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 ‘A Guide Book of United States Coins 2018: The Official Red Book‘. This book is released annually and coin prices, as you probably know, fluctuate. Get 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 toolDremel 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.

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.

 

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