Helpful Tips

How to Clean Copper Cookware

Row of shiny clean

Learning how to clean copper cookware will help you keep your pots and pans looking great and display-worthy. Unfortunately, cleaning tarnished cooper can be a complicated process, especially if you’re dealing with severely tarnished pots and pans that you’ve neglected to polish for years. Sometimes household products can do the trick, but in other cases, you’ll need to use some heavy-duty products to get the job done right. If you’re new to copper cookware ownership, then you’ve come to the right place. I’ll go over the different cleaning methods you can try, what works, what doesn’t, and what you can do to prevent discoloration in the future.

How to Avoid Copper Cookware Discoloration

Copper has a reputation as being very difficult to clean. While it does require some special attention periodically and there are important steps regarding how to clean the pots and pans, if you stay on top of upkeep, it’s easy to prevent discoloration in the future. I’ve included some basic cleaning methods that you can try that will prevent discoloration from occurring, can tackle any discoloration you’re currently dealing with, and can restore your copper cookware to its former glory.

Remember, regular upkeep will prevent discoloration. So once you clean your cookware and get rid of the discoloration, from that point on you will need to clean your cookware using these effective methods to keep them looking display-worthy. Additionally, always dry your cookware after washing. Water is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to tarnished cookware.

Salvaging Your Cookware

Cookware that’s severely discolored is enough to cause many people to toss it out and purchase a new set. But even cookware that’s in bad shape can be restored, with the right cleaning method.

Even the best copper cookware will become tarnished at some point, especially if you’ve never owned this type of cookware before and don’t know how to properly clean it to prevent discoloration. The easiest method that works for cleaning this type of cookware is white wine vinegar and a soft sponge, with some basic table salt. The vinegar and salt combined work to dissolve the discoloration on the pans. It’s a great, homemade alternative to harmful chemical-heavy products, but it may not work for cookware that’s severely tarnished.

Washing Copper Cookware

In many cases, a little dish soap and some hot water can clean up your cookware. But it’s crucial that you dry the cookware after you’ve washed it. If water is left in the pots and pans when stored, it will encourage tarnish to form. After you wash the cookware, do not allow it to airdry. Instead, dry the cookware using a soft cloth and store appropriately.

Commercial Cleaners

If you’re dealing with green and blue patina or black spots, then try using a copper cleaner that’s mildly abrasive. Begin by sprinkling the cleaner on the affected areas and use a damp sponge to scrub the spot. Next, rinse the cookware in warm water and dry thoroughly.

Salt and Lemon

The acidity in lemon and the salt’s abrasiveness will make short work of cookware that’s mildly tarnished. To use this method, take a lemon and cut it in half. Next, you’ll sprinkle the surface of the cookware with the salt. Use a sponge to scrub the tarnished spots. Rinse thoroughly and dry with a towel.

Cornstarch and Salt

Cornstarch and salt, when combined, can make a very powerful tarnish treatment. For this cleaner, you’ll mix a tablespoon of coarse salt with one tablespoon of lemon juice, and a tablespoon of cornstarch.

Mix these ingredients together and rub it on the surface of the pots and pans using a soft cloth. Allow the mixture to sit on the cookware for fifteen minutes before rubbing at the spots again. Rinse off the cookware using warm water. This cleanser tends to work well on stubborn stains and can also be used to remove grease stains from cast iron cookware.

Baking Soda and Lemon Juice

Use equal parts baking soda and lemon juice, rubbing the tarnished spots on the cookware using a soft cloth. The acid in the lemon juice and the mildly abrasive baking soda will help to dissolve the tarnish. Allow the mixture to sit for ten minutes before rinsing off. Dry the cookware by hand.

Vinegar

Soak a cloth in white wine vinegar and scrub at any tarnished areas on the surface of the cookware. Once the cloth has become dirty from the tarnish, use a new cloth and continue to scrub until the pots and pans are clean. Rinse off each pot and pan with warm water and dry by hand.

Worcestershire Sauce

One of the best and least aggressive cleaning products for copper is Worcestershire sauce. To use, you’ll soak a sponge in the sauce and rub it all over the surface of the cookware, allowing it to sit for five minutes. Next, rinse off the cookware and dry it promptly.

Tomato Paste

The acid in tomatoes, like the acid in lemons, provides the cleaning power. Because tomato paste is so thick, the paste will remain in place as long as you need it to. Allow the paste to sit on the pots and pans for as long as possible. For severely tarnished cookware, I recommend allowing the paste to remain for half an hour. Once the time is up, take a soft cloth and rub the surface of the pots and pans using a circular motion. Rinse off the mixture using mild dish soap and warm water and dry by hand. If there’s still tarnish present, then repeat this treatment as many times as necessary.

Cream of Tartar

Cream of tartar is slightly abrasive and mildly acidic. Use two tablespoons of cream of tartar with one tablespoon of lemon juice, mix together to form a paste. Apply this mixture to the surface of the cookware using a soft cloth. Rinse off the cookware using warm water.

Tough Stains

If you’re dealing with some serious tarnish, it’s going to require some extra scrubbing power. You can use an abrasive sponge on tougher spots, but keep in mind that this can scratch the surface of the cookware.

When you’re dealing with copper that’s badly tarnished, you may be tempted to grab a steel wool pad and get to work, but this is a huge mistake. Abrasive sponges and cleaning pads such as steel wool can scratch copper, leaving it damaged. The safest way to get rid of tarnish is to use a homemade paste.

For pots and pans, you can’t do much to prevent the cookware from tarnishing in the future, aside from staying on top of polishing it and cleaning it properly. For decorative copper, you can add a type of clear coat, but this isn’t safe for cookware.

Polishing

Before you polish copper to restore it’s shine after you’ve removed the tarnish, you will need to wash it. Place your cookware in the sink and use mild dish soap and warm water. Use a gentle sponge and focus on any remaining tarnished spots. Most copper pots and pans are lined with tin, aluminum, or stainless steel.

Tarnish is actually a thick layer of corrosion that occurs on all types of metal including brass and silver. Tarnish is a normal reaction that occurs over time and is caused by exposure to air and water. In order to prevent tarnish, you can polish your cookware twice a year using a copper cleaner.

You can make your own polish or you can purchase one.

Important Cookware Care Tips

  • Never put copper cookware in a dishwasher and avoid using cleaners that contain bleach. Never use abrasive products, even if the manufacturer claims it’s safe to use on copper.
  • Never heat dry this type of cookware. When copper pans and pots are heated without food or a type of oil in them, the lining will begin to degrade.
  • If you notice any damaged areas in your cookware, then you must avoid using it until it’s repaired. This is especially true for pots and pans with damaged tin lining.
  • For aesthetic and practical reasons, you may want to avoid polishing your cookware in order to allow it to age naturally. When it comes to copper, a patinated surface becomes more thermally efficient and harder. A pro chef will cultivate a dark patina in order to get the most out of their cookware.
  • Never scour the tin lining in your cookware. This will cause the soft lining to wear away in spots, at a much faster rate than normal. In order to remove cooked-on foods, try filling the cookware with dish soap and warm water, then place it on the stove and allow it to simmer for ten to fifteen minutes. To speed up the process, try using a scraper that’s made out of bamboo or another type of wood that will not damage the tin lining. This can be repeated until the cooked-on food can be removed.
  • Never sear food in a copper pan. The lining in a copper pan can melt at four hundred and fifty degrees. In order to sear meat, you need to use a high temperature. So, if you need to sear meat, try using a pan that’s made out of stainless steel, aluminum, or cast iron. You can use your copper cookware to cook chicken breast and brown ground beef.
  • Always use silicone or wooden utensils with copper cookware. This will help to prevent scratching the delicate lining.
  • Some people love the tarnished look of copper, while others prefer the bright polished look. If you want to keep your copper highly polished and display-worthy, then polish it as soon as you notice tarnish begin to develop, or every six months, whichever comes first.
  • If you’ve decided to purchase copper cookware that has a lining that’s made out of tin then at some point the cookware will need to be re-tinned. Typically, re-tinning is needed every ten to twenty years. This will usually depend on how often you use your cookware. If you’re not sure whether or not your pots and pans need to be re-tinned, look for an area of copper that’s showing through the lining that’s the size of a quarter. If you want to play it safe, have your cookware re-tinned at the first sign of damage.

When to Throw in the Towel

If you’ve tried to clean your cookware using many of the methods that I’ve included here, and commercial products, with no success, then it may be time to throw in the towel and purchase a new set of copper cookware. If you do decide to buy a new set, you now know why it’s so important to stay on top of cleaning and polishing it. By properly caring for your cookware you can avoid serious tarnish. If you’re searching for a new set, one that’s durable, beautiful, and priced affordably, I recommend the Lagostina Martellata Set.

Final Thoughts

Learning how to clean copper cookware will teach you how to properly care for your cookware in the future and can make taking care of your cookware much easier. Copper cookware doesn’t have to be difficult to maintain, as long as you use the right cleaner, dry your cookware after you’ve washed it, and stay on top of polishing it every six months. With the treatments that I’ve included here, you should be able to restore your cookware’s beautiful finish. Keep in mind, when you’re dealing with moderately or severely tarnished cookware, you may need to repeat these cleaning treatments two to three times. With a little TLC and some elbow grease, you’ll have your copper cookware looking new in no time.