To Clean or Not to Clean…Part II

I didn’t intend to have a part II to my post on cleaning coins but a few of the responses (comments ) were interesting and informative. I’m also never sure how many of you bother to read the comments. Anyway for those of you who found part I useful…

Bob Sickler, long time field tester and author of “The Detectorist” offered the following….

“For 50 years I’ve wrestled with what to clean and what not to clean. I’ve never been of the mind to liquidate anything I ever found with exception of current circulated coinage. Happiness for me has been about the chase and never worrying about “what’s it worth” too much. I would not, on the other hand, take sandpaper to colonial silver coins! I also don’t like piling what I find dirty in a coffee can in some dark corner either.

So what do you do? If your intent is to profit from what you find, don’t clean it at all. Let the buyer worry about that with professional restoration. If you display your finds with an intent to sell later, then use soap and water gently to remove what is possible enough to enjoy the display without damaging the patina of the find. If you are like me and have no intention to sell, but enjoy your finds in a display (or not), then I would clean to the extent you are happiest about what you found.

For coins in acidic soil, the surface quality of the planchet converts to a thick oxide often keeping the details of the stamping intact, especially if the coin was not circulated much at the time of loss. Many will be fooled into thinking if they remove the “green”, a super high relief coin will remain. Sometimes the dirt that surrounded the coin will become part of the patina as well and trying to remove it will obliterate the features of the coin. My recommendation is to consult the “Red Book” first and determine the coin’s rarity and relative value. If it is rare, say an 1877 Indian Head Cent, by all means DO NOT clean it with anything!

Here’s what I’ve done and used over the years to clean finds…

1. Clad coinage you intend to convert to paper money at your local bank or coin sorter needs to be cleaned thoroughly for obvious reasons. The “long ride”, and probably the most effective without surface degradation, is to use an electric tumbler filled with layers of coins, aquarium gravel and baking soda. Often I will discover “Wheat” cents and other surprises among the clad using this method. To get the grunge off clad coins quick, I use a cup of white vinegar and a tablespoon of table salt stirred with a wooden dowel in a glass mason jar. This procedure is corrosive and you will need to monitor the progress short of destroying the coins for the best result. Nickel and clad coins will stain with the color of your copper coins if cleaned together. You will need to rinse the coins thoroughly in fresh water to stop the corrosive action.

2. Common value silver coins that take on a heavy black patina from salt water or acidic ground moisture… Under a trickle of running water make a wet paste of Baking Soda in your palm. Rub the silver coin gently in the paste between your fingertips just enough to make the raised features of the strike become visible. Some black silver oxide will remain in the crevices and enhance the coin’s appearance if you are careful. Baking soda will not scratch the coin, but has enough “edge” to remove the oxides. Rinse and dry with a paper towel.

3. Large cents with light oxide patina and dirt adhesion can be cleaned by soaking in Hydrogen Peroxide as already stated in this thread. I recommend suspending the coin in the solution using a wooden clothes pin on the edge of the coin so both sides receive equal action. Keep an eye on the cleaning process and do not let it go too far. Ultrasonic cleaners and specialized copper cleaning solutions, if you own them, can also be effective. In every cleaning scenario, it is important to not remove yourself too long from the process.

4. Coins/Relics with the strongest patina and adhesion… I use a homemade electrolysis bath. I don’t want to take all of this thread’s space to detail how to make one, but you can probably find articles about electrolysis on the web if you search. This method by far removes the worst adhesion effectively. Again you have to monitor the cleaning process to avoid damage. I only use this method on the most hopeless specimens that are almost unrecognizable. I’ve had a few coins where electrolysis made it possible to read a date and motto. This will make most coinhunters cringe, but I’ve actually used the green scrub pads and 0000 grade steel wool afterwards on some hopeless Large Cents to bring back luster to the surface and remove the remaining stubborn adhesion. In time these super clean Large cents will gently patina back to a more natural look. If they look better, I feel better about what I found is the simple truth.


The results of cleaning can sometimes make all the difference to whether you are proud of what you’ve recovered or packing it away unappreciated! You decide!”



Then good friend and Floridian Jim Fielding offered…

“I use wax paper and Elmer’s White Glue to clean dirty coins. Lay the coin on wax paper, pour a thin-film of Elmer’s White Glue over the entire coin, overlapping the circumference by a half-inch or so. When it dries, I peel it off the wax paper, then peel the sheet of dried glue off the coin. It removes all the dirt, but leaves the patina. If you FORGET to use the wax paper, you will have basically just glued a dirty coin to something or other. I never scrub a coin with a brush or use chemicals. Just sayin’ Good post Dick!”


My Brit friend John Deveroux from stormy Eastbourne added:  

“As a newbie I rinse under the tap. I will throw in my view on cleaning silver though. I had a great-aunt who was in service and she said that you should never use any polishing medium to clean silver, only ever rinse it in mildly soapy water and that’s what I’ve done with the few silver coins I’ve found thus far…”


In between lifting single malts Bubba Howland added his two cents…

“If the coin is modern spendable, then clean it by all means. But if not, DON’T. Most of the spendable coins I recover from the beaches scrub up well in a solution of salt and vinegar.”


Big Tony from Bayonne said:

“One thing if the coin is not really a terrific date or rarity – use a bit of aluminum foil to rub off the dirt. Works good on common wheat cents and clad if your just curious about the date.

If it’s a better find – I use the peroxide and q-tips method….”


Finally Frank Blazi offered up the following and echoed my sentiments…

“Usually I want to put the crud back on. I have seen good detail, including dates, carefully picked off the crud, to reveal a smooth featureless disc.”


Thank you all for your input. I think it’s safe to say there’s no “one way” to clean coins….


Finally I want to wish my brother Phil a Happy Birthday. He passed away in April of 2016 and I miss him dearly…. He would have been 80 today.

Love you bro….




Filed under Metal Detecting

7 responses to “To Clean or Not to Clean…Part II

  1. Awww. I’m sorry you’re missing your brother, Dick. You two bear a strong resemblance.

  2. Tony

    Sorry to hear as well. Did he metal detect? Or did he think this was a crazy hobby?

  3. Interesting slew of coin cleaning advice, Dick. Usually I use the “glue” method for non-critical date silver coins with embedded dirt and such. The white glue method is, dare I say it, used by some archaeologists on ancient coins on occasion,

    I am sorry about your brother, Dick. Life can immensely suck. I figured when I got older, that sort of thing was going to happen, and I would just bear it stolidly everyone else has over the last several thousand years, but it ain’t easy. Patti and I have lost someone every year for the last six years…2013, Patti’s father, 2014, Patti’s cousin, 2015, my mother, Father’s Day 2016, my dad, and late 2016 our beloved 14-year old dog, Vanji, And finally, in 2017 Patti’s mother. Our prayers are with you my friend.

    • Unfortunately losing loved ones is a natural part of aging and something that is totally lost on you until it happens and as you’ve experienced it can be overwhelming. Thanks Jim….

  4. Tony

    I tried the glue but it’s not for me – now I have three old shiny coins. Maybe I will soak them in hot water to remove the glue and see what happens. At least I didn’t glue them to the table or my pants

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