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Mar 25, 2009 01:06 PM

Restoring copper bowls?

I found two beautiful old copper mixing bowls in an antique store. When I went to clean them, I discovered that they had been coated with some sort of lacquer, some of which is still adhering to the copper. I don't know how to remove it and am reluctant to take a too-harsh, lacquer-removing chemical to the surface. Any ideas?

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  1. Try soaking them in boiling water with a small amount of baking soda added. The lacquer should peel off or loosen so that you can remove it. If you want to try to shine it up, my favorite product is Mauviel's Copperbrill. It's pricey, but it's safe and it works like a charm.

    1. Use lacquer thinner to remove the coating, it will not harm copper. And wear rubber gloves.

      For polishing, Bar Keepers Friend, $2 or $3 for a 1 pound can, it's what I used on copper cookware and bowls it will not damage the finish.

      I tried hot water and baking soda to remove the finish from a copper bowl found in a thrift shop... Once.

      In my experience, it makes the coating wet, your hands and arms tired and the bowl shiny... from all the scrubbing with steel wool you'll be doing.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Demented

        I sure wouldn't use steel wool to scrub off the lacquer if using the hot water method!!

        Since the OP specifically asked for methods other than lacquer removing chemicals, I suggested the boiling water and baking soda (make sure you boil it long enough or until it starts peeling) . I've used it with success, but perhaps it was a different type of lacquer that peeled off more easily (no need for much elbow grease, and certainly not steel wool.)

        No harm in trying the cheap water and soda method-- if it doesn't work, then try the lacquer remover, but I'd suggest trying it on an inconspicuous area first, in case it does react.
        Bar Keepers friend is a staple in my kitchen for stainless, etc. I tend to baby my copper and I find it a little harsh and more abrasive than the Mauviel cream--just my preference.

        1. re: choco_lab38

          "and am reluctant to take a too-harsh, lacquer-removing chemical to the surface."

          lacquer thinner may be harsh on ones hands, it is not on solid metal.

          1. re: Demented

            For that matter, she can also try nail polish remover with acetone. But, Ichabod, no matter which method, only use a sponge or soft cloth to apply!

        2. re: Demented

          I have two pots I don't use for cooking but use for decor and I also used lacquer thinner and it worked great. Bar Keepers is my favorite for most things. I also have I think it is Wrights. It is good as well. Hardware stores, bed bath and beyond, even some grocery stores.

          And honestly it doesn't hurt the copper. I don't like using it a lot but it does work well for this.

        3. Lacquer won't come off without lacquer remover. Sorry. Ask at the hardware store. Get the right kind of rubber gloves because it will tear up your hands but it won't harm the copper. I've done this a lot. A pain but it's the only way to remove it from copper or brass.

          Do NOT use Bar Keeper's Friend or any abrasive, however mild, on silver, copper, or brass, especially antiques or any piece of value. It removes the patina, the tiny scratches that give metals their soft glow and make them so lovely. If you use them, you'll be able to see the direction of the rubbing that you used with the abrasives. Not good, and not necessary.
          All you're using the polish for is to remove tarnish and a good metal polish should accomplish that without too much rubbing, even on heavily tarnished pieces.
          I use Wright's Copper Cream, available at the grocery or hardware store for under $5. Their silver polish is also excellent, and I use that on antique silver.
          Both comes with their own small soft sponges. They work as well or better than anything I've ever used and leave the patina untouched which is important with antiques.
          It is possible that with very old pieces you might find some small dark spots. They might require additional rubbing with the polish. A little more work. Sometimes, I give up and leave them until the next time, figuring that it just adds a little character.
          Congratulations on your nice finds. I'm sure they'll clean up beautifully.

          5 Replies
          1. re: MakingSense

            Wrights copper cream uses Ammonium chloride & quartz (an abrasive) to polish.


            Bar Keeper's Friend uses Oxalic acid dihydrate, to remove tarnish not polish.



            1. re: Demented

              That site is not complete. It only lists active ingredients. Note that the oxalic acid is a trace element in BKF. It is an acid and a bleaching agent, not a polish.
              What's the rest of it made from?

              From the BKF website:
              Q: Can I use Bar Keepers Friend to clean windows such as windshields, shower doors, mirrors, etc...?
              A: Yes, Bar Keepers Friend does contain a mild abrasive, but will not scratch glass.

              In response to another question, the site says: "...we never recommend using Bar Keepers Friend on silverware."

              1. re: MakingSense

                I use Wrights Silver cream for the silver, BKF on the copper.

                Was recently given a number of silver serving pieces, they where all tarnished black. Polishing out the heavy tarnish I found that Wrights will leave fine scratch marks if worked in one direction.

                1. re: Demented

                  I've used Wright's for years, including on heavily tarnished antique silver and the stuff we salvaged from Katrina's flood waters that was dead black - likely more tarnished than anything most people will ever see. The Katrina stuff was so bad that there had been holes eaten through the stainless steel knife blades.
                  No problems.
                  You shouldn't have to "work it" and certainly never "in one direction." If you were trying to get the tarnish out of detail, you need a small soft brush, not a pad, and a little patience.
                  Silver is a soft metal and even a plain pad with nothing on it will scratch if applied too hard.

                2. re: MakingSense

                  Has anyone here tried Bon Ami? We always used Bar Keeper's Friend on copper sinks, etc, that we didn't mind scratching, but Bon Ami for any really soft surfaces, like Formica (which it is recommended for). It seems to be barely less efficient than BKF, if at all, and as their label says, "hasn't scratched yet."

                  I believe that I read that it's recommended for one of the non-polished French copper pan manufacturers, but I'm curious whether anyone has tried it on polished ones.