A brand new, freshly minted coin is so much more attractive than one that's been in circulation for years. It is, of course, inevitable that after coins have been through the hands, pockets and wallets of hundreds of people, they look and feel dirty. Remember how yucky your hands feel after rolling some coins? You want some hand sanitizer or soap and water in a quick way!
This got me thinking about cleaning the coins and pennies in particular. I wondered how many ways I could find to clean copper pennies. It turns out that there is more information than you would expect on the simple job of cleaning pennies. Many of these ideas work for cleaning dimes, nickels and quarters as well. I haven't tried all of these myself, so proceed at your own risk, I can't guarantee that they will work or won't damage your coins.
First, make sure you really want to clean them. If they are collectibles, you may destroy their value by cleaning them. Look it up in a coin price guide or seek the advice of someone who knows the value for truly old coins.
None of these techniques are recommended for coins that have a value greater than the face value.
You should also be aware that pennies minted since 1982 are not really copper pennies, but are actually 97.5% zinc, and only 2.5% copper. This was done because it started to take more than 1 cents worth of copper to make a copper penny. And the zinc coins are degraded more by the acidic solutions like vinegar in these techniques, so use them with care.
Doctor Floyd Cleans His Pennies
Salt and Vinegar
This one sounds like a potato chip recipe. The most popular solution I've found is to combine a weak acid like vinegar or lemon juice with salt for a cleaning solution, which actually forms a mild hydrochloric acid. The process includes:
Supplies: 1 teaspoon of table salt, 1/4 of white vinegar, and a shallow bowl to mix them in.
Simply put the vinegar in the bowl, and mix in the salt. Add the pennies that you want to clean, and let them sit for up to 5 minutes. Be aware that if you put too many dirty pennies in the solution it will eventually beccome too dirty itself, and you will need to refresh your solution. Be careful with this approach with zinc pennies, as the vinegar attacks the zinc pretty agressively.
Pencil Eraser for Cleaning Pennies
One technique almost anyone can try is the pencil eraser. Simply start rubbing the penny with a clean pencil eraser. If you like this technique and have a lot of pennies to clean, those of us old enough to remember taking a drafting class remember the little motorized erasers that resembles a Dremel tool, and you can probably still find one at a drafting supply shop. These use a long eraser about the size of a pencil, so you can clean pennies a long time with a single eraser.
Another alternative is to use a vinyl eraser. Vinyl erasers don't contain the abrasives that can be found in typical pencil eraser so your penny stock is not as likely to be abraded.
Taco Sauce Cleaners
Probably the next most common approach is the use of taco sauce for cleaning pennies. For some reason Taco Bell hot taco sauce gets mentioned the most, but others can work as well. On site this guy evaluated several types of taco sauce for cleaning pennies
The bottom line seemed to be that the vinegar and salt in taco sauce were the active ingredients. If you want to try it, simply take the taco sauce and put a layer of the sauce on the penny, and let it sit for a few minutes. Then wipe it clean, and rinse it in water, and it should be cleaner.
There are commercial coin cleaners, but you probably need to clean a lot of coins to justify the expense. Other commercial cleaners that are popular choices include Brasso, but in general these are pretty strong cleaners and probably would not be your first choice.
Steel Wire Brush Technique
I guess this works, but if you are at all concerned about the penny being damaged, this doesn't look like the best approach. Basically, you use a small tool like a Dremel tool with a wire brush attachment, and clean the penny with that. Sometimes folks recommend using a cleaner like Brasso along with the wire brush, but all in all this seems like more work and more damage than it's worth. But it's an idea. A less destructive idea is to use a soft bristled tooth brush.
Cilit for Cleaning Pennies
This video is pretty entertaining. It's patterned after the popular show the Mythbusters, and they take a look at using the cleaner Cillit for cleaning copper pennies.
Links of Interest for Penny Lovers!
- PennyCollector.com - The official website for elongated pennies, penny
The original elongated souvenir penny book with the coin on the cover.Penny Machine locations around the world, Collecting Tips, EC History, Online Store, and more!
Comments - Your Favorite Ways to Clean Pennies
cat on November 23, 2013:
but the eraser technique isn't good for collecting pennies cuz it leaves scratches if u look at it in a microscope
cooljames on July 31, 2013:
omg i also hear u can clean it with taco sause and lemom juice and also an eraser that is real cool to know
Joanie Ruppel (author) from Texas on March 12, 2013:
Thank you! Glad it stirred up some good memories!
LongTimeMother from Australia on March 11, 2013:
What a lovely hub. We haven't had copper coins in Australia for many years now, but when I was a girl I used to clean them by dropping them in coca-cola. I wish I'd known about all these other options to play with back then. :)
wa on January 12, 2013:
Joanie Ruppel (author) from Texas on August 17, 2012:
What an awesome find! Glad you enjoyed the hub.
ThePennyCollector on July 30, 2012:
I just found an 1890 Indian Head penny on the ground outside! Must be worth a lot. I took the penny home and used one of these techniques on it. Wow! Incredible shine! An 1890 penny, looks straight from the mint! Thanks for your advice, I'll treat this rarity very well.
alyssa on April 26, 2012:
that was so cool
Joanie Ruppel (author) from Texas on March 24, 2012:
Congratulations! A good grade I hope!
Imran Ali on March 22, 2012:
Brenny campbell on March 17, 2012:
I can't believe I did this project i'm so excited. (:
Joanie Ruppel (author) from Texas on March 07, 2012:
Best of luck to your daughter (and you!).
Jennifer Kirby on March 06, 2012:
My daughter is doing her science fair project on "what cleans pennies best?" and will be testing 10 different household liquids. It will be interesting to see how they compare to yours...
andre on November 17, 2011:
85 on October 11, 2011:
need new was to clean pennys
jjboom on September 05, 2011:
thanks i will try it
twithcy on August 17, 2011:
u can also use tapatio it also cleans it ;D
Daddyo on May 25, 2011:
Heinz sweet relish cleaned my penny with absolutelu NO RUBBING in five mionutes
bob on May 19, 2011:
i love pennies
Malt on May 06, 2011:
Mothers mag aluminum polish
Ms. science project genius on April 10, 2011:
I did a science project on cleaning copper pennies, i didn't use any of these ones though but the best one that I used was lemon and salt together for 30 secs. you should try it.
Jerry on March 17, 2011:
Ketchup is the best to use when cleaning copper pennies.It works out great,believe me.Smear it on and let it set a few mins or more.Rub off with clean dry towel or sponge,then rinse under water.
Kc on January 20, 2011:
These might work for my project!!!
JD Barlow from Southeast US on January 01, 2011:
Pre 1982 pennies are now worth 2 cents in copper value. So Congress made it unlawful to scrap pennies.
JD Barlow from Southeast US on January 01, 2011:
The rare 1943 penny was made from cannon brass. MCD Big Mac sause works well also.
Chrisie on November 10, 2010:
These methods are so unbelievably cool. I am working on a project for a science fair. It's my first science fair so I want to get an A!!!I wrote down all these methods and I'm crazy enough to try them all. My dad might be scared because I told him I would use clorox and now he says I need goggles,gloves, and so much more. Thx whoever you are!!!^.^
Annie on November 09, 2010:
there is a penny from 1943, that ot worth around $40,000-$60,000!! these are very rare though, and do not stic to a magnet. most of these pennies have been found, but there are still a few out there that are VERY rare and valuable!! (:
Kim on November 09, 2010:
wow that is a cool experiment!!! cool for kids too.
Kiki on November 05, 2010:
Ill use this for an experiment!
Me and also me on October 26, 2010:
Thx... Was going to use this to help my bro for extra credit points but he didn't want it.. I tried it anyway and it worked soooooooooo.....….. :o)
Mr. D's Teacher Resource Website Matthew De Gasperi on October 19, 2010:
This sounds like a cool experiment for little kids. Thanks for sharing this Hub!
juweria on October 10, 2010:
this is great
Susan on September 11, 2010:
I use the vinegar method but I rarely use salt with it. They looks beautiful in a matter of minutes but if you leave them in too long they start to go blue (and the vinegar). Make sure you rinse the coins with water after or tiny crystals will start to grow.
Alyssa G. on September 10, 2010:
wow, this is great for my science project! thx a lot!
Ben J. on July 16, 2010:
Cleaning coins is NOT for old or anything collectible! You could have a very rare coin worth $1000s and just by cleaning it you could drop the value to $10 or LESS! PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE check that the coin you want to clean is worth only face value before you do ANYTHING to the surface. This goes for any coin. A dirty surface can make it worth less than a shiny one, but cleaning damages the coin and can make it worth nothing.
TheDaughterDoing the job on June 13, 2010:
these are great. at first my dad and i used the viniger and salt method, it cleaned it a bit, but this coin was really dirty, it even had clumps of clay on it! then dad was busy on the phone. i became fascinated and very eagre to clean the 1936 penny he had found on a job. so then i tried the eraser method, i got a bit of the shine up, but it was too slow for me. then i tried the steel wool method, great results, i highly recommend it. theres still a bit of dirt on the penny, not much though. it is now resting in ajax because we dont have any cillit. thanks heaps for the advice :D
coolkid on May 23, 2010:
Basicly anything acidic or carbonated can clean a penny so orange juice, lemon juice, sodas, vinegar, or many cleaners like windex will also work.
Des on April 19, 2010:
OMG! I didn't know that any of these would clean pennies(except the salt and vinegar). I might do this for a science fair project and thank you for this idea! Also thank you to everyone else who gave different ideas! I just tried the pencil eraser one and it worked really well surprisingly! well thanx again!
Deontinator on April 15, 2010:
Thanks for helping yo I have got good info for my project
diamond on April 11, 2010:
i got to help my cousin with his science fair project and lemon juice is working
imahalestorm on April 10, 2010:
The eraser works pretty well but you have to be willing to spend a lot if time on it because it takes a while. So good luck all you penny cleaners out there!
alexia 22 on April 05, 2010:
I did not use the pencil eraser but i will tell you what cleans good. I think that orange juice is the best.
Brooke :P on February 23, 2010:
Me and my friend are doing a science fair project, and found that lemon juice works really well!! :P
kwow on February 08, 2010:
urrg i cant find others peoples results for cleaning pennies anywhere. Can anyone help
Triston on February 08, 2010:
i'm doing this for science and i will try it thanks.
jenirae on February 07, 2010:
Great writing! I really will double think eating taco sauce next time. If it can do that to a penny, well I'm sure you see the humor. Thanks for the read.
GISELLE on February 05, 2010:
I THINK IT IS COOL.I AM BBBBBBB
me myself and i on January 12, 2010:
i love the pincil eraser it so worked i got a 100
awesomekennedy on January 02, 2010:
ha im doing this for the science fair. the pencil eraser worked the best. u can also use lemon juice.
j.gurl on January 02, 2010:
orange juice is also a good way to clean a dirty penny also is coke
science fair on January 02, 2010:
im doing what liquid cleans a penny the best i hope this works !!!
higirl on December 26, 2009:
i am doing a science project on these
your website really helped
i am gonna use the pencil eraser one on my project
thanks a lot
abi on December 21, 2009:
I going to be doing a science project on what kinds ofjuice cleans pennies best. any advice?
nicky brown on November 24, 2009:
cleaning pennies is a fun project
claudia on November 22, 2009:
i used the eracer method. it dose work. you would need a bigger eracer than the one at the of a pencil.
Taylorrrr(: on November 18, 2009:
OMG, This Website Is Awesome.. Bahaa:)
It Helped Me A LOT :D
fruit loops on November 03, 2009:
which cleans a penny faster salt and vineger or lime juice
lolly on October 31, 2009:
try using orange juice
maria on October 26, 2009:
try ketchup and lemon juice iy works !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
holly on September 09, 2009:
oh my gosh these products are fantastic
Jen on August 20, 2009:
I used taco bell taco sauce and it totally worked!
Tangy on July 29, 2009:
I tried the pencil eraser one and it totally worked. One question though: How do you get rid of the green stuff on it?
fishy on June 19, 2009:
do these methods really work??
dorks!!!! on March 18, 2009:
Were doing a project on pennies too. what's the best way 2 clean a penny? write back soon!!!!!!!!
kylee on March 18, 2009:
i have not tried any of these yet but i have heard of the eraser and heard it worked so i am going to do that for a project at school!!
LondonGirl from London on March 05, 2009:
anything that might even be valuable shouldn't be cleaned in any of these ways, as you so rightly say!
Margiie on February 03, 2009:
i'm doing a science project on cleaning pennies :]
Headtrauma on January 05, 2009:
ketchup works well also
sciencefair502 on December 08, 2008:
i had to do a science fair experiment for school on witch worked the best, salt and vinegar, pencil eraser or taco sause. i havnt done the project yet but they were good ideas thanks a lot.
advicetaker on November 25, 2008:
I did the eraser method and it worked
nice job :)
bryn on October 26, 2008:
I found a penny from 1925 and it is almost black that it is so dirty. but i dont know if i should clean it.
I used the eraser method on a pennie from 1978 and it worked really well
student101 on August 21, 2008:
Nice hub i had to do a scince project and i used the erasour method, it really worked and you got me an A+!!!!! THANK YOU!!!!!!
Dave on April 16, 2008:
Have you thought of getting out more?
glassvisage from Northern California on March 24, 2008:
What a great hub! There are so many ways to do this.
Tony Sky from London UK on March 11, 2008:
Great cleaning tips which i will use for other more important things that need cleaning in my home because i give all my pennys to charity:/
Hub reminds me of this song "Penny lover" by Lionel Richie!
Caryl Oliver from Australia on March 10, 2008:
Drop your pennies into a glass of Coca-Cola for a short while and they will clean up beautifully - but don't leave them in too long or they will disappear completely!
Joanie Ruppel (author) from Texas on March 09, 2008:
Don't take this as investment advice, but I seem to always hang on to my change. We used to collect little coin banks as souveniers, so I've got change hanging around from 30 years ago. But, don't clean them if you really think they are worth something.
MarloByDesign from United States on March 09, 2008:
Do you think I should hang on to my pennies because the value will go up? That is what I have heard, so I bought some rolls (and have hung on to a bunch). Now I know how to clean them.
Jason Menayan from San Francisco on March 02, 2008:
Great writeup! I used the eraser method when I was a kid.
writerlady from South on February 24, 2008:
I never realize you could cleanse pennies in so many different ways