How to Clean Copper: Keep Your Copper Pots & Pans Clean

Copper cookware has a long association with world-class cooking (think Julia Child). And as copper experiences a renaissance in design right now, people are snapping up copper pots and pans to bring warmth and a gorgeous sheen to the kitchen. But while copper, which is considered a soft metal, is prized for its ability to conduct heat, it requires a little more TLC than other materials, so it’s important to learn how to clean copper. “Depending on the lining of one’s copper cookware, it’s possible to make mistakes when cleaning,” says Mac Kohler, of Brooklyn Copper Cookware. But when your pots are well cared for, they pay off in decades of use and beauty in the kitchen.

How to Clean Copper

Start with soap and water.
Copper pots are generally lined with stainless steel or tin. Either way, use a soft sponge to wash them with a gentle dish soap and warm water.

Keep it gleaming by polishing it.
Left alone, copper naturally tarnishes over time. To polish it, regularly apply a specialty copper cleaner or a homemade mixture of lemon juice and baking soda, vinegar and salt, or lemon and salt.

Lemon Juice and Baking Soda

  1. Combine lemon juice (or vinegar) with baking soda and stir until mixed completely.
  2. Apply to the surface and buff using a soft cloth, then rinse and dry.

Lemon and Salt

  1. Cut a lemon in half and apply table salt to the cut section.
  2. Rub the lemon on the surface and add more salt as needed.
  3. Rise and dry.

Vinegar and Salt

  1. Create a paste using vinegar (or lemon juice) and salt.
  2. Apply to the surface and buff using a soft cloth, then rinse and dry.

A word of caution: While Kohler says the salt trick works well, he warns against scouring pans with it. “In the case of stainless-steel-lined copper, the most frequent mistake is scrubbing cooked-on residues with salt. If rinsed thoroughly, this can be harmless, but often salt is ground microfinely by being worked aggressively,” he says. “These stranded microcrystals then pit the stainless steel irreparably.”

How to Care for Copper

Handle with care.
Tara Steffen, marketing manager at French copper-cookware manufacturer Mauviel, warns against putting copper in the dishwasher or picking up a stronger cleaner that contains bleach. In fact, avoid abrasive products altogether—even if they advertise themselves as safe, they can score stainless steel and tin, says Kohler.

Never heat a dry pan.
This rings true for almost every type of pot: When heated empty, without food or a fat like olive oil, the lining can degrade. “Generally speaking, one uses copper cookware low and slow, meaning it’s the metal of choice for delicate preparations,” says Kohler.

Repair damaged areas.
Notice some damage? “In the case of a tinned pan, the solution is to re-tin the pan,” Kohler says. Stainless-steel pans, however, cannot be brought back to life.

Embrace patina.
For practical or aesthetic reasons, you may want to skip polishing and let your copper cookware age naturally. “In the case of copper, a patinated surface is becoming harder and more thermally efficient,” says Kohler. “Professional chefs cultivate a good, dark patina as one does bloom on wine grapes; it improves what the thing is supposed to do.”