Crafty Tutorial How to Refinish Copper the Green Way

We’ve all been there. A beautiful copper piece sits in our collection but it’s hard to tell just how great it is underneath layers of crud and grime. Today I’m going to share with you how I brought new life to a hand-me-down portable copper-topped fire pit using nothing more than the supplies in my cabinet and a little elbow grease.

Supplies you’ll need:
Lemons (I used 3 total)
Sea salt
Cleaning cloths / sponges (soft)
Warm water
A bucket
Paper towel or unprinted newspaper
Olive oil

Optional supplies:
Face mask
Sanding block / sand paper sheets (coarse)

Because my copper item was one for the outdoors it had been rained on and damaged by the sun over time. In addition it is an item that takes high heat. All these factors caused a healthy build-up of rust and a lot of pitting. I knew not all of the rust or pitting would come off but I gave the entire top a good solid once-over with a 150 grit sanding block.

Be sure to do any sanding in a well-ventilated area and be mindful of wind. I wore old fashioned rubber type dish gloves while sanding and cleaning the piece. If it’s windy or your piece is smaller where it will be closer to your face, you might opt for goggles and/or a face mask as well.

After thoroughly wiping down all the rust and washing off the top a few times I let the piece dry in the sun.

Once dry I ground the sea salt shaker so the salt was placed directly on the top of the piece. With half a lemon I rubbed the salt and lemon juice into the copper using a circular motion.

This could take several passes depending on how much salt you use, how tarnished the copper is and how shiny you want yours to come out in the end. One pass worked for me as I was just hoping to get back some of the luster but knew I couldn’t get it perfect.

Using the cleaning cloths or sponge, warm water, and multiple passes, completely remove all lemon juice and salt from the piece. Once the piece is dry you can repeat the process until your piece is where you like it to be.

In a dish or bowl place a small amount of olive oil. My piece was large so I used about two tablespoons.

Take the paper towel and dip into the oil. Buff the oil into the entire surface in small circular motions making sure to be mindful of any sharp edges or other areas that could hurt you.

Use a dry cleaning rag to remove as much of the oil as possible but leave it shiny as the oil will help protect against further patina to the copper.

And that’s it! Your finished piece will be restored to its original shine and luster.

For this project I spent $0.00
. Our next door neighbor has a lemon tree and is generous with his fruit. During the cold snap we had recently many lemons were damaged but they were perfect for my needs. I had sea salt and olive oil as well as cleaning cloths on hand.

Total time investment was about one hour from set-up to clean-up.

I can’t wait to light our first fire now that the temperatures in the southwest are starting to get warm enough to sit on the back patio at night. Come on over and we’ll share a glass of wine!

What copper pieces do you have that could use to be spruced up? Jewelry? Pots and pans? Furniture?

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Jenn Flynn-Shon is an Author of two fiction novels featuring strong female lead characters and is a frequent Guest Poster on various blogs. She has been a member of Team EcoEtsy for over five years. Learn more on her website.

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  1. Glad to know this works! I read it in a book I was editing and made note to try it on my copper-bottom pan, but I hadn’t taken the time yet. Thanks!

    • Let me know how it works for you Trayce, I haven’t tried it on pans yet but I’m curious to give it a whirl. For smaller items you can grind the salt right onto the lemon half so it stays put.

  2. My daughter has a copper fire pit that looks just like that. I am forwarding this to her!

    • I hope this works well for her Bonnie! Just a side note tell her to be sure to sand first, I made the mistake of testing on a small patch on the side with the lemon/salt before sanding and most of that rust seemed to get trapped for some reason. Let me know how hers comes out!

  3. That’s pretty impressive! Would the same technique work for brass or other metals, I wonder?

  4. I’m sharing this with my mom who has enough copper in her kitchen to power an entire village.