September 27, 2017 / Comments (9)

How to clean steel pennies

After you’ve dug up some treasures metal detecting and taken them home, you might be wondering how to clean your steel pennies.

If your penny is worth something or if you are not sure of its value, DO NOT clean it! 

Doing so will reduce its overall value. When you clean it, you risk scratching the surface of the coin and removing any ‘toning’ from the coin. So if your coin has value, hang onto it in its current condition and don’t clean it.

How much is my coin worth?

If you want to find out how much your coins are worth, check out The Official Red Book, A Guide Book of United States Coins 2020. This book is released annually and coin prices, as you probably know, fluctuate. Check the latest value for your steel pennies before you clean them.

If you’re sure your steel penny is worth nothing more than its face value, then go ahead and clean it. Cleaning steel pennies is really easy. You can get them looking shiny and new again.

How to clean steel pennies

How to clean steel pennies

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The safest and simplest way to clean steel pennies is to use a cotton swab/cotton bud and olive oil. That’s it! The great secret revealed.

Leave your penny to soak in the olive oil in a dish for a few minutes. To reduce scratching, roll the cotton swab across the penny by spinning the swab between your fingers. It won’t stop 100% of scratching but will reduce how much the surface is scratched.

Another method is to use a Dremel rotary tool at its slowest speed and with its softest buffing wheel together with a soft scrub cleanser (but without bleach). If you’re using a Dremel, be careful not to wear away the detail on the coin.  Less detail means less value, and less interest.

Removing the zinc coating from a 1943 steel penny

When the US joined the second world war, copper became so in demand, steel was used to create pennies, hence the steel penny. To stop the coins from rusting, a zinc coating was added. If you have steel pennies with a kind of grey coating on them, that grey coating is zinc oxide and it means the coin is corroding. With zinc on steel, the corrosion can’t be arrested. You have to clean it off or it will continue to eat away at the steel.

The most expensive and complex method for cleaning rust off coins is via electrolysis where you immerse the penny in an electrolytic bath and hook a battery up to a special solution. See WikiHow for an excellent series of instructions for cleaning coins with electrolysis. It looks fun! TJ and I will have to try it one day.

Last modified: April 7, 2020

9 Responses to :
How to clean steel pennies

  1. I have 2 1943 steel lincoln s on 1 the R in liberty is deformed with the slant of thr R appears to have extra metal and wide compared to others the 43 s / the S appears to have some doubling should i try to clean or leave alone

    1. TJ says:

      You should do some research to see if this is a recorded ‘flaw’ (and potentially more valuable) or if its simply damage to the coin. And it depends too on what you want to do with the coins going forward. Until you’re clear, best to leave alone.

  2. Anthony Bellis says:

    I have a 1943 steel penny but the Black discoloration on the front and the back make it difficult to see if there is a mint mark. Should I take it to a coin dealer or try to remove the black discoloration with some kind of cleaning method?

    1. TJ says:

      Hi Anthony,
      First I would test with a magnet to confirm it IS a steel penny and not one of the highly valuable silver 1943 penny or other rare minting.
      If it is steel, then I’d try a gentle clean with olive oil.
      If you happen to be near a coin dealer, you could show them and ask for further advice – without letting it out of your sight.
      Let us know how you go!

  3. Adam Burton says:

    I can not see the date on my steel cent. It is covered with rust, but with a 65x loop, it appears as though it may be a ’44. How can I be sure without cleaning it?

    1. TJ says:

      Hi Adam,
      That is the challenge with all finds. Cleaning v damaging. I’d try the most gentle cleaning with olive oil. If you cant identify it, its not worth much. Have you considered if it is a zinc coating? or is it steel rust?
      Good luck, TJ

  4. Ash says:

    What about coconut oil? Just wondering – don’t typically keep olive oil in my home, but I do keep coconut oil in supply at all times thanks to outs countless uses – just curious if this would work as well.

    1. TJ says:

      Hi Ash,
      I havent tried coconut oil for cleaning pennies so I dont really know. I’d be interested in hearing if it works if you have one to try. Of course, I’d only suggest trying it on a penny that has little to no value!
      Do let us know how you go.

  5. Jasmine Paulos says:

    This is pretty amazing.Great technology used here to clean steel .Its very difficult to remove corrosion but this method could be very helpful . Gained a lot of knowledge.Thanks for sharing such great article.

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