Before you think about cleaning your pennies, consider your reasons for doing so. Do you have a coin collection or vauable pennies you would like to sell? Are you going to exhibit the coins? Will the pennies be used for arts and crafts? Or would you simply like to buff you pocket change up for a science experiment or a bit of fun?
If you have collectible and valuable coins you should not clean them! This will cause small damages, discoloration, and risk devalung the coins significantly.
Whereas, if you are cleaning the coins for fun, it can be incredibly satisfying watching a dull, dirty penny turn into a shining mirror-like treasure. If you are wondering what cleans a penny the best, how to clean pennies fast, how to clean pennies in bulk, and how to clean a copper penny, you have come to the right place.
We have presented some of the best methods for cleaning coins including the use of common household items. Join us to find out more!
Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Clean A Coin – Read This First!
When is comes to cleaning coins there is one big warning siren surrounding the activity – sometimes cleaning collectible coins can devalue them significantly! While old coins may look dirty, and it may be tempting to clean them up so they gleam like new, this is not advised.
Collecting coins is a serious hobby, and grading coins is a highly skilled activity. Coin appraisers use strong magnifying apparatus to inspect every facet of a coin, picking out every piece of damage. Cleaning coins using chemicals or acidic ingredients and scrubbing the surface of old coins is very likely to cause micro-scratches.
Expert appraisers will notice any imperfections and every scratch or wear mark will devalue the coin greatly. Professionals can tell when a collectible coin has been cleaned vs a coin in mint condition due to the unnatural color produced by the cleaning. Some collectible pennies are worth hundreds, thousands, or even millions of dollars, so risking any kind of damage is not worth it!
Before cleaning your pennies, think about why you want to do it and whether the coins you possess hold any value. If you would still like to clean a coin collection, it is highly recommended to hire professional coin cleaning services. These skilled professionals know exactly how to clean a penny without losing value. This is incredibly hard to achieve on your own at home.
If you’re still interested in cleaning your pennies for fun, for arts and crafts, or for a fascinating science experiment, there are several methods you can try…
How To Clean A Penny Without Damaging It
All of the methods mentioned below are appropriate when you are wondering how to clean a copper penny. Remember – only consider cleaning coins that aren’t collectible or that aren’t going to be graded and sold on because cleaning them will devalue them.
Silver and gold content pennies require different methods, especially those which are plated in precious metals. For these, it is recommended to send your coins to coin cleaning experts if you want to clean them without damaging or devaluing them. If you don’t mind risking micro scratches and reducing the grade of your coin because you want to keep it in a personal collection and are not thinking about selling the coins, you can try the number 1 and 2 items on our list – water and dish soap, and 100% acetone nail polish remover.
At this stage it is good to know which items you should avoid when cleaning pennies: do not use jewelry cleaner or metal polish! These contain harsh chemicals that will damage your coins and wear away their fine details.
Other kinds of damage can be caused by PVC when coins are stored in plastic coin holders or wallets which contain PVC. Find out how to treat PVC coin damage here.
How To Clean A Penny With Household Items
There are several household items that can be sued to clean pennies, but be aware that some may be too caustic to retain the fine details on the coin face. For example, anything which has high acidity including vinegar, lemon juice, ketchup and coke will risk wearing away at the patterns and inscriptions, especially if the coins are left in these substances for a prolonged period.
Water And Dish Soap
The best way to start out is simply running your coin under tap water and giving it a rub with your fingers. Then pat it dry with a soft dishcloth. However, if you live in a hard water area with high lime content you can try using distilled or filtered water instead of tap water.
Also make sure your sink hole has a plug blocker or filter so you don’t accidentally lose any coins down there!
Next, try a little gentle dish soap (mild soap which is unperfumed and ideally contains natural ingredients). Put your coin and some warm water into a plastic container with a couple of drops of the dish soap. Now try rubbing the coins with your fingers, a soft cloth, or even a soft toothbrush. This can help remove surface dirt and may be all you need to help the pennies shine again.
100% Acetone Nail Polish Remover
The number 1 recommended household substance to use for cleaning coins is 100% acetone nail polish remover. For this process you will need an aluminium pie pan, a soft cloth, and access to a sink (with a plug blocker or filter to ensure the pennies don’t get washed away!).
Note that its ok for coins to be exposed to the acetone for a short amount of time, but it’s not ok to get it on your skin and avoid contact with your eyes at all costs! Make sure you wear rubber gloves and complete the cleaning in a well ventilated area.
Pour the acetone into the aluminium pie dish, enough to submerge the coin fully under the surface. It’s important to use an aluminium dish because acetone will eat its way through plastic. Let the coin sit in the acetone for a couple of minutes and remove it to inspect the work. Run it under the tap and pat dry gently with the soft cloth.
This method will remove debris and surface contaminants, and help prevent further damage from oxidation in the case of copper content coins. It may not make the coin look shiny and new, but this is the best method for preserving the coin carefully and maintain its value.
Many people’s first thought is vinegar when it comes to cleaning small, stubbornly corroded metal items. It can certainly be a person’s best friend when it comes to cleaning copper pennies and rusted items. So here’s how to clean a penny with vinegar:
Get a small glass (or another kind of non-corrosive container) and fill it with some white vinegar – just enough to submerge a coin below the surface. Soak your penny in the vinegar for a minimum of 30 minutes. Ideally you want to soak it overnight for the best effect but don’t soak it for longer than that.
Once your penny has soaked, wipe it with a soft, clean cloth or even scrub it carefully with a soft toothbrush. It’s the acetic acid in white vinegar that’s the super cleaning ingredient when it comes to dirty and corroded coins.
Similarly, lemon juice will help to clean your coin in the same way as vinegar, due to the citric acid naturally present in lemons. You can substitute vinegar with lemon juice if needed.
Vinegar And Salt
You may have heard about how to clean a penny with vinegar and salt. Many people find this the method which produces the shiniest results, but be aware it can be a corrosive process. Only use this method if you are not worried about devaluing your pennies.
Vinegar or lemon juice can be used as the acidic component. Add quarter of a cup of vinegar to a glass jar, mix one teaspoon of salt into the liquid until it has fully dissolved. Place your penny in the bottom of the jar so it is fully submerged and leave it there for around 5 minutes.
Check if the penny has the bright shine you are looking for. If not, you can let it sit another 5 minutes and check again. But be warned – do not let it soak for more than 15 minutes in total! Run the penny under warm water and pat dry with a soft cloth.
If you would like to achieve a mirror shine to the penny’s surface, try buffing it up with a silverware polishing cloth.
If you’re wondering how to clean pennies without vinegar, there are several other naturally acidic household ingredients you can try…
Another popular acidic household ingredient when it comes to cleaning pennies is tomato ketchup. It is not one of the best or most widely recommended techniques, but you can give it a try if you have none of the other ingredients at home. Here’s how to clean a penny with ketchup:
Put a generous squeeze of ketchup into a small container, ideally ceramic, glass or plastic. Use a soft toothbrush to dip into the ketchup and gently scrub the surface of the penny with it. Careful, circular motions with the brush are ideal in order to coat the surface and work the ketchup in.
But how long does it take ketchup to clean a penny? It depends on how dirty the penny is and how acidic your ketchup is. It should take around a minute for the penny to shine up nicely. If it hasn’t achieved the level you desire, rinse it off under warm water and pat it dry with a soft cloth, then try a different method.
If you’re wondering how to clean a penny with coke, the method is very similar to the vinegar method. Find a small container made from ceramic, glass or plastic and fill it with coke – enough to submerge a penny. Place the penny in the coke and leave it for around 5 minutes.
But how long does it take coke to clean a penny? Remove the penny and check it out – if its done the job then rinse it off under warm water and pat it dry with a soft cloth. If you want it a little shinier, place it back in the coke for another 5 minutes. Be warned, don’t soak it for more than 15 minutes! Coke becomes corrosive when a coin is left in it for a prolonged period.
Now let’s get onto how to clean pennies with baking soda. Note that you can also try Bon Ami, a popular cleanser that can be found in most household stores. Place the baking soda in a small container and mix in water little by little until a smooth paste is formed.
Then, use a soft toothbrush or your thumb and forefinger to rub the paste into the surface of the penny using gentle circular motions. After 30 seconds to 1 minute, rinse the penny and the toothbrush or your fingers off under warm water, and pat it dry with a soft cloth.
This is not recommended for multiple pennies as the paste can cause abrasion to your fingers if you are repeating the process several times.
When it comes to how to clean a coin with toothpaste, the method is very similar to the baking soda method. You can also use this for cleaning silver coins, but be aware that most toothpastes are abrasive and will cause micro-scratches, devaluing the coin.
It has been found that tartar toothpaste works the best, but theoretically any toothpaste will work fine. You can gently scrub the penny and work toothpaste into the surfaces with your fingers or a soft toothbrush. Do this for 30 seconds to 1 minute, and rinse the coin off under warm water to have a look at the progress. Use a soft cloth to pat the coin dry.
How To Clean Pennies In Bulk
Perhaps you have a whole batch of pennies that you’d like to shine up good and proper? We will mention a few methods for how to clean pennies in bulk to help you choose the best technique for your stash. Use a large, shallow container ideally made from ceramic or glass to clean pennies in bulk, and make sure you space them out so they are not touching or over-lapping.
- A fast liquid method – vinegar, lemon juice or coke can be purchased in large quantities for a reasonable price. You can submerge many pennies at once in liquids. You can use a slotted or spaghetti spoon to remove individual pennies that may be reacting faster to the acidic liquids, and leave the dirtier pennies submerged for longer. But be sure not to let them soak for more than 15 minutes!
- The vinegar and salt method – many people swear by this method being the fastest and most efficient for cleaning pennies.
- The acetone method – a large aluminium pie dish is suitable for soaking several pennies at once using the 100% acetone nail polish remover method.
Be aware that all these methods use fast-acting, acidic or abrasive ingredients which may lead to damage and corrosion. Do not soak the pennies for long and make sure you rinse them off properly and pat them dry with a soft cloth. Cleaning will cause micro-scratches, damaging and devaluing coins, so consult a professional coin cleaner if you want to maintain the value of your coin collection.