Have you ever noticed how dirty pennies can get over time? From dark spots to green and brown discoloration, pennies exposed to air and handling can become quite unsightly. If your Lincoln pennies are looking a bit worse for wear, don’t worry – with the right methods, you can restore them to their original brilliant shine.

If you need a quick solution: vinegar and salt are the most common and well-known methods for cleaning pennies. It is very effective, as the vinegar helps to dissolve the tarnish on the penny, and the salt acts as an abrasive to help remove any dirt or grime.

You can also gently scrub the coin with baking soda, ketchup toothpaste, or even lemon juice and cola. These are all easy homemade options that work well, but you need to carefully use them to avoid damaging the coin.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the best DIY ways to clean pennies at home. You’ll learn what causes pennies to tarnish, review homemade and store-bought penny cleaning methods, plus get tips for proper storage to keep your coins looking shiny and new.

What Causes Pennies to Tarnish and Corrode?

The Best And Most Effective Ways To Clean A Penny
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Pennies, made primarily of copper, are prone to tarnishing and corroding over time. This is due to a number of factors that can cause the metal to react and change its appearance. Understanding these causes can help you better care for your pennies and keep them looking their best.

Exposure to Air and Moisture

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One of the main causes of penny tarnish and corrosion is exposure to air and moisture. When pennies are exposed to the oxygen in the air and moisture, a chemical reaction occurs that forms a layer of copper oxide on the surface of the coin. This layer gives the penny a dull and discolored appearance.

Over time, if the penny continues to be exposed, the copper oxide can further react with the air and moisture, leading to more advanced corrosion.

Handling Oils and Dirt

Another factor that contributes to penny tarnish and corrosion is the oils and dirt that can accumulate on the surface of the coin. When pennies are handled frequently, the oils from our hands and the dirt from our environment can transfer onto the coin.

These substances can react with the copper, causing it to discolor and tarnish. Regular cleaning and handling with clean hands can help prevent the buildup of oils and dirt on the surface of the penny.

Chemical Reactions

Pennies can also undergo chemical reactions with certain substances, leading to tarnish and corrosion. For example, exposure to certain acids or acidic materials can cause the copper in the penny to react and form copper salts, which can corrode the surface of the coin.

Additionally, exposure to certain chemicals or cleaning agents that are not suitable for copper can also cause damage to the penny. It is important to be cautious when using any cleaning solutions on pennies and to ensure they are safe for use on copper.

Choosing the Best Penny Cleaning Method

The Best And Most Effective Ways To Clean A Penny
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When it comes to cleaning pennies, there are several effective methods to choose from. Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to consider your options before deciding which one to use. Here are some of the best penny cleaning methods:

Vinegar or Lemon Juice Soaks

One popular method for cleaning pennies is to soak them in vinegar or lemon juice. The acidity of these household items helps to dissolve the dirt and grime on the surface of the penny. Simply pour some vinegar or lemon juice into a bowl, place the pennies in the liquid, and let them soak but not for too long.

Editor’s notes: The acids in these liquids can damage the penny if they are not used carefully. It is recommended to soak pennies in vinegar or lemon juice for no more than 10 minutes.

If you soak pennies in vinegar or lemon juice for too long, the acids can start to corrode the copper in the penny. This can cause the penny to lose its shine and become dull, or to develop a green or blue patina.

If you are cleaning pennies for collectible purposes, it is best to avoid soaking them in vinegar or lemon juice altogether.

Afterward, the pennies should be scrubbed gently with a soft toothbrush to remove any tarnish. The pennies should then be rinsed thoroughly with water and dried with a clean cloth.

Baking Soda Scrubs

Another effective way to clean pennies is to use baking soda. Create a paste by mixing baking soda with a small amount of water. Apply the paste to the pennies and use a soft toothbrush to gently scrub away the dirt.

Baking soda is a mild abrasive that can help to remove tarnish and restore the shine to your pennies.

Salt Rubs

If you don’t have vinegar, lemon juice, or baking soda on hand, you can try using salt to clean your pennies. Simply sprinkle some salt onto a damp cloth and rub the pennies in a circular motion. The abrasiveness of the salt will help to remove any grime or tarnish.

Afterward, rinse the pennies with water and pat them dry with a clean cloth.

Ketchup or Cola Soaks

Believe it or not, ketchup and cola can also be used to clean pennies. The acidity and mild abrasive properties of these condiments can help to remove dirt and tarnish. To use this method, simply pour some ketchup or cola into a bowl, place the pennies in the liquid, and let them soak for no more than 5 minutes.

Afterward, rinse the pennies with water and gently scrub them with a soft toothbrush or cloth to remove the residue.

Editor’s note: It is important to remember that cleaning pennies with ketchup or cola can remove some of the natural copper color from the penny. This may not be an issue if you are just cleaning pennies for fun, but it is something to keep in mind if you are cleaning pennies for collectible purposes.

Toothpaste Rubs

If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to clean your pennies, toothpaste can be a great option. Simply squeeze a small amount of toothpaste onto a soft cloth and rub it onto the pennies in a circular motion. The mild abrasives in the toothpaste will help to remove dirt and tarnish.

Once you’re done, rinse the pennies with water and pat them dry with a clean cloth.

Tarn-X Cleaners

If you have heavily tarnished pennies, you may want to consider using a commercial cleaner like Tarn-X. Tarn-X is specially formulated to remove tarnish from metal surfaces, including coins.
It is believed that Tarn-X is generally safer for pennies than other cleaning methods, such as vinegar or lemon juice.

Simply follow the instructions on the bottle, which usually involve soaking the pennies in the solution for a specified amount of time. Afterward, rinse the pennies with water and pat them dry.

Ultrasonic Cleaners

If you have a large collection of pennies or other coins that need cleaning, you may want to invest in an ultrasonic cleaner. These devices use sound waves to create tiny bubbles that gently remove dirt and grime from the surface of the coins.

Ultrasonic cleaners can be more expensive than other cleaning methods, but they are highly effective and can save you a lot of time and effort.

Remember, before using any cleaning method on valuable or collectible coins, it’s always a good idea to consult with a professional or do some research to ensure that the cleaning method is safe and appropriate for your specific coin.

Step-by-Step Instructions for Cleaning Pennies

Supplies Needed

To clean pennies effectively, you will need a few supplies:

  • Vinegar
  • Salt
  • Lemon juice
  • Baking soda
  • A small bowl or container
  • A soft-bristled toothbrush
  • A clean cloth or towel

These common household items are all you need to bring back the shine to your dull pennies.

Making a Cleaning Solution

The first step in cleaning pennies is to create a cleaning solution. One effective solution is to mix equal parts vinegar and salt in a small bowl or container. The mixture of vinegar’s acidity and salt’s abrasive properties helps to dissolve the dirt and grime on the pennies’ surface.

Another alternative is to create a paste using lemon juice and baking soda. Lemon juice, like vinegar, is acidic and can help remove tarnish from the pennies. Baking soda, on the other hand, acts as a mild abrasive that aids in cleaning.

Soaking the Pennies

After preparing the cleaning solution, the next step is to soak the pennies. Place the pennies in the solution, ensuring that they are fully submerged. Let them soak for about 5-10 minutes, allowing the solution to work its magic and loosen the dirt and grime.

During this time, you can gently swirl the pennies around in the solution to help dislodge any stubborn dirt or tarnish. Be careful not to scrub the pennies at this stage, as it may cause further damage to their surface.

Scrubbing and Rinsing

After the pennies have soaked for the recommended time, it’s time to scrub and rinse them. Take a soft-bristled toothbrush and gently scrub the pennies in a circular motion. This will help remove any remaining dirt or tarnish.

Once you have scrubbed all the pennies, rinse them thoroughly under running water to remove any residue. Make sure to dry them properly using a clean cloth or towel. You will be amazed to see the difference in their appearance after a good cleaning!

Editor’s note: It’s important to remember that cleaning pennies may affect their value, especially if they are old or rare. If you have valuable coins, it’s best to consult with a professional coin collector or appraiser before attempting any cleaning methods.

Tips for Storing and Preserving Clean Pennies

After meticulously cleaning your pennies to restore their shine and luster, it is equally important to store and preserve them properly to maintain their condition. Here are some helpful tips:

Use Air-Tight Containers

One of the best ways to store clean pennies is by placing them in air-tight containers. This helps to prevent exposure to moisture, which can cause oxidation and tarnishing. Look for containers specifically designed for coin storage, such as coin holders or capsules.

These containers provide a sealed environment, protecting your pennies from external elements.

Add Silica Gel Packets

When storing your clean pennies, consider adding silica gel packets to the container. Silica gel is a desiccant that absorbs moisture, reducing the chances of your pennies developing unsightly spots or corrosion. Just make sure to use silica gel packets that are labeled as safe for use with coins.

Handle with Cotton Gloves

When handling your clean pennies, it is important to minimize contact with oils and dirt from your hands. To prevent any potential damage, wear cotton gloves while handling and storing your pennies. This helps to maintain their cleanliness and prevents fingerprints or other contaminants from affecting their appearance.

Separate Pennies with Acid-Free Paper

If you plan to store multiple pennies together in a single container, it is advisable to separate them with acid-free paper. This paper creates a barrier between the coins, preventing them from rubbing against each other and potentially causing scratches or damage.

Acid-free paper can be found at craft stores or online.

Store in Cool, Dry, Dark Spaces

The environment in which you store your clean pennies plays a crucial role in their preservation. Ideally, pennies should be stored in a cool, dry, and dark space. Excessive heat, high humidity, and exposure to light can all contribute to the deterioration of coins over time.

Consider storing your pennies in a secure location, such as a safe or a sturdy cabinet.

By following these tips for storing and preserving your clean pennies, you can ensure that they remain in excellent condition for years to come. Remember, proper storage is just as important as proper cleaning when it comes to maintaining the value and beauty of your coin collection.


With a little bit of effort, you can restore old pennies to a brilliant, like-new shine. The best DIY penny cleaning methods use easy-to-find ingredients like lemon juice, vinegar, baking soda, ketchup and salt to break through tarnish and expose the copper underneath.

Storing pennies properly after cleaning will help preserve their shine.

Next time your Lincoln pennies are looking worse for wear, revisit this guide on the best penny cleaning methods. With the right supplies and techniques, you can make those pennies shine like new again.

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