Copper pots and pans aren't just pleasing to the eye—they're also great at what they do. Unlike other metals, like cast iron, copper is known for its ability to both conduct and retain heat. That means it'll evenly cook your food, and it'll stay hot even if you don't ramp up the heat on your stove or oven.
But as easy as copper is to cook with, it definitely requires its fair share of care to ensure its longevity. Over time, copper can tarnish due to exposure to air and water. But there are a few things you should know before you attempt to restore your copper. For example, Lauren Bowen, director of franchise operations at Two Maids & A Mop, says copper should never go in the dishwasher (unless, that is, you want to end up with unusable cookware).
Meet the Expert
- Lauren Bowen is a cleaning expert and the director of franchise operations for Two Maids & A Mop.
- Zeynep Mehmetoglu is a professional housecleaner and co-owner of Maid Bright, a home-cleaning service in the Washington, D.C. area.
It's also important to avoid overly abrasive cleaning agents and scrubbing too hard when you clean; Bowen says both can scratch the copper and encourage premature tarnishing. Lastly, never use bleach on copper. While it's a great disinfectant for other household items, Zeynep Mehmetgolu, co-owner of Maid Bright, says it's far too corrosive for a delicate material like copper.
So, how (and when) exactly do you clean copper pots and pans so they shine like new? Here are the steps to follow when your tarnished copper needs some rehabbing, according to two cleaning pros.
How Often Should You Clean Your Copper Pots?
There are two important routines you should adopt when it comes to cleaning your copper pots. According to Bowen, it's best to clean your copper pots after every use, like you would any other pot or pan. Along with maintaining their quality, that will ensure you don't unknowingly cross-contaminate next time you cook.
For sparkling-clean copper, it's also important to polish your pots and pans regularly. Mehmetgolu and Bowen agree that about once every six months is ideal for polishing copper cookware. If your copper pots and pans show signs of tarnishing sooner—Mehmetgolu says the material does tarnish faster than other metals—you can polish it sooner. Luckily, the polishing process is relatively simple.
Things You'll Need
- Gentle dish soap
- Soft sponge
- Soft, dry cloth
- Microfiber cloth
- Small bowl
- Lemon juice or distilled white vinegar
- Baking soda
- Salt (optional)
Step 1: Wash the Copper Pot Normally
To polish your copper cookware, you'll want to start out with a clean surface. Mehmetgolu suggests washing the inside and outside of the pot or pan with your normal dish soap and a sponge, then rinsing it with warm water and drying it fully with a soft cloth. (As Bowen warned, make sure to avoid abrasive sponges and don't scrub too hard, or you'll risk damaging the copper.)
Step 2: Create a Polishing Paste
Now, it's time to whip up your DIY polish. To do so, Bowen suggests mixing baking soda and lemon juice in or distilled white vinegar in a small bowl until it forms a paste.
If you don't have baking soda on hand, Mehmetgolu says you can also use table salt. Simply pour a generous amount of table salt over the outside of the copper cookware, then pour white vinegar over it and allow it to sit for about a minute. Avoid adding these ingredients to the inside, as they could damage the tin lining.
No baking soda on hand? No worries—you can also polish copper with ketchup; the acid breaks through tarnish. Simply add a layer to your copper cookware, buff it out with a paper towel or microfiber cloth, rinse, and dry.
Step 3: Polish Your Cookware
Next, add a generous coat of your polishing paste to the outside of your copper pot. You can use your fingers or a cloth to do so. Then, with a clean and dry microfiber cloth, buff the entirety of the pot's exterior gently but firmly in a circular motion. The baking soda or salt are mildly abrasive (but won't damage your cookware), while the acid from lemon and vinegar can cut through tarnish.
Step 4: Rinse and Dry
Once you've buffed the cookware, rinse the paste off with warm water and dry the pot thoroughly with a soft cloth. If you're not thoroughly happy with the results, then Mehmetgolu says you can repeat steps 2 and 3 again. Afterward, your copper should be shiny as new, and you now have another six or so months before you have to polish it again.
How to Keep Your Copper Pots Cleaner, Longer
As with anything in the home, to keep your copper pots in great shape, you'll need to take care of them. One way to do that is to be strategic with storage. "Though aesthetically pleasing to hang copper pots in the kitchen, avoid storing copper in any place where they will be susceptible to excessive air, water, or spillage," says Bowen.
To keep your copper cookware functional over time, always cook with fat, such as olive oil or canola oil; cooking on dry copper can interfere with the integrity of the lining and render them unusable over time (or at least in need of repair). In addition to your biannual deep-polish, Mehmetgolu also suggests polishing your cookware regularly with a store-bought product such as Copperbrill or Wright's Copper Cream to keep them shiny.
Lastly, if you notice any damage on your copper pots and pans, make sure to repair them or re-tin them right away; Bowen says the longer copper goes without repair, the more likely it'll tarnish.
While it's helpful to stay on top of tarnishing, keep in mind that copper's meant to patina over time—that's part of what gives it that unique, vintage look.
"Copper Facts". Copper Development Association Inc., https://www.copper.org/education/c-facts/.