How to Clean and Protect Your Copper Jewelry

Jewelry Care

How to Clean and Protect Your Copper Jewelry

Copper is a beautiful metal that's prized for its warm color, glow, and affordability. It can be made into different types of jewelry, has a tensile strength that allows it to be shaped into different forms, and lends itself well to different styles of design. Copper jewelry can be made into pieces that use gemstones, decorated with other metals, and shaped into earrings, necklaces, pins, rings, cuffs, and more. 

Wearing copper jewelry means exposing it to the elements and puts it through a process known as oxidation. Oxidation causes a piece of copper jewelry to form a patina that makes it lose its shine. Given enough time, this patina can turn into verdigris, a green coating that you sometimes see on pennies and copper elements on homes. This causes the jewelry to become lackluster in appearance, but you don't have to accept this as the fate of your copper jewelry pieces.

Cleaning copper jewelry is easy, and you can get the job done with a few household items you most likely have in your kitchen. The following is a look at how copper tarnishes and different ways to remove the tarnish from your copper jewelry, then store it against further tarnish. Cleaning your copper jewelry on a regular basis helps you maintain its good looks, so you can keep enjoying its beautiful color and sheen. 

How Copper Jewelry Tarnishes

Metals of all types can become tarnished and discolored with time and wear. The properties of copper predispose it to tarnishing more quickly with exposure to oxygen. This process is known as oxidation and causes the metal to corrode. This corrosion is known as tarnish, and shows up as a black or green stain on the surface of copper jewelry. It's not unusual for the tarnish to rub off on your skin if you happen to wear a piece of copper jewelry that's tarnished. However, the tarnish is harmless to your skin and easily comes off with a little soap and water. 

Before You Get Started - Your Copper Jewelry May Have a Protective Sealant

Take a close look at the piece of copper jewelry you want to clean. If it's retaining its copper color, but doesn't shine like it once did, it's probably sealed against oxidation. You can restore its coppery gleam with a little elbow grease, a cloth of your choice, and warm water with a little soap. Any soap will do, but Dawn is gentle, yet highly effective and doesn't disrupt the sealant.

Soak your cloth with the warm, soapy water, then apply it to your jewelry. Once you're finished, rinse off your piece, then let it air dry before you put it on or put it back into your jewelry box.

Not sure about the state of the sealant? Bring it to a jeweler who can assess the condition of your jewelry and re-seal it if necessary.

What You'll Need to Clean Your Copper Jewelry

You have a lot of options when it comes to how you clean your pieces, and all of them are equally effective. A majority of the cleaning agents are natural and have everyday uses, which means you probably have them in your pantry. The same goes for the cloths you'll use for cleaning. 

Any of the following ingredients work for cleaning the tarnish off your copper jewelry. They all fall into the category of mild acids which makes them effective at loosening the tarnish from the surface of your jewelry. However, if your jewelry pieces have gemstones, you'll want to use a different method for cleaning as the acidity of the ingredients can damage certain stones. 

The ingredients you can use for safely cleaning your copper jewelry include:

  • Lemon
  • Salt
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Baking soda
  • Vinegar
  • Flour

Sometimes the tarnish resists attempts to clean it using the above methods. For situations like this, you may want to use a commercial cleaner. You can buy one from a retailer that carries a cleaning product that's designed for cleaning tarnish off copper jewelry. Dawn dish soap is another option that does a great job of breaking up the tarnish and won't scratch the metal. 

Copper is fairly resistant to scratching, but you still want to use cleaning materials and tools that are soft. The mild acidity of the cleaning agents will do most of the work to break up the layer tarnish, and the cloth or brush does the lifting. You can use materials and tools that include:

  • Soft toothbrush
  • Cotton diapers or rags
  • Microfiber cloths

Last, but not least, you'll need warm water for mixing your cleaning ingredients together and cleaning off the residue as you work.  

How to Clean Your Copper Jewelry

You can create different combinations of cleaning solutions with the afore-listed ingredients, but the action you take to clean your copper jewelry is done in similar ways. Here's how you can effectively use the different cleaning agents to get your copper jewelry to glow once again. 

Cleaning with baking soda

Baking soda is a mild abrasive that does a great job of breaking up the tarnish and making your piece shine again at the same time. You can use baking soda by itself, or add a little lemon juice for a mildly abrasive and acidic cleaner. 

  • Start with four tablespoons of baking soda and add enough warm water to create a paste.
  • Apply this paste to all surfaces of your copper jewelry with your fingers, a cloth, or a toothbrush.
  • Gently rub the paste around the jewelry until you see shining copper.
  • Rinse the piece in warm water and make sure all traces of the paste have been washed away.

Cleaning with lemon and salt

There are a few ways in which you can use lemon to clean your copper jewelry. They include using half a lemon, lemon juice by itself, or with salt in both forms of lemon. Salt acts as an abrasive and helps remove the tarnish. 

Depending on the shape of your piece, you can use half of a lemon as a scrubber. If you like, you can sprinkle some salt on the half for the abrasive action. Work the lemon half around your piece and use its pulp and skin to remove the tarnish. 

Use the following instructions for lemon juice:

  • Mix one tablespoon each of salt, lemon juice, and warm water together.
  • Place your jewelry into the solution and let it rest for up to an hour. 
  • Remove the jewelry once the tarnish has turned to sludge and use a cloth to wipe the piece clean. 
  • Rinse with warm water and pat dry with a cloth. 

Cleaning with vinegar and salt

Vinegar and salt are combined in a pot and brought to boil in order to create a powerful cleaning agent known as a jeweler's pickle. It's very effective against verdigris and tarnish that's accumulated and has become difficult to remove. 

  • Combine one cup of vinegar and one tablespoon of salt into a pot. 
  • Put your jewelry into the pot and place the pot on the stove.
  • Bring the solution to a boil, then leave on a medium heat for five minutes.
  • Turn off the burner and let the jewelry sit for about 20 minutes.
  • Remove the jewelry and put it under running water while using a scrub brush to remove the tarnish.

Alternatively, you can use a crock pot as a type of "set it and forget it" cleaning vessel, but you'll have to dedicate the crock pot to the use of cleaning copper jewelry only. 

Cleaning with vinegar, salt, and flour

The addition of flour to this mixture serves to turn it into a paste that you apply directly to your copper jewelry. The advantage of making a paste is that it can get into areas that liquid cleaners may not be able to reach or otherwise effectively clean. 

  • Mix one cup of vinegar and one tablespoon of salt together in a bowl, then stir.
  • Add in flour while you're stirring and mix until a paste forms.
  • Apply the paste to the piece of jewelry until it's fully covered.
  • Let the paste sit for up to an hour.*
  • Rinse off the paste with warm water and let dry.

*The amount of time the paste should stay on the piece depends on how badly tarnished it is. The more tarnish, the longer the paste should stay.

Cleaning with saltwater

This is similar to cleaning with vinegar and salt in that you put your piece into a pot of saltwater. It's a good cleaning method if you don't have any other cleaning agents available, but you want to get your copper jewelry clean. It's worth noting that this method may not be as effective as those that combine multiple ingredients together.

  • Pour water into a pot and add a tablespoon of salt to the water.
  • Use low heat to make the salt dissolve into the water.
  • Put your jewelry into the solution for a few minutes, then remove.
  • Scrub off the residue.
  • Rinse the piece with warm water, then pat dry.
  • Use a buffing cloth to make the piece shine.

Cleaning with Worcestershire sauce

Worcestershire sauce may seem like an odd choice for cleaning copper jewelry, but it too is a mild acid that's capable of removing tarnish. 

  • Apply the Worcestershire sauce to the surface of your piece, making sure to coat it thoroughly.
  • Let the piece sit for a while, then rub away the tarnish with a cloth.
  • Rinse the piece in warm water, and pat dry with a soft cloth. 

Protecting Your Clean Copper Jewelry Against Tarnishing

Now that you've put the effort into cleaning your copper jewelry, it's time to keep it from tarnishing again. Since tarnish is the result of contact with oxygen, you want to keep your pieces away from exposure to the air. You can store your jewelry in a variety of ways as long as the container can be sealed. Here are some of the ways you can store your copper jewelry.

Wrap in Cloth

You can use cloth fabrics or anti-tarnish fabric and wrap up your pieces individually. The cloth will protect your pieces from tarnish, but fabric allows air to flow through. Copper jewelry is most at risk of tarnishing when it's simply wrapped up in cloth. 

Ziploc bags

Ziploc bags, or any type of plastic bag that has a zipper seal on it, are great for storing your jewelry and keeping air from reaching the copper. They won't provide protection from contact with other objects that are stored together, but if you're not moving your jewelry around too often, the risk of contact is minimal. 

Plastic containers

Plastic containers with lids that are used for a variety of purposes also work well to prevent tarnish. The only requirement is that the lid of the container seals tightly. Containers that are labeled waterproof or insect proof also work as they have an additional seal to prevent infiltration. 

The advantages of using a plastic container are the ability to cushion each piece, use Ziploc bags for further tarnish prevention, and keeping similar pieces together. 

Anti-tarnish bags

Anti-tarnish bags provide stronger protection against oxidation, and also provide cushion against contact from other pieces. However, they may also let air flow through, resulting in the return of the tarnish even though the bag has anti-tarnish properties. 

You may prefer to combine multiple storage methods together in order to get the best possible protection against the return of the tarnish. If you're storing your pieces for long periods of time, make sure to pull them out now and again to check their condition and make sure that the tarnish hasn't returned. 

Creating a tight seal against air is the most effective way to prevent your copper jewelry from tarnishing. The odds of the tarnish returning are low, but the possibility is there. Check your stored pieces regularly and keep an eye on how well your efforts are working. You may find you need to clean tarnish off your stored pieces, but the intervals with which you need to clean are longer and there's less effort needed to remove the tarnish that's returned. 

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