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



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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.

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

Bite 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

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What 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.

I’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

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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

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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

This 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
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 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 Favorite Way To Clean 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.

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So 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. Or try baking soda with vinegar, as seen in this video:

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.

65 thoughts on “Tips For Cleaning Coins: How To Clean The Old, Dirty Coins In Your Collection

  1. 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

    1. 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”…

  2. 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..

    1. 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.

    1. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

    1. 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: https://coins.thefuntimesguide.com/coin_dealer/

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

  7. 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.

    1. 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!

  8. 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,

    1. Yes, but you’ve affected the coins’ surfaces at a chemical level. If any of them were worth more than their melt value, using a reactive chemical such as baking soda knocked more than a few percent off what a collector would pay.

    1. 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.

    1. Hi Mira,

      I usually recommend against cleaning coins, but in the name of science and education, trying different agents on common Lincoln cents worth face value (most of the made since 1959) would be a good idea.

      Here are some ideas to help you: https://coins.thefuntimesguide.com/how-to-clean-coins/

  9. I forgot to add this from my previous message, sorry kids.
    ———————————
    Bring it home, shake it very well, and use about 1” to 2” so it covers the coins. Once the coins are in the cup, stir them to coat the coins well. Then let them sit 2 – 4 hours.
    From here, take each 1 out at a time, and rub with your thumbs back and forth fast and well roughly 12 times, turn the coin over, and do the same – You’ll see the liquid turn black. Keep an old large rag handy ( that you might not want to user again ). As you rub thoroughly, you will see the serious shine come. You honestly won’t tell that of the old coin to the new mint coin !
    Only drawback – waiting !! Go shopping, do housework, whatever you busy yourself with, the coins will clean easier, OK ?

    1. As several of us have noted, DO NOT attempt this with any silver coins or any others that may be valuable to a collector.

    2. As Hammond stated, “DO NOT” attempt this with any silver coins!
      I might make an exception and would only do so with coins which have been heavily worn, if you are into wanting shinny silver, but if you do this with a coin which has value higher than spot you will reduce the coin to one with no collector value and only one you can sell for spot or under.

      Many people mistake a dark or colored tinted coin, which may be the result of a “Toned” coin, as a dirty coin. Toning can take many years to impact a coins surface and to many collectors original toning on a coin is worth more to them than a shinny coin. A coins original surface is critical to it’s value, toning does not diminish the surface quality in many peoples opinions.
      Therefore, I would not clean a coin unless it is heavily worn, so purchase a Jewelers magnifying glass and make sure the coins you clean are of no value above the daily spot value of silver and do research about the coins you are thinking of cleaning as they may very well be worth much more if left alone.

  10. Any Abrasive agents such as baking soda, toothpaste, etc Will damage the coin and Coin collectors WILL KNOW an be able to tell because of the micro scratches and this devalues a coin. If you find a coin that may be valuable DO NOT CLEAN IT. If you do do, a coin worth 150.00 is now worth about 35.00 Send picture or take it to an expert before doing something that in the end you will kick yourself.

    1. Baking soda is highly abrasive, I recommend allowing the baking soda to sit in water until it is completely dissolved, even then you have to be careful. Rubbing dry baking soda on a coin will, as you said, cause micro scratches”, even larger so when someone buys that $13 coins for $25 and uses their glass to evaluate it they would certainly know it has been cleaned.
      I have used backing soda dissolved in water, I only use the surface water to avoid any granules which have not dissolved to get on the coin.
      This is the best method of cleaning a coin at home, certainly not using straight baking soda.

      1. I would even go one step further and not use any baking soda or other additives at all. The safest way to clean a coin (and only for removing loose debris) is to place it under gently running tepid water. In the eyes of most numismatists, virtually any other method technically renders the coin cleaned and thus lowers its value.

        I hope this adds another perspective to this controversial numismatic matter!

        Best,
        Josh

        1. You are most likely correct as you never want to impact the surface of a highly graded coin. The only way to safely clean coins is the method you mentioned, then rinse in distilled water, that is suppose to keep spotting from occurring.
          I don’t know how anyone can tell if a coin has been cleaned in baking soda which has completely dissolved, but then I am not a professional with regard to this issue.
          Thanks for your input. For the highest of graded coins, I would use distilled water and nothing else and allow to air dry standing up and remember not to breath on the coin, that too impacts the surface.
          Additionally a blue moon at 12:35 AM will also impact the surface of a coin so you never want to expose your coins to a blue moon at that time, but wait one minute and your coins will be fine.

          1. Hi Flyercrazy —

            Believe it or not, even dissolved baking soda can impart tiny hairline scratches on a coin’s surface that can be seen under 10X magnification. Indeed, coin collectors look for these things and will pay far less for a cleaned (damaged) coin than one that has natural flow lines, or tiny ripples of metal created when the strike is made on the blank coin.

            Generally speaking, there is never a numismatically good reason to “brighten” a coin up, though there are safe ways to remove loose dirt and grime with that aforementioned gently running water, which can be gently removed with light pats of a soft towel.

            Happy collecting!
            Josh

          2. Hi Josh,
            You are absolutely correct, thank you so much for following up on my comment. I would imagine even by only using the surface water from dissolved baking soda there may indeed be tiny particles floating around which would definitely impact the surface resulting in horrible scratches reducing the value tremendously, especially if the coin is in BU or higher condition.
            We all have learned to love the original surfaces, therefore attempting to clean it other than how you described would be detrimental to the coin.
            I will only use your process unless I have coins which have been heavily circulated and have the original surface damaged or all together diminished.
            New collectors like shinny coins and do not understand just because a coins looks shiny does not mean it is any better than a coin which is not as many will confuse natural toning with a dirty coin. This is something I did when I was 13, I ended up using Comet &^%&e& to clean the heavily toned Morgan dollars he left for me, most of which he collected before the 1940’s. I look back at that day with utter disappointment. I still, 50 years after cleaning them, have the original coins he left me, just think of how the toning would look today had I known better.
            Thanks again for your comment, my days of cleaning coins are over, possibly with the exception of heavily worn coins.
            Best regards and happy collecting to you,
            Jim

          3. I agree. However, for a ‘keeper’ coin with high sentimental value, the original Josh Method has been a real blessing. Now, onto my grampa’s 1886 birth year silver dollar.

  11. I stupidly put pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters in vinegar and now the nickels, dimes and quarters all have some copper residue…and I can’t get rid of it. Any ideas?

  12. Ken Cliffe has it nailed. THERE IS NO GOOD WAY TO CLEAN COLLECTIBLE COINS AT HOME!!!

    If you have ANY idea that a coin may be valuable the best thing to do is talk to a professional – a dealer, an appraiser, a restorer – before opening your kitchen or bathroom cabinets. OK, if you have a bunch of common-date pennies that you grabbed from pocket change there’s nothing wrong with trying ketchup or some other condiment just for fun or as part of a science project. OTOH if you have your grandfather’s Indian cent collection, LIE DOWN until the urge to clean it goes away.

  13. For mint condition coins or those with very minor scratches that are only visible to the eyes upon inspection, is there nothing one can do to simply disinfect a coin?

    1. Hi, Ray —

      Disinfect a coin? There really is no need to do that, for the most part. Coins with high volumes of copper and silver disinfect themselves anyway.

  14. Hello , Joshua. I have aissue with the green that comes from the coins being in plastic they’re not key date or rare I done the ketchup. I’m trying to save them but I don’t want to clean it with a toothbrush something I read about using acetone that I’m trying not to ruin that color because once you clean it with anything else it takes all of them so it’s not a good any advice would be appreciated thank you very much

    1. Hi, David —

      Acetone is indeed one of the best mediums for removing PVC residue. It’s important to bear in mind that the acetone bath is really effective only for coins that haven’t been physically damaged by the PVC. I suggest you follow all safety precautions in using acetone (wear protective clothing and use in only a well-ventilated area). You could try placing your coin in a shallow dish of acetone, flipping the coin onto each side after 30 seconds of exposure. You could use a Q-tip to apply acetone on certain stubborn areas. This isn’t guaranteed to work, but is one of the best ways to safely remove PVC.

      Good luck!
      Josh

  15. Hello, numismatists! I have a question. There is a video on YouTube that shows a cleaning method for lower-quality coins. The author froze vinegar for half an hour and poured out the liquid portion, leaving some slush. To this he added some hydrogen peroxide. To this he added a coin. It sat, and he never rubbed or touched it. Then he rinsed it in distilled water. What are your opinions on this method? Thank you.

    1. Hi, Daphne —

      The only opinion I have to kindly offer on this as a numismatist is to simply not clean your coins at all. There is no need to clean a coin unless one is trying to artificially make it look shinier than it is. Doing so ruins the coin’s surface and thus drastically lowers its values. My suggestion is to leave your coins as you found them.

      Best,
      Josh

  16. I had some pennies stored in a plastic bag and verdigris formed on them. Most were dated 1982 and prior. The lemon and salt helped clean them. Thanks for the cleaning advice; I don’t have to shamefacedly hand over tarnished coins when buying gum 😀 , sorry mine wasn’t a serious numismatic use but I have received new knowledge on this art. If I ever start, i’ll be sure to remember

  17. Please do not clean any coins via any of the methods mentioned in this article you will end up with ‘shiny’ coins sure but you will destroy any numismatic value of the coins you have.

  18. I put 8 United States Lincoln Pennies (1958, 1964, 1967, 1968, 1972, 1973, 1977 ,and 1978)

    I also put 1 Canadian Penny (1988)

    I put them all in a solution, containing: (Half a bowl of “White Distilled Vinegar”, 1 or 2 Tsp of “Pure Baking Soda”, and 1 or 2 Tsp of “Container Salt”.)

    The result of it was decent (cleaner than before). The “1972” Lincoln Penny was excellent, it shined more than the others. (I pat dried all of the pennies with a cotton ball before I continued, I added a little more vinegar and salt. Then, I rinsed the remaining salt and other substances of the pennies with water and liquid soap. Then I pat dried them with a towel or cloth. (I recommend scrubbing or wiping any remaining dirt particles with a cotton ball and/or with a non-used or slightly-used large bristle toothbrush. (Do this before you rinse off the pennies.)

  19. I have bunch of coins, stamped 1910. I went to gold dealer he said it’s gold. these coins have some black material on them but it looks like it was made to save them ??? what to do

    1. Hi, LPC —

      I’m not sure what this black material is without further descriptions or a photo of the coins in question; would you please post a photo of them?

      Thank you,
      Josh

  20. Thank you. I just bought a couple coins off EBAY that have black stuff on them (what and why is that?) and I’ll just send them in for grading. (They’re really nice other than the black stuff.)

    1. The coins can be put onto mounts to be used as a pendent or bracelet, when the coins are taken back off they will usually leave a black ring around the coin

        1. Hi, Kim —

          This is a 1967 British gold sovereign coin, which is presently worth around $450 to $500.

          Very nice!
          Josh

    1. Yes, sir! Coins exposed to kerosene can eventually experience all types of corrosive results — coins and kerosene are best left separate!

      Thank you for your great question,
      Josh

  21. I have 4 coins but don’t know their worth hope you can help?There are 2 liberty of freedom coins 1 coins 5 pesos and I can’t make out the last one can you help me

    1. Hi, Tammy —

      The best way I’ll be able to help is if you kindly post photos of the coins you’re curious about here in the comments forum.

      Hope I get to assist you further!
      -Josh

  22. I have a safe with monster boxes of BU silver eagles that were submerged in flood waters. This is nasty water and mold is growing in the safe. You say not to clean coins, but this does not seem to be an option in this case. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Hi, Tex —

      This seems like an unusual situation. The safest thing you can do is to rinse them with tepid water, which should remove the mold. I also recommend cleaning out the safe when you get a chance. You might find this info helpful: https://www.howtocleanstuff.net/how-to-remove-musty-smells-from-a-safe/

      Best wishes,
      Josh

  23. Is there a method to clean coins in bulk regardless of their metal composition? Not collectible or valuable coins, just modern, circulated coins. I collect coins from foreign countries when we travel internationally and like to give them to my nieces and nephews or kids in the area, but most of them are quite grimy/dirty from regular use. Maintaining value isn’t important, but would like the clean and shine them up a bit so the design and country information are clearly visible

    1. Hi, Anthony —

      You might try soaking them in acetone for a few seconds; this will remove surface debris and residue without harming the surface of the coins. Of course, I just say be careful with the acetone and use it in a well-ventilated area.

      Best wishes!
      Josh

  24. Thanks very much for the Baking Soda solution; your method worked beautifully on a partially silver [30%] 1943 U.S. nickel…the year of my late parents’ marriage. The coin came out cleaner and more legible, without obvious super-shine…actually the coin looks untouched, with nice finish/patina. I’m very grateful for this tip. Gary K

      1. mUCH APPRECIATED, jOSHUA! I tried the same method for a silver dollar of my mom’s birth year, 1922. The results were stunning and looked clean, but untampered with. I’d never sell this precious coin, but it really appears ‘natural’ to me.

        1. You’re most welcome, Dr. Katz! I’m glad you’re keeping this cherished coin!

          Cheers,
          Josh

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