How to Clean Steel Pennies

The first step when cleaning steel pennies is to find out what they’re made of. Once it’s confirmed they’re steel, then the rest is easy, and there are a few different methods you can choose from.

Cleaning Steel Pennies with Olive Oil

The easiest way to clean a steel penny is to soak it in olive oil. Let the pennies sit in the oil for several minutes.

Next, remove the penny and gently apply a cotton swab to the surface. The cotton will absorb the oil and leave behind a shiny steel surface.

Distilled Water

Another cheap, cheerful way to effectively clean old coins is by immersing them in distilled water. It won’t lift as much dirt as olive oil, but it’s also one of the safest ways to clean your old coins.

Tap water works too, but depending on its composition, it can be corrosive. Distilled water, on the other hand, is guaranteed to be safe.

We recommend leaving those older coins to soak overnight. In the morning, remove them from the water and dry them carefully using a soft cloth. We favor cotton swabs or the lens-cleaning cloths that come with glasses.

Baking Soda

Typically, corrosion increases the value of old coins. But not everyone is a coin collector, so not everyone appreciates the corroded look of older coins.

With that in mind, another step we recommend to clean pennies is rolling them in baking soda.

Do this after immersing the coin in water. Let the baking soda sit briefly. Then, carefully apply a toothbrush to the surface and scrub at it. When you can’t lift any more tarnishing or rust, re-immerse the coin in water to remove the excess baking soda.

Lemon Juice

If cleaning old coins still isn’t working, the next thing we suggest is a solution of lemon juice or vinegar. Mix the lemon juice with a bit of salt and pour it into a plastic container. Submerge the coins, taking care that they don’t overlap.

Leave the pennies soaking for 15 minutes. Then, using a toothbrush, scrub them as before. This should lift even the most stubborn rust or copper oxide.

Repeat as necessary until your steel cents look new.

Does Cleaning Steel Pennies Make Them Lose Value?

does cleaning steel pennies make them lose value

The short answer is yes. The older the coin, the more tone it accrues, and that’s a significant part of its value.

Cleaning coins, however gently, leaves micro-scratches in the coins’ surfaces. They won’t be obvious, but a quick look through a microscope will reveal them to an interested coin collector.

How Can You Tell If Your 1943 Steel Penny is Real?

how can you tell if your 1943 steel penny is real

To answer this question correctly, it’s necessary to understand why the 1943 penny is so popular with coin collectors. For years pennies were stamped in copper. But during World War Two, copper was requisitioned for more essential things than currency.

And while several copper pennies were still printed, a popular theory is that this was an error. So, from 1943 onwards, with copper pennies out of commission, the steel penny emerged. It had a zinc coating.

As for how you verify your 1943 penny is steel? Easy. If it’s magnetic, it’s steel. If it isn’t, it’s one of the handfuls of copper pennies that slipped through the system.

What Happens to Pennies if I Wash Them in a Washing Machine?

what happens to pennies if i wash them in a washing machine

Our real concern here is for the machine. If old coins get past your machine’s filter, they can damage parts of the machine. But assuming it’s an old coin in your pocket when the wash started, there’s a significant risk the machine will tarnish it.

It’s one thing for clothes to spin and tumble around inside the washer, but it scratches the surface of old coins and causes significant depreciation of their value.

How to Clean Copper Pennies

how to clean copper pennies

As with steel pennies, the safest way to clean copper pennies is with distilled water and mild dish soap. Leave the copper pennies to soak for roughly half an hour. Then dry them with a cotton swab.

For severely tarnished coins, we recommend gently but thoroughly scrubbing with a toothbrush. However, it’s essential to understand that coin cleaning may affect their long-term value if you hope to sell them.

How Long Does Cleaning Copper Pennies Take?

How long it takes to clean old coins varies depending on the degree of cleaning necessary. Soaking the coins for 15-30 minutes should be adequate. However, it may be required to repeat this process several times or even leave the coins overnight.

James Marshall

About the author

James is a business management professional and consultant with a former background in maintenance, repair, and hands-on projects. He enjoys DIY tasks and maintenance around the home as well as part-time writing. Read more »