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Cleaning & Polishing Copper

Cleaning & Polishing Copper
By Aislyn Bryan March 23, 2003 32547 Views No comments

A mixture of lemon juice and salt or white vinegar and salt is a very effective solution for cleaning copper. You might have seen half a lemon salted and used to scrub copper bottom pots. For jewelry, dissolve a tablespoon of salt in a cup of lemon juice or vinegar (measurements are fairly arbitrary and can be adjusted as you see fit) and keep the mixture in a jar with a lid. Drop the jewelry in the jar, swish it around for a moment, then remove, rinse, rub it all over with baking soda to neutralize it, then rinse it again. However mild, lemon juice and vinegar are still acids and you don't want to leave acid sitting on your jewelry. If it isn't neutralized, it will form microscopic pits in the metal, increasing the surface area so that even more tarnish can develop. (Thanks to Kate for that tip!) You can clean copper this way as often as you like. When the mixture begins to dry up, just add water to reconstitute it. (In a pinch you can also use ketchup to clean copper. It's messy but it works because it's quite acidic and contains a lot of salt.)

If you find that your copper turns out pink and clean but looks a bit matte, polish while you neutralize by making a paste of baking soda and water and using an old toothbrush to gently scrub the copper chain in the palm of your hand. It will have the most beautiful, rich gleam afterward, different from the blinding shine of the tumbler, more of a deep understated glow.

This method can also be used for jewelry that contains both copper and sterling. The acid and salt solution doesn't appear to do much to the sterling but the baking soda paste on a toothbrush will, so at the end of that process, both metals will be gleaming.

Will Copper Make My Skin Turn Green?

Copper oxidizes by darkening and then turning green, just as sterling does so by tarnishing and iron does so by rusting. It's a natural process and the environment determines how quickly it happens. It happens faster in high humidity, but the speed of oxidation is also affected by the body chemistry of different people. Some people wear copper every day and it never turns green and some people wear it and it turns in one day. Some people can turn sterling dark in one day, too. We're all different in that way. You can seal your copper jewelry so that it can't turn. That's not something I do, but I've read recommendations for something called Renaissance Wax, Krylon clear acrylic spray paint and something you can buy at music stores intended for use on brass instruments. Before you decide to use something to seal your copper, though, at least consider the possible therapeutic benefits of leaving it natural. We make no claims for copper because we don't know, but there is a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest it might be helping people with arthritis. Pepper, one of our dear customers and friends, has a theory about this, quoted below with her permission.

"People with high levels of acid in their systems will react to copper against their skin. High acid levels in the human body are a contributing factor for arthritis. People who wear copper bracelets are thought to have the acid in their system drawn out by the copper. Yes, for a period of time the skin will turn dark colors. Once the acid levels have gone down due to the copper extracting the acid from the body then the copper will no longer turn the skin colors. The arthritis is alleviated. The body works best with a neutral pH balance. Not too much acid and not too much alkaline, around a pH of 7. Yes, you can coat it with a film to keep it from reacting to skin, but why? Just place a copper piece of jewelry in an inconspicuous place on your body -- winter would allow it to be worn on ankle -- and let a few days go by, wash the area daily, and then see if the discoloring still occurs. Also see if you start to feel physically better. If you wear your copper jewelry every day and wash it as you bathe then it will not turn colors and will stay as shiny as a new penny. Hope this helps answer some questions! My opinions above and not that of a medical doctor." -- PEPPER

Brad, another customer and friend, did a little research on this topic recently and, with his permission, we've added his findings below. If you have customers interested in the possible therapeutic benefits of wearing copper, Brad's work will give you excellent jumping off points for further reading.

"While it is true that copper reacts to an acid environment, it's not necessarily true that it is reacting to a low pH factor in the blood. There are a number of body systems which all have their own specifically preferred pH. 1) Normal arterial and venous blood must maintain a slightly alkaline pH, arterial blood pH = 7.41 and venous blood pH = 7.36; 2) Normal interstitial fluids and connective tissue pH is 7.34 and 7.40, a slightly more acid profile because body cells dump as much free hydrogen (H+) as possible, buffering the blood; 3) Urine is slightly acid in the morning (pH = 6.5 - 7.0) generally becoming more alkaline (pH = 7.5 - 8.0) by evening in healthy people, primarily because no food or beverages are consumed while sleeping. (I could go on with this, but you get the point.) So, going on to the reason for the green. This really boils down to basic chemistry. There are several green copper salts which are combinations of the metal copper and various other chemicals. The Statue of Liberty is a good example of the exposure of copper to the environment which causes oxidation and the production of green salts. Now for the skin. When our bodies sweat we are releasing chemicals that are generally acidic in nature and will cause metals to corrode, at least on the surface, to a salt compound of the metal. The green on your skin near the copper is the direct result.

"Now to take this a couple of steps further. In the book, What Your Doctor Won't Tell You, by Jane Heimlich (wife of the inventor of the Heimlich Maneuver, Dr. Henry Heimlich) the question is asked, "Is there any scientific validity to the belief that wearing a copper bracelet relieves arthritis pain?" She answers: "An Australian Chemist, Dr W. Ray Walker, of the University of Newcastle, decided to find answers for himself. He was aware that a copper-aspirin compound was known to have anti-inflammatory effects and that copper chelates were used as arthritis drugs from the 1940s to the 1950s in France and Germany. He knew that the world's oldest medical text, the Egyptian Ebers papyrus, recommends pulverized copper to treat various types of inflammation. Walker also knew that when copper is in contact with the skin, it forms chelates with components of human sweat and is thus absorbed through the skin.

"So to find out if copper bracelet users know something that scientists ought to know, Walker embarked on a study with 300 arthritis sufferers, half of whom had previously worn copper bracelets. Copper bracelet users were asked not to wear their bracelets for one month. Other subjects who had never worn a copper bracelet were given two bracelets - one made of copper, the other a placebo (aluminum) - and asked to wear each bracelet for one month. Subjects did not know which bracelet was copper and which the placebo. As a check on whether subjects wore their bracelets, each copper bracelet was weighed before and after a month's use. (A bracelet decreases in weight as it is worn owing to absorption of copper.)

"During the course of the study, previous copper bracelet users reported they were significantly worse when not wearing their copper bracelets. The majority of the other subjects said that they felt their best during the month when they wore the copper bracelet. Said Walker, a copper bracelet may not release as much copper as a copper-aspirin chelate but think of it as a time-release source of copper that desensitizes the individual to irritants associated with chronic inflammation." [Heimlich 1990]

A couple of other interesting quotes: "Renewed interest in the use of copper complexes to treat chronic diseases has given new credibility to a folk medicine as ancient as man himself." [Sorenson 1976] In his paper, Copper on Skin, Cultural Beliefs, Scientific Data, Esoteric Ideas, given at the Proceedings of the International Forum on New Science, held September 13-17, 1995, Sergio Lub said this: "The American Arthritis Foundation calls copper bracelets an 'unproven remedy'. I consider this expression an oxymoron. A remedy is or is not. They probably refer to the fact that the clinical trials for copper bracelets have not been conducted yet to the satisfaction of the Food and Drug Administration. One of America's foremost experts in this matter, professor of biology, Helmar H.A. Dollwet, Ph.D., from the University of Akron, Ohio and author of The Copper Bracelet and Arthritis, explained to me that there is no economic incentive for drug companies to make the large investment needed to conduct the long trials demanded by the FDA. Copper is a natural element and cannot be patented. How could a drug company make money on it? Instead, they profitably sell anti-inflammatory drugs for the relief of arthritis. Under the law, no one in the U.S. is allowed, in the absence of clinical trials, to claim that copper bracelets are a remedy."(Read the complete paper at

We appreciate both Pepper's and Brad's kindness is allowing us to pass on their interesting and thought provoking comments and research.

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