When I was a little girl, one of my favorite things to do was clean my pennies and make them nice and shiny, which is how I know this trick. I’m sure that it probably says something about me that I would rather play with money than dolls even when I was in grade school, but the point here is that I can tell you how to clean copper and brass easily without harsh chemicals, (so judge all you want).
How? With condiments, of course. Ketchup and barbecue sauce both have natural acids (malic acid + citric acid, from tomatoes) in combination with a high vinegar content (acetic acid) which all together, remove the tarnish from the metal quickly, restoring it to the lovely bright shine that even little girls covet. So, besides tasting awesome and sometimes causing heartburn, these condiments can now be considered a useful addition to your arsenal of jewelry making tools and supplies. Ok, well you can probably just leave them in the fridge…but you know what I mean.
Note: this is not exactly a replacement for polishing the metal. It’s a quick way to brighten up the shine a bit, but as you’ll see with the bullet shells example, there is a huge difference but it won’t have the same affect as a nice thorough polishing. If there are any scratches on the metal, they will still be there after cleaning with ketchup.
If you’re unable to view the embedded video, you can click to watch my <<Super Secret Trick for Cleaning Brass and Copper>> on YouTube.
How to Clean Copper or Brass with Ketchup (or BBQ Sauce)
Place your metal pieces into a small plastic or glass bowl, and add just enough ketchup to cover the item you want to clean. The dish should be deep enough that you have plenty of room at the top so you can agitate it without making a mess (please, learn from my mistakes). You can add a tiny splash of water to make it easier to swirl around in the bowl.
Shake the container gently or swirl it around to make sure you get the entire piece coated evenly. Let it sit for 1-2 minutes and swirl it around again. Check the color by rinsing it off in water. If it looks good, pat dry with a clean cloth or paper towel, and you’re done! For pieces with places where water can collect (like bullet casings), try to dry out those areas with a cotton swab or otherwise.
In some cases on bullet shells, there may be a few stubborn spots left behind from the gunpowder residue. In this instance, a tiny bit of scrubbing with some Super Fine #0000 Steel Wool will take care of that easily. I’ve never needed to use the steel wool on anything other than old bullet shells, so in most cases this won’t be necessary.
Dip a small paintbrush in ketchup and use it to paint the areas which need to be spruced up. Leave the ketchup on for a few minutes, then wipe off, use a clean wet paintbrush, or rinse in water if possible to check the color. Reapply as necessary and keep checking until you are satisfied with the results.
This method is good for cleaning around other elements if you don’t want to expose them to the ketchup. The acid may eat away at organic materials like pearls and coral, or stain porous or chalky stones (like turquoise or howlite) so it’s best to avoid getting any on those type of materials. Hard gemstones, crystals, and glass should not be affected.
I hope this trick might come in handy for you, and that I haven’t scared you off eating ketchup or BBQ sauce? Just think though, if you do eat lots of ketchup you can rest assured that your insides will be nice & shiny :)
By the way, if you’re curious why I might be cleaning bullet shells, take a look at this video tutorial for how to make bullet shell pendants – they’re really cool!