How to Clean Steel Pennies?

How to easily make them shiny again and whether we always have to do this to old coins

Written by Olivia Paxton. Updated on How to Clean Steel Pennies

No matter whether you found a handful of old coins in the attic or you dug some of them out in your yard, the first question that appears in your head in such a situation is how to clean those old coins.

Here we must admit that not all coins actually need cleaning! If you assume that the coins you have may be valuable (or you already know that they are), remember that any cleaning is strictly forbidden!

If you do so, it will reduce the overall value of a coin because even the slightest cleaning can leave micro scratches and remove the “toning” from it.

So if you are not sure whether your coins are worth something, or if you know for sure that they do, leave them alone, dirty and dark as they are.

Today we will tell you how to safely clean steel pennies that have no value instead. And if you are a coins-collecting enthusiast who does not mind scratching a coin, this guide will be right for you!

How to Clean Old Steel Pennies

So if you managed to figure out what metal your pennies are made of, and this happened to be steel, you are lucky since this kind of coin is the simplest to clean!

For cleaning old steel pennies, you will only need a cotton swab or a bud, and some olive oil. Yes, and that’s it!

No more tools or special cleaning products are needed. Lucky you are! The whole coin-cleaning scheme is extremely simple:

  • you pour some oil into a small dish
  • you immerse the coin (or coins) into the oily “bath” for a few minutes and let them soak
  • you take the coin (or coins) out and carefully work on them either with a cotton swab or with a cotton bud. For reducing the scratching, we recommend you rolling the swab across the coin by spinning it between your fingers

Of course, even if you use the softest cotton swab or bud, you will not be able to completely avoid scratching. But at least, the damage will be minimal.

Also, as an alternative variant for cleaning your old steel pennies, you can opt for a Dremel rotary tool. That’s if you don’t feel like messing with oil. If this approach seems more preferable for you, make sure that you use this tool at its lowest speed and with the softest buffing wheel attached. It is very simple to wear away some details from the surface of a coin when using this tool, so work very carefully with it even if you are not going to sell or display your penny!

By the way, to get better results, make use of a soft scrub cleanser to clean the external layer of dirt off the coin delicately. But be aware that products that contain bleach or other harsh whitening agents must not be used on old steel coins! Otherwise, you will badly damage their surface!

And one more handy tip for you. Before you learn how to clean pennies, you also need to figure out what your coins are made of. You probably already know this but in case you don’t, pennies are most commonly made of either steel or steel-and-zinc mix.

Coins made of copper are rather rare these days because back then when the US joined the Second World War, copper became in demand so much that steel began to be used for making pennies.

Hanging upon the type of metal your pennies are made of, the cleaning means and methods needed for making them shiny again may significantly vary!

How to Clean 1943 Steel Pennies

As we have already told you above, during the Second World War copper became a deficit, this is why all the coins including pennies began to be made of steel instead. Those steel pennies were covered with the zinc coating though to prevent them from rusting.

So if you happen to have some old pennies made of steel, you might notice that significant grey coating on them. This grey stuff is a zinc oxide and it shows that the coin is corroding. To stop the destructive process, you need to clean that coat off, otherwise, the corrosion will dig into the very coin and destroy it!

Is it possible to cope with this problem? Definitely it is! Is it going to be easy?

Well, we would not be that sure! How to clean steel-zinc pennies? See, the most effective way to get rid of the rust on a steel penny with a zinc coating is to make use of electrolysis. However, this method is rather complicated to do at home, and besides, it is pretty expensive. So you’d better ask a professional for help in case you need to have your old pennies clean so badly!

How to Clean Old Steel Pennies
Credits; Kameleon007, via

How to Clean Copper Pennies

Copper pennies are rather rare, and besides, they are quite difficult to clean since copper is a rather delicate metal. It discolors quickly and it is also prone to oxidizing from getting in contact with different impurities in the air.

Fortunately, to bring your copper pennies that shiny look, you can use one of the easy methods that will take you very little time and even less effort.

  • use a homemade scrub made of lemon juice (or vinegar) and salt
  • cleanse them with baking soda

And now let’s take a closer look at each of these methods one by one.

So salty lemon remedy comes first. It is considered to be the best way to clean old copper coins since this solution brings back that significant coppery orange color to the coins.

All you need to do to have your pennies bright and clean again is to add a quarter cup of white acetum (or fresh lemon juice) into a bowl. Then mix in one small spoonful of salt and stir the mixture until it is dissolved.

Place the coins into this solution making sure that they do not lay on each other on the bottom of the bowl. After five minutes pass, check the pennies. Are they brighter than before? If yes, and if you are satisfied with the result, take them out. If not, keep them underwater for another five minutes.

Once the pennies look exactly as you want them to, take them out and rinse thoroughly under the running warm water to wash off the acidic residue.

Another option is to use baking soda. Simply add a bit of water into the powder until you get that paste-like substance, and then pick a small amount of it with your fingers and rub the coin with it using circular motions. When the penny is shiny again, rinse the coin and dry it.

How to Clean Copper Pennies
Credits; John_Brueske, via

How to Clean Dirty Coins. Alternative Method

If you are afraid of using chemical products on your coins to clean them, you can opt for a less aggressive yet the same effective homemade remedy.

Another way to bring your old coins back to life is to make use of some lemon juice. This natural liquid contains between 5% and 8% citric acid which is a well-known natural cleaner!

The scheme is pretty much like the one described above. You prepare a bowl with the freshly squeezed lemon juice and immerse your coins into it for a while. The juice will do its best on corrosion if the coins remain in it for some time. However, be careful and don’t miss the moment when the corrosion is removed and the coin begins to deteriorate instead!

Naturally, you may wonder whether a store-bought juice can work for this purpose. Well, basically, it can, but freshly squeezed one will still be better because it is stronger. You can opt for commercially made lemon juice if you need to clean a lot of coins at a time.
To clean old coins with the lemon juice, do the following:

  • prepare a solution of 2 parts juice and 1 part filtered water
  • soak the coins for three to four hours
  • check the progress by delicately removing the residue with your fingers (remember to wear gloves!)
  • if needed, let the coins soak for another few hours
  • remove the coins when their state is satisfactory and rinse them with hot water
  • dab-dry using a lint-free cloth

While soaking your coins (and especially steel pennies) in this acidic solution, remember to keep an eye on them! If kept there for too long, the juice will etch the surface of your coins. This is also the reason why this method must never be used on copper coins! Citric acid can deteriorate the surface of a coin so badly that you will not be able to even recognize its faces!

These were the most effective ways of how to clean a penny without damaging a coin. With any of them, your old coins will quickly become just like new!

Frequently Asked Questions

⭐ How long does cleaning copper pennies take?

About 15 minutes on average.

⭐ How to clean copper coins?

The best way is to use baking soda.

⭐ How to clean corroded pennies?

Electrolysis is the most effective way.

⭐ How to clean coins with baking soda?

Make a paste of baking soda and water and rub the coins with it until clean.

Written by
Olivia shares all she knows about the hotels, houses, and home cleaning with Beezzly readers. And she knows a lot! 15 years of work experience as a Manager in a former Four Season Service gave Olivia an exceptional base of professional knowledge and practical experience.
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How to clean copper penniesHow to clean copper pennies