A Small Inheritance… Cleaning Old Copper Pots and Pans

September 28th, 2009


My mom’s brother Chuck passed away a few months ago.  Chuck was a passionate, gourmet cook and he left quite a legacy of pots and pans.






Chuck had no family of his own, so my mom had the task of organizing his small estate.  April and I both received some of his cookware.






The copper pots are lovely, but they needed a little cleaning up, so I assembled a few supplies…




Here we have lemons, baking soda, salt and beer.





I began by pouring the beer into a tall glass.





To clean my copper pots, I am using a wheat beer… a Tallgrass wheat beer.  





Spueeze a lemon wedge into your beer.

Please don’t skimp on the lemon… uh… it is for the cleaning.






Add a dash or two of salt.  Everyone knows that the salt does all the scrubbing.





Take a healthy swig to determine if the mixture is correct for your cleaning purposes.

Do you feel clean now?


Then you can begin!






Pick up your first copper pot.





Cut another lemon slice and sprinkle salt on it.






Rub the salted lemon right onto the copper pot.





Layers of tarnish will immediately begin to disappear underneath the salty scrub.



It really is amazing how quickly it works.





If not all the tarnish disappears easily, you might want to make a simple paste.



Mix about a half cup of baking soda with about about a tablespoon of salt.




Squeeze in half a lemon.





The mixture will be very foamy and you might find yourself hearkening back to a certain junior high science experiment involving a volcanic eruption.   





I used the ‘spent’ lemon as a scrubber and applied the mixture to the copper pot.





I was hoping that the pasty concoction would work to get rid of some of those stubborn spots.




About half way through the pots and pans, I ran out of lemons.





I also ran out of beer…






And my jeans, the table, the floor… everything was covered in pasty lemon juice.





But what are a few insufferable hardships in the light of shiny copper pots?!?  

So, I subsituted vinegar for the lemons and made some more paste.





To amp up the scrubbing action, I applied the salt right to the pots.  







You can see how the paste reacts with the copper turning the mixture green.




Once I got everything coated in the pasty mixture, I remembered I had some lemon juice in the back of the fridge.






I used the lemon juice as a rinse agent to wipe off the paste and to get one more layer of tarnish off the old pots.






Then I rinsed everything in warm water and let them dry.





The pots cleaned up very nicely.  






I suppose I could get even more tarnish off of them if I wanted to, but I don’t mind a bit of ‘patina’.












Here’s a before shot…






And here’s an after shot.  


Fancy, shiny pots!

It’s too bad they don’t have a fancy, shiny cook to go with them!


  • Lauren:

    Look Great Rechelle!!!

  • Barb:

    So where did the beer come in, in the cleaning process?

  • Suzan:

    In sheer desperation I tried using tomato sauce because someone recommended it. It worked. I would need the beer to cope with that pile…..

    Enjoy your pots.

  • What a nice legacy!

    That was a lot of work, but it was worth it. They have a great, really wonderfully used — not in a bad way! — look. They might inspire you to whip up a butter sauce or something :)

  • Margaret:

    love the pots but I really love the green bowl. my favorite …

  • Patricia:

    Was the beer a refreshment after all that work ?? !! Great job – they look beautiful.

  • Jennifer:

    If you’d like to get more tarnish off – very easily and with very little mess – get a can of “Bar Keeper’s Friend”. You can google it. Most times you can find it in large grocery stores. It’s sort of like a can of Comet or Ajax but it’s made for copper and stainless steel. We have waterless satinless pots and it’s the only thing that can get them clean with little fuss. You wet the pot, pour some directly on the pots and wipe it clean with a damp paper towel. You may have to do it several times but I bet it will get all the left over tarnish off if you do it a couple times. Although, if you like the tarnish that’s left, you can completely ignore everything I just said and enjoy :)

  • Jennifer:

    Oh – Bar Keeper’s Friend is also great for cleaning stainless steel and ceramic sinks. They’ll look brand new!

  • Gorgeous! Those pots don’t need a fancy shiny cook anyway. Just a cook that loves them for being them.

    (For sure don’t try to cook anything acidic in them, especially if they are older.)

  • I actually like them better with a little bit of patina than perfectly shiny new. It adds character. That is also what I’m saying about my grey hairs and laugh lines. Do NOT dare contradict me on this. Just agree and we can all be happy. Or nod and smile as you slowly back away. Just don’t interfere with my delusions.

  • martina:

    I always use Revere Copper Cleaner. Barkeeper’s Friend is a great cleaner too. Amazing what a great job you and the homemade cleaner did on those pots. Your efforts were well worth it.

  • notmuchofacook:

    Good job, Rechelle! Barkeeper’s Friend is great to have in your kitchen and it’s not nearly as much work! Try it, you’ll like it!

  • joann in tx:

    those copper pots are gorgeous!
    what a collector and gourmet chef
    your uncle must have been!

    i’m with everyone else! i’d have looked for
    copper cleaner in the grocery store vs the lemons
    and salt! but then i’m lazy! ;)

  • Kellye:

    What a wonderful gift. Did you choose not to use a commerical cleaner for “green” reasons? Please share when you cook something in your pots. I have heard copper pots are the best, but I don’t know why.

  • Hallie:

    Two words: rubber gloves. My hands hurt just watching you immerse your hands in salt and lemon juice. Yeeouch!

    Those are a lovely bunch of pots, though. What a treat to inherit something beautiful and useful.

  • Myra:

    Beautiful, beautiful cookware Rechelle. I need a gourmet cook uncle…

  • I wonder if actually *using* copper cookware causes the tarnish. Just noticed while reading this piece that the copper double boiler with white ceramic insert that I bought 10+ years ago, but have never had the heart to put on a stove, is *not* tarnished. A bit dusty, but still shiny new.

    On the other hand, I have a few copper-bottomed pots that I *do* cook with that drive me bananas because I can’t keep them shiny. Hmmmm… Could be the heat that tarnishes, except that wouldn’t explain the tarnish on those beautiul copper canisters. Double hmmmm…..

  • klcrab:

    I too love copper pots, thanks for the reminder in how to make them pretty again.

  • John Liu:

    Copper changes color when heated. So a bright shiny copper pan, when first used on a gas burner, will turn yellow and even purple in the hottest parts. After more uses, it will turn a dull brown all over. Even if never exposed to heat, copper will eventually turn brown, through normal oxidation.

    The most effective way to get the tarnish off copper, that I know of, is a product called “Twinkle”. This is a greenish paste, sold at most hardware stores as well as gourmet stores like Sur La Table. Rinse the pot in hot water, wipe on the Twinkle, the tarnish will immediately disappear or be reduced, rub with more paste on the tough parts. A jar of this stuff costs about $4 and will last months or years depending on how often you use your copper pots. It will probably get your pots shinier than they are in the “after” picture.

    I have a lot of copper pots, most bought in France on various trips, that I cook with daily. They are all still shiny, due to frequent applications of Twinkle.

    Also, given the age of those pots they are probably tinned, meaning the inside is lined with tin that was melted and poured into the pot. Cooking with bare copper is not good for you, hence the lining. If needed, you can get the pots re-tinned, and usually they can be repolished at the same time. Its not cheap, though.

  • sue:

    looks like I’m a nay-sayer, but I read (“somewhere”) that using the lemon/salt on a regular basis is not good for your copper pans. Something about the corrosiveness? The acid is actually etching (eating away)the surface of the metal…Maybe the caution was just to be careful not to get it on the tinned interior of pans.

    I know I ruined the tin lining of my English teakettle using B soda and vinegar to get out the hard water scale that had built up inside. The tinning came off! Now I can’t use my battered-but-beuatiful old tea kettle.

  • Found your blog – by accident when I goggled “Pioneer Woman fake” – sorry. Then I started reading – now it’s an hour later and I’m in 2009!! LOVE THOSE pots. I love copper. When my relatives die….all I get are more bills. Love the blog.

    • Rechelle:

      Jenny – You are not the first person to suspect that she might be just a teensy bit fake. We are legion.