How To Clean and Polish Copper with Just Two Ingredients

updated Nov 30, 2022
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(Image credit: Erika Tracy)

Copper is beautiful in any state of use, but copper in its shining, polished form is something truly special. It can double as decor in many spaces or add texture galore to a simple table setting.

If you’re looking to spiff up your copper cookware, tackling this kitchen to-do doesn’t require a lot of tools, a trip to the store for supplies, or even much elbow grease. It only requires two little ingredients you probably have in the pantry: lemon and salt.

Credit: Erika Tracy

The Best Way to Clean Copper Is with Lemon and Salt

Lemon and salt rank as an all-star combination for cleaning cutting boards, butcher block countertops, and more. As it turns out, this concoction also makes quick work — instant, really — of removing a dull, well-worn finish from copper pots. Simply add salt to a halved lemon and scrub the copper surface with the lemon. Within seconds, your copper will be gleaming again.

A few things to know about this method:

  • If you’re worried about scratching your copper or working with a delicate piece, squeeze the lemon into a bowl and mix with the salt to form a less-coarse paste.
  • For stubborn, stained areas, you can apply the paste (still with the lemon) and let it sit for a half hour or so, scrubbing periodically.
  • A few stains forged by heat may be too tough for this method, but any piece with simple patina or minimal stain from use should be an easy 10-minute project.
  • This method is not recommended for lacquered copper. How do you know if you have lacquered copper? If the surface of your copper pot has a shiny, glossy finish that does not change color or brown with use, it is most likely lacquered copper.
Credit: Dana Velden

Other Methods for Cleaning and Polishing Copper

Before I settled on the salt and lemon, I tried a quick test of the ketchup method (simply applying ketchup for the same results) and was left with a big mess and dirty pot. What a waste of ketchup!

If you’re short on lemons, you can substitute vinegar for the lemon juice. However, most vinegars are less acidic than lemon juice and may be less effective on heavily tarnished pieces.

And if you’re more of a store-bought product kind of person, these four products should do the job.

But, in my opinion, lemon and salt are the easiest way to put to two ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen to good use. Here’s the step-by-step for cleaning and polishing your copper with lemon and salt.

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Gather your supplies: This process will be easier if you have all of your tarnished copper together in one spot. Once you have all your stuff, go ahead and cut that lemon in half. (Image credit: Erika Tracy)

How To Clean and Polish Copper

What You Need


  • Lemon
  • Table salt


  • Rag/cloth
  • Bowl (optional)


  • Gather your supplies: This process will be easier if you have all of your tarnished copper together in one spot. Once you have all your stuff, go ahead and cut that lemon in half.
  • Add salt: Add salt to the lemon half and rub the copper with the lemon. Use the lemon directly on the surface instead of an applicator, like a rag or sponge. Continue to rub the surface and apply salt as needed until tarnish is removed.
  • Tackle tougher spots with a paste: Squeeze lemon juice into a bowl and mix with salt. Apply to the lemon with a spoon and rub directly on copper. Allowing longer exposure by using a paste will help clean stained or hard-to-reach areas.
  • Rinse and dry: Rinse the pot clean with warm water. Dry thoroughly.
  • Buff: Buff with a dry, clean cloth for additional shine.