How to Clean Pennies for Crafts

February 28, 2020Allison Murray

Dirty pennies got you down? We have 7 brilliant ways to clean pennies for crafts with stuff you already have at home!

Dirty pennies got you down? We have 7 brilliant ways to clean pennies for crafts with stuff you already have at home!

One day I found myself in need of clean pennies, which sounds kind of like a crazy thing. I mean, dirty pennies spend as well as clean ones, right? But I didn’t need pennies for candy I needed pennies for crafts. And dirty, ugly pennies don’t make for pretty crafts.

Many years ago I made a penny bracelet and shared how I cleaned my cha-ching to bling so bright that it made a really pretty piece of jewelry. But I only shared a single way to clean pennies and, honestly, there are tons more. So today I’m sharing with you 7 crafty ways you to clean pennies at home with stuff you probably already have on hand.

Dirty pennies got you down? We have 7 brilliant ways to clean pennies for crafts with stuff you already have at home!

But first, let’s talk about the basics of cleaning pennies.

No matter which method of cleaning pennies you decide to use you still need to start with pennies that will work and not waste your time. In the photo below, we have 2 rows of pennies.

No matter which method of cleaning pennies you decide to use you still need to start with pennies that will work and not waste your time. 

The top pennies can be cleaned all freaking day long and will still be ugly.

The first has a splotch that is not going anywhere. Once clean the penny will still have a black spot. When you touch the penny it almost feels like it’s rough, like the shiny copper has been eaten away. The next has a super yellow cast. I don’t know why but despite trying all methods I couldn’t ever get a pretty, rosy copper color with a penny tinted this way in the beginning. The third penny has some green on it. This green is oxidation and you can technically get it off, but it’s just going to take a lot more time than dealing with a penny without a ton of green on it. The last is similar to the first in that it is both black AND oxidized and even after cleaned it will stay rough and dark in that whole area.

The bottom row are good pennies that will most likely provide great results.

These pennies are all kind of equally dirty on the surface. Some are tinted a little black or yellow but just a little. And though they look really dark like they’d take a lot of work to clean, more than likely all 3 of these are going to turn out pretty well. But here’s the thing… despite best efforts in weeding out the bad, sometimes you’re going to try and try to get a penny to come clean and it just won’t. So when you’re selecting pennies to clean (maybe looking for a specific year) grab a good several more than you think you will need. It’s better to have a few extra clean pennies than have to bust out the toothbrush and ketchup again. Yep, ketchup, we’ll talk condiments that clean in a minute.

Get ready to scrub.

Get ready to scrub.

I remember I saw a video on Facebook, or someplace, not that long ago that showed cleaning pennies with vinegar. Basically they soaked the pennies and then washed them in the sink and BAM! They had beautiful copper colored pennies with pretty much no effort. I’m not going to say that the video’s results were a lie, but I’ve never, ever been able to get a really pretty, clean penny without a little bit of elbow grease.

But the thing is it’s not like you’re going to get tennis elbow from the effort, either. Just know that no matter which of the methods I’m sharing to clean pennies you choose, an old toothbrush is going to be incredibly handy.

You can’t get rid of scratches or chips.

All we’re doing today is giving pennies a good clean. Sometimes under all of the grime you can’t tell that a penny is super scratched up until you remove the grime. This is another good reason to clean a few extra, just in case.

You’ll need something extra to get rid of sticky crap.

Normally I’d have something on hand like Goo Gone but right now I don’t. Some pennies will have sticky junk on them like gum or tar or who knows what (and we probably don’t want to think about it too much or we’d gross ourselves out). All of these methods will NOT remove anything that is really stuck on and sticky. And trust me, I really, really tried. Either sideline those sticky pennies or bust out that Goo Gone, if you have it.

Rinsing your pennies post-clean is a must for all but one of the methods discussed.

We're using some abrasive methods to remove the gunk when we clean pennies and if you don't rinse it away it will continue to eat at the surface of the penny.

We’re using some abrasive methods to remove the gunk when we clean pennies and if you don’t rinse it away it will continue to eat at the surface of the penny. Here are 2 pennies I cleaned for this little penny cleaning guide… you’ll see them further down in the post all clean and shiny and pretty but this is what they looked like the next afternoon. And these pennies aren’t going to be able to be cleaned up a second time. They’re just messed up, now.

It would be super frustrating to clean up all of these pennies only to come back and have them look like this. The solution is just to lightly clean them with hand or dish soap and cold water under the tap. Pat dry and that’s that.

Here are the 7 different ways to clean pennies with stuff you already have at home.

Now that you have your pennies selected to clean let’s discuss the 7 ways I’m sharing today to clean them with things you already have at home. You can click on the jump to text next to any of the ways in the below list to go right to that method in this post. They are:

  1. Salt and Vinegar     (jump to)
  2. Ketchup     (jump to)
  3. Brasso Metal Cleaner     (jump to)
  4. Cola and Salt     (jump to)
  5. Baking Soda and Vinegar     (jump to)
  6. Pencil Eraser      (jump to)
  7. Lemon Juice and Salt     (jump to)

How to Clean Pennies with Salt and Vinegar.


How to clean pennies with salt and vinegar, the before and after.

Here is our penny before and after being cleaned with salt and vinegar. Overall I like this method because you can get away with less scrubbing than in some of the other methods. And most of us already have salt and vinegar in our kitchen pantry. Let’s get started.

In a small non-metal bowl pour 1 teaspoon of table salt and 2 tablespoons of vinegar.

In a small non-metal bowl pour 1 teaspoon of table salt and 2 tablespoons of vinegar. Stir until the salt dissolves. Add more vinegar if necessary. You can also zap the vinegar in the microwave to help the salt dissolve, just don’t let it go for long because it’s a tiny amount of liquid.

Clean pennies with salt and vinegar

Place your pennies inside of the salt and vinegar solution and allow to sit for 3 minutes. Remove from solution and scrub with a toothbrush. Allow to an additional minute at a time, as needed, to soften up the gunk enough to scrub it away. Once clean remove salt and vinegar with hand soap and a good rinse.

How to Clean Pennies with Ketchup.


How to clean pennies with ketchup, the before and after.

Cleaning pennies with ketchup is easy and doesn’t require anything else other than a toothbrush. I suppose if you carry a toothbrush with you, you could even use this method of cleaning pennies at a fast food joint :)

Squeeze ketchup onto your pennies, enough to cover but not a lot of excess.

Squeeze ketchup onto your pennies, enough to cover but not a lot of excess. Allow the pennies to sit in the ketchup 5 minutes.

Allow the pennies to sit 5 minutes in ketchup and then vigorously scrub with a toothbrush.
Using the ketchup on the penny and a toothbrush, give the coin a good scrub. Most of the time I only need one pass with this method but if the penny is still dirty, once again cover with ketchup and allow the coins to set 5 minutes, repeating the process as needed. Once clean remove ketchup with hand soap or dish soap and a good rinse and then towel dry.

How to Clean Pennies with Brasso.


How to clean pennies with Brasso, the before and after.
Brasso is a metal cleaner that some people will already have on hand for other home applications and it is definitely the quickest and easiest method to clean pennies.

Brasso is a metal cleaner that you might already have on hand at home.

If you have a lot of pennies to clean picking up a bottle which runs between $2 and $3 might be worth the small cost in the time it will save you. This is the only method listed that doesn’t require scrubbing.

Cleaning pennies with Brasso is really easy and is the only method that doesn't require a toothbrush to scrub.

To clean pennies with Brasso, simply apply to the surface of the penny and wait 2-3 minutes. Using a paper towel or cloth wipe away the Brasso cleaner and lightly buff the surface. Apply more Brasso and wait again for any areas that didn’t come away clean. I actually use an old tiny paint brush to dab the cleaner on but you can also use a rag.  Once you’re happy with the clean of the pennies rinse them with soap and water and dry them off.

  • NOTE * Brasso has strong ammonia fumes so be sure to use it in a well ventilated area. And don’t be a ding-dong like me… wearing gloves is a good idea.

How to Clean Pennies with Cola and Salt.


How to clean pennies with soda and salt, the before and after.
Cleaning pennies with cola is surprisingly effective and requires little scrubbing, but it also takes the longest time. Cola contains acid but not nearly as much as, say, vinegar. In order to compensate for less acid we need more time, so…

In a small, non-metal bowl, pour cola over your pennies until completely covered.
In a small, non-metal bowl, pour cola over your pennies until completely covered. It doesn’t matter the brand of soda but I have found that darker colas work the best. Allow the pennies to soak 3-6 hours depending on how gunky they are (more gunk, more time).

You didn’t read the directions long, in cola pennies need to sit HOURS which seems crazy. But if you’re the type who doesn’t cook much you might not have vinegar on hand. And literally every person I know has some kind of soda pop at home.

Remove your pennies from the cola and lightly dip your toothbrush (or other method of scrubbing) into the soda and then salt.
Remove your pennies from the cola and lightly dip your toothbrush (or other method of scrubbing) into the soda and then salt. You should find that cola soaked pennies come clean really easily without a lot of scrubbing effort. If needed, soak again in cola checking after each hour. Once clean remove soda and salt with a was under the tap using hand or dish soap. Towel dry.

How to Clean Pennies with Baking Soda and Vinegar.


How to clean pennies with vinegar and baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), the before and after.
Cleaning pennies with baking soda and vinegar was the method I used when I made my penny bracelet way back when. I did learn, however, that not as many people as I would think have baking soda (also called sodium bicarbonate) at home. If you bake you’ll definitely have this on hand but if you don’t you may not. As far as results go, baking soda and vinegar is a good option but requires a decent amount of scrubbing for good results. In the end, the fizzing baking soda and vinegar work into all of the nooks and crannies and can give you the cleanest penny, in the end.

Lightly dip a toothbrush in vinegar. Press the wet brush into baking soda and listen to the oddly satisfying hiss :)
To clean pennies with baking soda first lightly dip a toothbrush in vinegar. Press the wet brush into baking soda and listen to the oddly satisfying hiss :) Scrub the penny in long strokes applying a decent amount of pressure. Reapply vinegar and soda as needed to continue scrubbing. Once clean rinse with soap and water and dry off.

* NOTE * My picture is a bit misleading in that the area around my penny is pretty clean. I had wiped the baking soda and vinegar away to show you how the gunk was coming away. Off to the right of the image you can start to see the spread of the mixture as I brushed the penny clean. You’ll have a lot of dirty gunk that pulls away as you scrub. Be sure to wipe away the stuff every once in a while to see how well your progress is coming along.

How to Clean Pennies with a Pencil Eraser.


How to clean pennies with an eraser, the before and after.

Oh. My. Goodness. Out of all of the ways you can clean a penny this is the one that will make me curse the most. It. takes. forever. Be prepared to spend anywhere from 5-30 minutes scrubbing each penny depending on how dirty it is. I literally cleaned 3 pennies with an eraser and watched an entire episode of Dancing Queen at the same time :)

How to clean pennies with an eraser, the before and after.

Though cleaning pennies with erasers feels like it takes years it’s included in this list for a good reason… If you don’t have anything else on hand and just need 1 or 2 pennies cleaned an eraser will work in a pinch. And it’s easy enough to do…. just take an eraser and rub away the gunk from the surface of the penny. This method is more difficult to work into the nooks and crannies but the finished pennies do have a lot of nice definition where they stay “dirty” in the crevices. Just take care when using an eraser from a pencil, once the eraser  has worn away the metal that holds the eraser on will scratch the surface of the penny quite easily.

This is the only method that does not require a clean off with soap and water. I guess that’ll save you a little time :)

How to Clean Pennies with Lemon Juice.


How to clean pennies with an lemon juice and baking soda, the before and after.
Cleaning pennies with lemon juice (or another citrus juice) is pretty darn quick because it’s a strong concentration of acid. However, it’s super easy to accidentally turn your pennies black if you leave them in lemon juice too long. I literally put pennies in lemon juice and ran and made myself a sandwich (which, okay, I’m slow so it took a while) but upon return my pennies were straight up BLACK and it didn’t want to come off. On the plus side, though, you can take pennies that are really bad off and make them clean again. Look at that penny above. It was basically an experiment to see just how well it would work after I realized how fast it worked. Impressive, right?

Soak pennies in lemon juice for 2 minutes.
Soak pennies in lemon juice for 2 minutes. Scrub the gunk away with a toothbrush. For really set on gunk you can dip your toothbrush in either salt or baking soda to add an abrasive to the equation. I found, however, that lemon juice alone will eventually get even the dirtiest pennies clean. Be sure to quickly rinse any cleaned pennies with soap and water to stop the acid eating away at the coin and towel dry.

Lots of pennies to clean and SEVEN different ways to do it…

There are a lot of ways to clean pennies with stuff you already have at home!

So, there you go! Seven different ways to clean pennies with stuff you probably already have at home including Salt and Vinegar, Ketchup, Brasso Metal Cleaner, Cola and Salt, Baking Soda and Vinegar, Pencil Eraser, and Lemon Juice and Salt.

And now that you have many, many ways to clean pennies for crafts, let me know… what kind of penny crafts are you going to make?


Dirty pennies got you down? We have 7 brilliant ways to clean pennies for crafts with stuff you already have at home!

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