Tips For Cleaning Coins: How To Clean The Old, Dirty Coins In Your Collection

penny-cleaned-with-taco-bell-fire-sauce-by-Ken-Wilcox.jpg I just want to start off by saying that, as a collector, I do not condone coin cleaning. In almost all cases, cleaning a coin will decrease its value.

But I know a lot of you may have some extremely dirty coins that can only benefit from a good cleaning, so I’m going to share some methods that have been known to clean coins.

I have not tested very many of these because I don’t clean many of my coins. But maybe one of these methods will help you.

 

Reasons NOT To Clean Coins

Say that a coin is in excellent condition, it has full LIBERTY, all fine lines and details are clear, but there is a little tarnish or black junk that shows on the details of the coin… I would say DO NOT clean this coin at all. Period.

Why?

Because even if a high grade coin has tarnish or a little blackness build-up around the details, it’s still going to be worth a lot more to a collector as it is than if you clean it.

I have cleaned coins myself on occasion, but only in instances where the coin had such bad build-up that cleaning the coin would help the value. Or, when the coin was worthless to begin with. I even have a trick for cleaning silver coins that have a little bit of black buildup (see below).

But first, here are some coin cleaning methods that others have used…

 

Free & Fast Methods For Cleaning Copper Pennies

#1  Ketchup for copper

Yes ketchup. Simply grab a bottle of ketchup from your fridge and smear a little on the penny. Most of these methods work best on pennies before 1982 since they are mostly copper, new pennies are zinc. Now take a toothbrush and LIGHTLY scrub to work the ketchup into all the fine areas. Now rinse the penny under warm water.

ketchup-bottle.jpg
AYE! The penny looks weird now huh? A dull pinkish color… Now make a concoction out of baking soda and a little water to form a paste. Rub this compound all over the penny with your fingers and it should bring the shine back to it.

 

 

#2  Taco Bell taco sauce

taco-bell-sauce-packets-by-jackace.jpgBite open one of these little free packets of sauce from your local Taco Bell and rub it on your penny. Let it sit for a few minutes or you can brush it in lightly like in method one for better results. Rinse with warm water. If the penny is again a funny pink color, use the baking soda solution from method 1.

 

#3  Tabasco sauce

Repeat all instructions from methods one and two except use Tabasco sauce.

 

#4  Salt & vinegar

salt-on-a-teaspoon.jpgWhat do ketchup, taco sauce, and Tabasco sauce all have in common? Salt and vinegar. Two common household items. For this method, you will need dull uncleaned pennies, 1/4 cup of white vinegar, 1 or 2 teaspoons of salt, and a bowl. Put the salt into the bowl. Next, pour in vinegar and stir until the salt dissolves. Finally, dip a penny into the solution and hold it there for about 20 seconds. Remove the penny.

What do you see? Uh huh… now dump the rest of your uncleaned pennies into the liquid and let them set for 5 minutes or so. After the 5 minutes, immediately take them to the sink and rinse them well under warm water. This is a very important step because rinsing them stops the reaction between the salt & vinegar and the pennies. If you do not rinse them, then this solution on the pennies — combined with oxygen — will cause another reaction. Ever find a penny that is totally encrusted with blueish green stuff? That’s what will happen to your pennies if you don’t rinse them.

I want to add here that I have actually tried this salt & vinegar method back when I started collecting coins. It did take all the nasty stuff off of my pennies, but I was left with very pinkish dull looking coins. However, this was before I knew of the baking soda & water combination that is supposed to bring back the shine to them.

sliced-lemons-for-lemon-juice.jpgI’ve never tried this method since then with the baking soda & water mixture to see if they come out well, so I would practice on a few dull pocket change pennies first.

 

#5  Lemon juice & salt

Place your pennies in a shallow dish and cover them with lemon juice and salt. Supposedly there is no need for rubbing or scrubbing with this method. After a few minutes, rinse the pennies and they should be bright and shiny.

 

#6  Pencil eraser
pencil.jpg
I haven’t ever tried this, but I’ve heard and read that if you take a pencil eraser and gently start rubbing the coin that it will eventually become bright and shiny again. You’ll want to use some caution with this method as I’ve also head of people removing mint marks this way.

For example, a 1922 D wheat cent worth $12.00 could easily become a 1922 “no D” wheat cent worth $1,200.00 with enough rubbing. Never do this intentionally! This is fraud and counterfeiting and is illegal. Especially if you take it to a coin dealer who will examine the coin under a scope and determine that it has been altered.

Other Methods For Cleaning Coins

Digital Ultrasonic Cleaner

digital-ultrasonic-cleaner-for-coins.jpgThis is an electric ultrasonic device that is supposed to clean your coins and jewelry (or whatever you want) by using warm tap water and ultrasonic waves. However, if you’re going to use this device, I would recommend using a copper cleaning solution instead of warm tap water for better results.

My father owns a machine like this and I have tried this method. One time, I had a handful of Indian head pennies that were so black that you couldn’t make out any detail or date at all on them. So I dumped them into this machine with a copper cleaning solution. It did clean about half of them pretty well, but the other half were either left still very black or a very unnatural goldish pink color.

Now, this may be a fault on my part because most Indian head pennies are bronze and not copper, so you may have much better luck. But really the only difference between bronze and copper is that a very very small percentage of nickel is replaced by a small amount of tin and zinc.copper-cleaner.jpg

 

Copper cleaner
There are several different brands of copper cleaner on the market today that are supposed to bring copper back to its original shine. I haven’t tried one, but I would imagine that it’s some concoction like the free methods above — except a little more concentrated and better. This would probably work well for cleaning pennies.

 

silver-foam-cleaner.jpg

Silver cleaner
If you have some low-grade silver coins that are only worth their weight in silver, then by all means go ahead and try to clean them with any method you wish to try to get a few extra bucks out of them. In the end, they’re still going to be silver and at least worth the price of silver. If you’re going to clean them, you may as well use some kind of cheap silver cleaner. It will do the job just fine.

NOTE: For medium-high grade silver coins, I do not recommend any silver cleaning product or previously mentioned method at all. Just let them be (…unless you want to use my nifty little trick that I explain next).

 

Here’s My Method Of Cleaning Coins

Today, as a more experienced coin collector, this is the only method I use to clean coins. (But I never do this to a high-grade coin.) This works best on silver, but if you have a copper coin that has a lot of black in it, then this will help a little also. This was shown to me a few years ago by a local coin dealer who has been selling coins for over 25 years.

baking-soda-as-a-household-cleaner.jpgSo what’s the secret? Simple baking soda — by itself. Get a small pinch of baking soda between your fingers and just start rubbing the coin over and over. Again, if it’s a non-silver coin it will help a little, but on a silver coin it will make it look 80% better.

I’ve done this several times with Morgan dollar coins from the 1800’s. I’ll buy the Morgan silver dollar from the circulated junk silver box at one of the local coin stores for about $13.00. If it is a little worn and has a lot of tarnish and black build-up on most of the coin, then I’ll take it home and rub at it with some baking soda. After a few seconds… viola! A mostly bright shiny looking Morgan silver dollar that collectors won’t look at and say… “It’s been cleaned,” because they’ll never know. After I’ve cleaned my 13 dollar coins this way, I take them down to the local auction barn where people there gladly pay $25.00 or more for a Morgan silver dollar in very nice shiny condition!

TIP: If you have a silver coin that is very very blackened or stubborn, try using a dab of water while rubbing the baking soda in. That should help.

DISCLAIMER: As I have mentioned, I do not condone cleaning coins — especially high grade coins. So I feel the need to remind you that all methods of cleaning coins mentioned in this article are to be used at your own risk. Most of them are untested by me and could produce a variety of different results, including reactions or blemishes that could possibly ruin your coin altogether. In general, lower grade coins may benefit from cleaning. But for higher grade coins, I would recommend leaving them alone, because they will be worth more to collectors in their original uncleaned state.

Jay

I have been collecting and trading coins for years. Coin collecting is a hobby for me, and I've done a lot of research about coins through the years.

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  • :)

    Great site
    Helped me loads with my science assessment

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for stopping by and letting us know you found the site helpful!

  • Troubsbk

    When you resell these CLEANED Morgan Dollars. Do you in fact tell them they’ve been cleaned or proccessed. I cant help to feel bad for the victim Whos investing $25 for a $13 coin. Whats the purpose of putting never try and erase a 1922 D mm off of the coin. It sounds like a few of your local people probably have bought one of these oops its a 1922 no D cents. I’m dont want to come across like a dick or anything but we have to many disshonest people out their selling coins. So when your leaving messages to the younger gen. they see this as acceptable behavior. If it were me I would of only charged $24. LOL

    • Anonymous

      Troub,

      As for my two cents, I don’t advocate cleaning coins and, if I ever cleaned a coin or knew I had one and was going to sell it, it would DEFINITELY be labeled as “cleaned”…

  • guest

    My dad found a bunch of coins.. but they have lots of gross and icky stuff stuck to them.. theres lots here.. just dont know how to clean them..

    • Anonymous

      Hi,

      It depends what that gross, icky stuff is… In general, if the debris doesn’t come off with pure  water, then you may want to have a professional coin cleaner take care of the job; using any other solvents or rubbing the coins may damage them.

  • Cowgirl1700

    what do YOU believe is the best way?

    • Anonymous

      Cowgirl,

      Unless you can clean a coin with pure water, the only best way is to have a skilled professional clean a coin, and even then only if it must be cleaned to be properly identified.

  • Den

    thanks it helped

  • rookie999

    hii..
    is there any other solutions for removing pinkish colour.. baking soda help a little but not so good
    thx

  • Pat%ric

    be careful with vinegar, it will ruin your coins if left too long-like 24 hours-will ruin green patina. I use olive oil and malt vinegar, (never together). Method is to soak coins for a few short hours in vinegar; then rinse with washing-up liquid and water, then soak for 24 hours in olive oil. This method is continued for as long as it takes—days, weeks, months. Works a treat on ancient coins. Copper coins that are blackened or rough to the touch are very very hard to restore, perhaps impossible. Because of this many coins are reduced to scrap by the use of caustic-soda, chemicals, abrasives, grinders.

  • http://twitter.com/deepabyss100 Laura A

    I had sea salt in my shaker and white vinigear in my cupboard. I didn`t measure anything…just added some of each into a little tiny dip cup. Stirred it with a spoon and within 10 secs they were changing to that original shiny penny. Quick and Easy. Thanks so much for the tip! Now…on to the next thing! Laura

  • http://twitter.com/deepabyss100 Laura A

    Correction..they do look a little dull…tried the lemon and salt….buffed them a bit with a tea towel and see good improvement. Will do fine for the project I`m making with them.

  • Joe

    I have been given about 200 old coins from around the world from about 1930-1980 mainly around 1940’s, what should I do with them?! Help please! There are some notes too.

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      Hi, Joe –

      The value of those coins will vary widely based on upon rather they are silver or gold, what nations those coins are from, and what specific dates they were made, among other factors. While I would need those types of specifics to suggest potential values, what I can say is that if you are interested in selling those coins, I would take them to your local coin dealer. Here is a post on how to find a good coin dealer: http://coins.thefuntimesguide.com/2009/12/coin_dealer.php

      And here is a search engine where you can find reputable coin dealers near you: http://www.pngdealers.com/dealersearch.php

  • Jerry

    I have some pennies that where in a book and the sleeves where made of PVC. Now they have some green gunk on them. I know its corrosive, so it has to come off. I don’t want to take the tarnish off, just the green stuff.

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      Hi, Jerry –

      The safest thing to do in terms of your coins is to let them soak in acetone (pure acetone, not nail polish remover, which has chemical additives that can adversely affect your coins) for at least 12 hours.

      The downside to using acetone is that you need to be extremely cautious around it and must use it only in a ventilated area.

      Good luck!

  • js4strings

    I just used the baking soda trick for cleaning silver, it works like a charm, doesn’t damage the coin and makes them look so much better. Thanks for the tip, I inherited a bunch of coins and some were so black that you could barely see them. Now they look really nice,

  • js4strings

    What do you consider an especially high grade?

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      Hi, JS –

      That’s a somewhat subjective question that must take into account a coin’s age and relative availability at certain grade levels. As for modern coins, “especially high-grade” coins are those that are Mint-State 67 or higher, in most cases.

  • mira butler

    would you consider cleaning coins a good science fair project to see which liquid cleans better