with a soft-bristled brush, then rinse with water and dry with a soft cloth.

The acid in the tomatoes helps to break down tarnish and the vinegar and salt in ketchup can act as a mild abrasive.

Baking Soda and Vinegar Paste

Make a paste of baking soda and water and apply it to the copper surface. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes, then add a splash of white vinegar to the paste.

The mixture will fizz and bubble, which helps to lift off tarnish. Scrub the surface with a soft-bristled brush, then rinse with water and dry with a soft cloth.

Commercial Copper Cleaners

There are several commercial copper cleaners available on the market. Follow the instructions on the label and be sure to rinse the copper thoroughly with water after using the cleaner.

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Last Updated:

October 27, 2023