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Polishing Copper

I was considering polishing some of my copper the other day using a different method than the one I’ve been accustomed to.  People have told me that you don’t have to use lemons & salt to polish copper, but I’ve always been hesitant to reach for commercial creams.  Apart from polishes being a bit costly (I’ve seen French ones selling for over $20), I don’t like to have that many chemicals touching the implements I use to prepare food (cleaning my silver with polish is something I do only once in a great while--even then I will use baking soda & boiling water before reaching for a polishing compound). 

It’s one thing to use polishes if things are going to be kept as ornaments or be put on display, but it’s something else if you plan on cutting things with them.  After having a discussion with Michael Bonne (a superb American coppersmith) on the various ways to polish copper, I was intrigued by the information he provided.  He gave a storied background on the ways he’s tackled the issue throughout the years of working with it.  Without getting too scientific and detailed, what it came down to was using an acidic agent along with a binder to cover the surface of the copper.  Michael said that using salt, which acts as a scouring agent, isn’t always advisable, especially if you are polishing items which have a mirrored finish.

Then I remembered coming across an interesting entry in one of my books from The Culinary Institute of America on how they recommend polishing copper at restaurants.  In the section dealing with pots & pans, there was a suggestion by the Institute that an economical way for commercial kitchens to deal with polishing their copper, was by using equal parts flour & salt, and then adding enough distilled white vinegar to create a paste.  

I was intrigued by what Michael had told me and by what The Culinary Institute of America recommended.  I decided to do a side-by-side test of these methods.

Needless to say I was very pleased with the results.

For my experiment I used two very special copper cookie cutters.  The first set of Martha by Mail copper cookie cutters issued for the catalog were the ones I reached for.  The Man in The Moon & Star cutters needed a bit of polishing. 

For the straight ketchup method, I did as Michael instructed.  I applied a thick layer of the condiment on the entire surface of the cookie cutter and let it sit for a few minutes.  I then used a soft sponge & a small brush to polish it.  The ketchup was then rinsed off in warm water.  

After rinsing the entire cutter, I immediately buffed it dry with a cotton kitchen towel.

For the other cookie cutter I used what the C.I.A. recommended, however, without the salt.  In a small bowl I mixed all-purpose flour with just enough distilled white vinegar to make a thick paste.

I applied the paste on every part of the cookie cutter and let it sit for a few minutes.  With a small, soft brush I polished the paste all around the surface and then rinsed it off in warm water. I used a clean kitchen towel to buff it dry.

Polished Cookie Cutters.
Bright & Lustrous.

Keep in mind that copper does patina and it will verdigris depending on storage conditions.  No matter how much you polish copper, certain discoloration will be inevitable.  

Personally I will be using the flour & vinegar method for polishing my copper in the future because it is efficacious and economical.  I always have both ingredients at home.  The lemon-salt method is still fine, but I think I’ll save those ingredients to use in my baking & cooking.  The ketchup method is also fine.  Now that you know of 4 methods to polish your copper, choose the one that best suits you.  You can use a polishing cream, a cut lemon with coarse salt, a mix of flour & vinegar or a bit of ketchup.  

Enjoy your copper and keep it looking it’s best!


  1. Thanks for the great tips! My MBM cookie cutters are quite dull and they need a good polishing. I always hate putting chemicals on my cutters!

  2. I know how you feel Kenn. It's nice being able to polish these treasures gently.

    Enjoy your collection!


  3. What an interesting post. I've not heard of either of these polishing methods and I like them both. Think, like yourself that I would go with the flour and vinegar paste over the ketchup method. Thanks for sharing David, great before and after pics.

  4. Fantastic post, David! You're so right about chemicals having no place in our kitchens! I use the commercial paste polish and then agonize over cleaning (hot soapy water) my copper cutters before creating cookies with them. I'm grateful for your advice and the experiment you conducted!



  5. Paula,

    You should try using the flour/vinegar method because it works. My only problem with the ketchup version is that it's kind of stinky & a bit more costly.

  6. Janet,

    I couldn't agree more about chemicals. I try VERY hard to keep them at a minimum at home, so this is one nice way to do so.



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