How to clean old coins with vinegar

How to clean old coins with vinegar

For all you ladies and gentlemen fascinated with collecting coins, you may have come across this situation. You get tempted to give that collection of old coins a fresh wipe down to keep them looking all good and shiny. It is safe to say vinegar alone won’t do the trick, salt is required as well. Even so, there are pros and cons to this approach.

First of all, if you are planning on selling the coins, you need to know that professional collectors grade coins according to different factors. These factors range from the rarity, date produced, and the condition of the coin. The coin’s status gets judged by the patina.

The patina is the green coating that develops over time due to exposure to the elements. Cleaning old coins does away with the patina, which can actually reduce their value to potential clients.

However, if you still want your old coins to be shiny and sparkling, read on.

Cleaning coins with distilled white vinegar and table salt

Household distilled white vinegar is not only good for salads and barbeques, but it also has medicinal value and cleaning purposes. It is a versatile liquid and, in our case, a good cleaning agent. To use vinegar to clean old coins, you will need the following.

  • Mineral Water
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Table salt
  • An old toothbrush
  • A microfiber piece of cloth or paper towels
  • A shallow dish
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Note: mineral water is preferable to usual tap water. This is because tap water often gets treated with fluoride, and fluoride chemically reacts with the metal used in coins. Therefore, you may end up doing more harm. Using distilled water removes the potential damage.


  1. Wipe excess dirt and dust off the old coins to remove any impurities stuck on the old coins. You can rinse with distilled water to ensure the coins are thoroughly clean.
  2. In the shallow dish, add a ½ cup (1/8 liter) of distilled white vinegar and a tablespoon of salt. Mix the solution evenly to dissolve the salt granules. Make sure the dish is not metallic. Remember, the solution chemically reacts with metal oxide, and that may damage your metallic dish.
  3. After giving the solution a few minutes to dissolve the table salt, add the old coins. Spread out the old coins evenly to ensure they all get immersed in the vinegar and salt solution.
  4. Let the old coins sit in the solution for thirty seconds to one minute. You may notice some dark residue coming from the old coins as the metallic oxides phase off. Similarly, some fizzing may be visible as hydrogen gas gets produced by the chemical reaction.
  5. Remove the old coins from the solution one at a time and brush each lightly with the old toothbrush for thorough cleaning.
  6. Once through, rinse the old coins again with distilled mineral water. That helps get rid of any dirt left or acetic acid traces of the distilled white vinegar. Acetic acid is still reactive and causes rusting, decolorization, or mild corrosion.
  7. Once thoroughly rinsed, dry the old coins with a microfiber cloth or paper towels.
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Frequently Asked Questions

Can you use only distilled white vinegar to clean coins?

Yes, however that may not be effective in cleaning old coins. Vinegar is a mild acid and requires a salt (like sodium chloride) to boost its effectiveness. Alone, distilled white vinegar requires more effort to break down metallic compounds on the surface of the old coins, and that may take overnight if they are especially grimy. Furthermore, it might not be suitable for old coins with intense dirt.

Can vinegar damage old coins?

Yes, being a mild acid coupled with salt, the solution can cause harm and damage to the old coins. This is because it is highly chemically reactive and can cause some old coins to discolorize. It is best to try out an old penny first if you are not sure about the results. It can act as a spot test to ensure the solution is safe for cleaning purposes.

Can you use MSG in place of table salt?

MSG or monosodium glutamate contains sodium and a compound called glutamate. It is used in some communities to enhance flavors like common table salt. Interestingly, it forms naturally in some foods like tomatoes, cheese, and milk. MSG contains about one-third of the sodium found in table salt and contains glutamate acid, unlike chloride found in table salt. Generally, table salt is more effective for cleaning than MSG.

Can you clean coins without losing value?

Yes, you can clean coins without them losing value, but they have to be cleaned the right way. With copper coins especially, it is not recommended to use any water at all because you will end up with green corrosion, making it lose its value. Vinegar is the best for cleaning coins. Follow the procedure above, and you will maintain the value of your coins

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Taking care of your old coins

Cleaning coins for their commercial value might damage and devalue them. That is because their aged outlook and tarnish are part of the appeal that potential professional collectors try to identify. However, if you have to clean your collection, a vinegar solution and some light brushing is the best approach. Otherwise, seek professional expertise.

If you are an avid coin collector, a hobbyist, or your children have an infatuation with collecting old coins, cleaning old coins is a reality to you. Vinegar happens to be a friend indeed. Unlike jewelry cleaner and metal polish that is too harsh for your metal currency, vinegar contains mild acetic acid.

Acetic acid can dissolve dirt, mineral deposits, grime, and grease, making it a good cleaning agent. It is the standout ingredient in distilled white vinegar. However, just because it’s a good servant, it can’t be a bad master as well. It can discolorize or corrode old coins if not well managed. Therefore, be careful that you don’t ruin your beautiful collection.

Video: How to clean coins in less than a minute with toilet cleaner

You can also use toilet cleaner

How to clean old coins with vinegar

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