How to Clean a Penny: Easy Steps for Sparkling Coins

Have you ever come across an old penny that looks dull and tarnished? It’s no secret that over time, pennies can lose their luster and become discolored. Luckily, there are ways to clean pennies at home using everyday household items.

Cleaning pennies not only restores their shine, but it can also help improve their value and prolong their lifespan. In this article, we will explore different methods for cleaning pennies and provide step-by-step instructions so that you can try them out for yourself.

Understanding Tarnished Pennies

Pennies have been in circulation for over a century, and over time, they can lose their shiny appearance due to tarnishing. Tarnishing occurs when a thin layer of corrosion builds up on the surface of the penny, causing it to turn brown or green. It can happen as a result of exposure to air, moisture, or certain chemicals.

When a penny is tarnished, it not only looks unattractive, but it can also decrease its value for collectors. Therefore, restoring the shine of a penny is important not only for aesthetic reasons but also for preserving its historical and monetary worth.

What Causes Tarnish on Pennies?

The primary cause of tarnish on pennies is oxidation. When copper in the penny reacts with oxygen in the air, it forms copper oxide, which is the brown or green coating seen on the surface of the penny. Additionally, exposure to moisture and certain chemicals can also cause tarnishing.

Another factor that can contribute to tarnishing is improper handling and storage of pennies. Oils and dirt from our hands can leave residue on coins, accelerating the tarnishing process. Storing pennies in damp or humid environments can also cause them to tarnish more quickly.

Restoring the Shine of a Tarnished Penny

There are several methods for removing tarnish from pennies and restoring their shine. Some involve using household items, while others require specialized products. The method chosen will depend on the severity of the tarnish and personal preference.

It’s important to note that while there are many different ways to clean pennies, it’s best to avoid harsh chemicals or abrasive materials, as these can damage the coin’s surface and decrease its value.

Overall, understanding why pennies become tarnished and how to restore their shine is essential for collectors and anyone who wants to keep their coins looking their best.

Simple Method for Cleaning Pennies with Vinegar and Salt

If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to clean your pennies at home, vinegar and salt might be just what you need. This simple method can effectively remove dirt and grime from your pennies, leaving them sparkling clean. Here’s what you need to do:

1/4 cup white vinegar1. Mix the vinegar and salt together in a small bowl to create a paste.
1 teaspoon salt2. Dip your dirty penny into the paste and gently rub it with your fingers for a few seconds.
Small bowl3. Rinse the penny under warm water and dry it off with a soft cloth.
Soft cloth4. Repeat the process with any additional pennies you want to clean.

It’s important to note that you should never use this method on valuable or collectible coins, as it could damage the surface of the coin and decrease its value. Additionally, be sure to use a gentle touch when rubbing the paste on the penny, as too much pressure could also cause damage.

If you’re not seeing the results you want, it may be necessary to use a different cleaning method or consult a professional for advice. But for many everyday pennies, this simple vinegar and salt method can be an effective and affordable way to restore their shine.

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Cleaning Pennies with Lemon Juice and Baking Soda

If you’re looking for a natural cleaning solution for your tarnished pennies, look no further than your kitchen. Lemon juice and baking soda can be used together to effectively clean pennies and restore their shine.

Baking soda is a mild abrasive that can help remove dirt and grime from the surface of the penny, while lemon juice has natural acids that can dissolve tarnish. Together, they can create a powerful cleaning solution.

Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Place your pennies in a bowl or container.
  2. Spread a generous amount of baking soda over the pennies.
  3. Squeeze lemon juice over the baking soda. You should see a fizzing reaction as the two ingredients combine.
  4. Let the pennies soak in the mixture for about 5 minutes.
  5. Remove the pennies from the mixture and rinse them thoroughly with water.
  6. Dry the pennies with a soft, clean cloth.

It’s important to note that this method should not be used on valuable or collectible coins, as it can potentially damage their surface. Additionally, be sure to handle the pennies gently to avoid causing any scratches or other damage.

With a little bit of effort and some common household items, you can easily clean your pennies and restore their original shine. Try this method out yourself and see the results!

Using Ketchup to Clean Pennies

If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to clean your pennies, you might be surprised to learn that ketchup can be used as a cleaning agent. The acidity in ketchup can help break down the grime and tarnish on your coins.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to use ketchup to clean pennies:

  1. Place your dirty pennies in a bowl.
  2. Add enough ketchup to completely cover the coins.
  3. Let the pennies soak in the ketchup for a few minutes, or until you start to see the grime and tarnish breaking down.
  4. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush to gently scrub the coins, making sure to get into all the crevices.
  5. Rinse the pennies with water and dry them with a soft cloth.

While using ketchup is a quick and easy solution for cleaning pennies, it may not be the most effective option for heavily tarnished coins. For those coins, you may want to try some of the other methods we’ve outlined in this article.

Cleaning Pennies with Rubbing Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol is another household item that can be used to clean pennies effectively. Its high alcohol content helps break down dirt and grime on the surface of the penny, restoring its shine.

Here’s how to clean a penny with rubbing alcohol:

  1. Fill a small cup or bowl with rubbing alcohol.
  2. Place your pennies in the solution, making sure they are completely submerged.
  3. Let them sit for a few minutes.
  4. Gently scrub each penny with a soft-bristled toothbrush or cloth.
  5. Rinse the pennies under running water.
  6. Dry them with a soft cloth.

It’s important to remember to handle the pennies gently while cleaning them with rubbing alcohol. Scrubbing too hard or using a rough brush can scratch the surface of the penny and damage it. If you have any doubts about whether a penny is valuable or not, it’s best to avoid cleaning it at home and seek the advice of a professional coin dealer or appraiser.

Using a Jewelry Cleaner to Clean Pennies

If you have a larger collection of pennies that need cleaning, using a jewelry cleaner can be an effective method. Jewelry cleaners use ultrasonic sound waves to remove dirt and grime from small crevices.

To clean your pennies with a jewelry cleaner, follow these steps:

  1. Fill the jewelry cleaner with water and add the recommended amount of cleaning solution.
  2. Place the pennies in the cleaner, making sure that they are not touching each other.
  3. Turn on the cleaner and let it run for the recommended time.
  4. Once the cleaning cycle is complete, remove the pennies and dry them with a soft cloth.

It’s important to note that not all jewelry cleaners are safe to use on coins. Be sure to use a cleaner that is safe for use on copper and brass metals. You should also avoid using a jewelry cleaner on valuable coins, as it may damage the coin’s surface and decrease its value.

Tips for Preventing Tarnish on Pennies

While cleaning pennies can certainly restore their shine, it’s even better to prevent them from becoming tarnished in the first place. Here are some tips to help you keep your pennies looking their best:

  • Handle pennies as little as possible. The oils from your skin can cause them to tarnish more quickly.
  • Store pennies in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight and moisture.
  • Avoid storing pennies in containers made of PVC, as the chemicals can cause them to discolor or become cloudy.
  • Consider using coin holders or albums made specifically for pennies to help protect them from damage and tarnish.
  • If you handle pennies frequently, consider wearing gloves to help prevent oils from your skin from transferring to the coins.
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By following these simple tips, you can help keep your pennies looking shiny and new for years to come.

Avoiding Damage While Cleaning Pennies

When cleaning pennies at home, it’s important to be gentle and careful to avoid causing damage. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Use a soft-bristled toothbrush or a cloth to gently scrub the penny. Do not use anything abrasive, such as steel wool or sandpaper, as this can scratch the surface of the coin.
  • Do not use harsh chemicals or cleaners, such as bleach or ammonia, as these can corrode the metal and cause irreversible damage to the penny.
  • Do not scrub too hard or vigorously, as this can also cause damage to the penny.
  • Use a gentle touch when handling the penny. Hold it by the edges to avoid getting oils from your fingers on the surface of the coin.
  • If the penny is particularly dirty or tarnished, consider using a mild cleaning solution and soaking the coin for a short period of time before gently scrubbing.

By following these tips, you can safely and effectively clean your pennies at home without causing damage or reducing their value.

Frequently Asked Questions About Cleaning Pennies

If you’ve never cleaned pennies before, you may have some questions about the process. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about cleaning pennies:

How often should I clean my pennies?

It really depends on your personal preference. Some people like to keep their pennies shiny and clean all the time, while others prefer a more aged look. If you’re unsure, start with cleaning them once a year and adjust based on your preferences.

What should I do if my pennies are very dirty or damaged?

If your pennies are very dirty or damaged, it’s best to leave them alone or take them to a professional coin dealer for cleaning and restoration. Attempting to clean severely damaged or corroded coins can further damage them.

Can I use any type of vinegar to clean pennies?

Yes, you can use any type of vinegar, including white vinegar or apple cider vinegar, to clean pennies. However, white vinegar is often the most effective and affordable option.

Is it safe to clean pennies with ketchup?

Yes, cleaning pennies with ketchup is safe and effective. The acidity of the tomatoes in ketchup can help break down and remove tarnish from the pennies.

Can I clean other types of coins using these methods?

While these cleaning methods are primarily intended for pennies, they can also be used to clean other types of coins made from copper, bronze, or nickel. However, it’s important to do your research before attempting to clean valuable or rare coins, as certain cleaning methods can decrease their value.


Now that you know how to clean a penny, it’s time to give those coins a new lease of life! Whether you choose to use vinegar and salt, lemon juice and baking soda, ketchup, rubbing alcohol, or a jewelry cleaner, there are plenty of effective methods to choose from.

Just remember to be gentle and careful when cleaning your pennies, and always handle them with clean hands. And if you’re feeling unsure about any aspect of the cleaning process, don’t hesitate to ask for advice from a professional.

Happy Cleaning!

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