A Hint, Not a Recipe


One of the least desirable household chores around our place is polishing copper pots. We possess about a dozen, from mignon to massive, and use them constantly. We’re a little lazy, however, when it comes to breaking out the Brasso Multipurpose Metal Polish. Polishing is hard, dirty, and arm-aching. And no matter how diligently we work at the task, the pots never take on a perfect shine. Well here’s a hint my husband discovered over the week-end: use common white vinegar rather than metal polish. No, not for rubbing; for boiling!

Onto the stove he placed a very large, very deep enamelled metal pot, the kind most people would use to make, say, industrial-strength-size amounts of soup or stew. Then he set one of our tarnished copper pots inside it, poured a gallon of white vinegar over it and added enough water until the pot was thoroughly covered with liquid. After that he turned on the stove, allowing the vinegar-and-water mixture to come to a merry boil until the tarnish came off, along with any grease deposits hidden in the joints of the handle, et cetera. As the liquid boiled down he simply added more water until the pot shone like a new penny and was ready to be rinsed and dried. He reused the vinegar-water mixture for every successive pot.

Of course when I got home the kitchen smelled like he had been canning pickles all day, but every one of those tarnished pots sparkled (a sampling is shown above). If you plan to do this, however, I’d advise opening a window.

NOTE: I discovered this nearly identical make-do copper-polishing solution online this afternoon at the Do It Yourself website: “If copper is tarnished, boil article in a pot of water with 1 tablespoon salt and 1 cup white vinegar for several hours. Wash with soap in hot water. Rinse and dry.”

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15 comments on “A Hint, Not a Recipe

  1. May you be canonized!! Brilliant suggestion… no more of that baking soda/salt technique. Whenever I get lemon on copper it shines it right up too. white vinegar is much more economical!!!

  2. Guy says:

    This also works very nicely for dirty hardware. I have done this mostly with old pieces I want to clean but not polish too much. I use an old tooth brush in the crevices and may buff lightly with a polishing cloth to highlight things a little.

  3. ekeby says:

    I just finished polishing a lot of brass and found the same recipe works well on my copper posts: make a paste of equal parts salt, vinegar, and flour, Rub on to surface, let it sit for an hour or two, then rinse off. Use extra fine (0000) steel wool dipped in dish detergent to remove stubborn spots if necessary. I’ve done the boiling thing and it does smell up the whole house. The paste is less obtrusive and just as effective.

  4. Bruce says:

    But have you dismissed your scullery maid? That was your first mistake.

    Copper pots- so beautiful, so wonderful to cook with and so…impractical. I have seen photos of the kitchens at Winsor Castle with a battery of copper cookware lined on shelves around the room- jaw dropping in quantity and eye popping in just brassoed gleam- with a dozen kitchen staff busily working away. Without that staff, vinegar or not, I’m going to have to stick with my Calphalon- and cheer you on form the sidelines-

  5. balsamfir says:

    I’ve never wanted to polish them, so have not got one. You may have changed my mind.

  6. michael says:

    wish this worked with silver, too! i know there’s that old thing about hot water and aluminum foil and soilax(?) but i have not always had good results with that. some of the problem is a tarnish resistant coating which was applied years ago, and eventually the silver darkens underneath. big nuisance.

  7. Vinegar is truly a wonder for cooking & cleaning. Great for grout as well. Such a great food blog to!

  8. Bruce says:

    Not apropos of this post, but for all you food lovers, the Wall Street Journal published a very positive review today of the recently reprinted Specialites de la Maison by the American Friends of France- a compendium of “celebrity” recipes published in 1940 to raise funds for war torn France. It looks like a hoot, and according to the reviewer, many of the recipes are actually quite good (published by Collins Design).

  9. home before dark says:

    I swooned to copper in my early days of cooking and agree with Bruce above about cheering on your efforts while not joining the fray. And have gone further into laze: I gave away my Calphalon and bought all-clad that can go in the dishwasher. However, I do hold my cast iron in reverence and clean them with kosher salt scrubs and dry them in oven. Vinegar is an amazing thing. The smell of “pickling” is locked in my brain forever.

  10. Reggie says:

    Great post! Lemon wedges dipped in salt work like a dream, too, at least when less of a deep cleaning is desired. And it’s a particularly thrifty re-use for lemons that have already been squeazed of most of their juices, too.

  11. Erica Walch says:

    I’m going to try this on my copper pot. I love household tips, this is a great one!

    I use the silver polishing method alluded to above: line a pan (I use a rectangular cake pan that’s about 14″ x 8″ x 3″ deep) with tin foil. Pour boiling water and a couple of tablespoons of baking soda in. Carefully (hot boiling splashes are possible) slide your silver in.

    Take the things out (with tongs — hot!) and let them dry on some paper towels, then give a quick rub with a tea towel so they don’t spot.

    It is so easy! The kitchen will smell sulfury, but it’s tremedously labor saving.

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