How to Clean Copper: 6 Tips for Caring for Copper Pots and Pans

People snap up copper pots and pans to bring warmth and a gorgeous sheen to the kitchen—but then find themselves wondering just how to clean copper. And it’s a fair question: While copper, which is considered a soft metal, is prized for its ability to conduct heat, it requires a little more TLC than other materials, so it’s important to care for it properly. “Depending on the lining of one’s copper cookware, it’s possible to make mistakes when cleaning,” says Mac Kohler of Brooklyn Copper Cookware. But when your pots are well cared for, they pay off in decades of use and beauty in the kitchen.

Wondering how to clean copper Keep your copper pots and pans gleaming for years and years with these key tips.

Read on for six tips on how to clean copper pans, pots, and household items.

1. Clean the Copper With Soap and Water Before Polishing

Before polishing a copper item, you’ll want to give it a gentle wash. Get your copper all nice and sudsy with dish soap and warm water. Use a soft sponge (and a bit of elbow grease) to get it all off. Copper pots are generally lined with stainless steel or tin. This initial cleaning is gentle enough for either lining.

2. Polish Copper Pots and Pans Regularly

Tarnish is a layer of corrosion that occurs on metals, including copper, silver, and brass. It’s a completely normal reaction that happens over time due to exposure to water and air. To keep tarnish at bay, we recommend polishing copper every six months with a specialty copper cleaner.

You can buy one (like Bar Keepers Friend or Wright’s Copper Cream) or you can whip up a homemade mixture with ingredients you probably have on hand. Here are three ways to clean copper naturally:

Lemon Juice and Baking Soda

Combine lemon juice (or vinegar) with baking soda and stir until mixed completely. Apply to the surface and buff in a circular motion using a soft, clean cloth, then rinse and dry.

Ketchup

Apply a layer of ketchup to your copper pan and rub across the surface. (The tomatoes in ketchup contain an acid that helps to clean off tarnish.) Rinse and dry.

Lemon and Salt

Cut a lemon in half and apply table salt to the cut section. Rub the lemon on the surface and add more salt as needed. Rinse and dry.

Vinegar and Salt

Create a paste using vinegar (or lemon juice) and salt. Apply to the surface and buff using a soft cloth, then rinse and dry.

 

3. Avoid the Dishwasher and Steer Clear of Abrasive Products

Tara Steffen, marketing manager at French copper-cookware manufacturer Mauviel, warns against putting copper in the dishwasher or picking up a stronger cleaner that contains bleach. In fact, avoid abrasive products altogether—even if they advertise themselves as safe, they can score stainless steel and tin, says Kohler.

4. Never Heat a Dry Copper Pan

This rings true for almost every type of pot: When heated empty, without food or a fat like olive oil, the lining can degrade. “Generally speaking, one uses copper cookware low and slow, meaning it’s the metal of choice for delicate preparations,” says Kohler.

5. Repair Damaged Areas

Notice some damage on your copper pot or pan? “In the case of a tinned pan, the solution is to re-tin the pan,” Kohler says. Stainless steel pans, however, cannot be brought back to life.

6. Consider Skipping the Polish and Embracing Patina

For practical or aesthetic reasons, you may want to skip polishing and let your copper cookware age naturally. “In the case of copper, a patinated surface is becoming harder and more thermally efficient,” says Kohler. “Professional chefs cultivate a good, dark patina as one does bloom on wine grapes; it improves what the thing is supposed to do.”