Cleaning pennies can be a fun activity for kids of all ages. You can get Lincoln cents by the roll at your local bank, or check with your parents or grandparents if they have a big-old-jar full of pennies and spare change sitting on top of their dresser. There are other ways to clean pennies that involve the use of chemical cleaners that contain acids or other harmful chemicals. I have chosen only to present methods that are non-toxic and safe for children.
WARNING: Cleaning coins is viewed by serious coin collectors as causing damage to the coin and thus reduces its value. Expert coin dealers can tell almost instantly if a coin has been cleaned or not. Some pennies are outrageously expensive and thus should not be cleaned. Therefore before you clean any coin, you should determine if it is a valuable coin. If in doubt, take the coin in question to a local coin dealer and ask for a free appraisal before you clean it.
1. Pencil Eraser
This first technique is extremely easy and involves no liquids that can spill and make a mess.
First, lay your dirty penny on top of a piece of paper or clean cloth. While holding the penny on a flat stable surface with one hand, use the pencil eraser to rub the dirt and brown oxidation off of the penny using a small circular motion. When it is clean and shiny to your liking, flip the penny over and repeat the same process on the other side. Old pencils with erasers that are rock-hard will be difficult to use and may leave deep scratches in the penny.
- One or more new pencils with soft erasers
- Paper or clean cloth to work on
- No liquids to spill
- You probably already have everything you need
- Small, physical, and repetitive motions (may be difficult for grandma or grandpa to help)
- Eraser crumbs may get all over
2. Tomato Ketchup
This technique is very similar to the pencil eraser technique except that we add a little bit of ketchup to the process to help remove the oxidation.
This easy process begins by putting about a quarter cup of tomato ketchup into a small container. Pick up a little ketchup on an old toothbrush by dipping it in the ketchup. While holding the penny on a flat surface with one hand, use the old toothbrush to work the tomato ketchup into the surface of the penny using small circular motions. In about a minute your penny will turn from dull brown into a bright copper color. If you would like to add a little bit more shine to your penny, do the "Bon Ami Cleanser or Baking Soda" method described below. Rinse the remaining ketchup from the surface of the penny under warm running water. Dry the penny with a soft clean cloth.
- Quarter cup of tomato ketchup (or three ketchup packets from your favorite fast food place)
- Small container
- An old toothbrush
- Clean cloth
- Brings out the copper color on the penny
- Physically easier than the pencil eraser method
- Ketchup can splatter on people and things
3. Soap and Water
If your pennies literally have dirt (like from a garden) or some other sort of unidentified gunk on them, you will need to remove that before trying to make your pennies bright and shiny. If you know how to wash dishes, you will be able to perform this task quite easily.
First, mix a small amount of dishwashing liquid and water together. Dip your old toothbrush into the soapy water so that it is thoroughly soaked. While holding the penny with one hand, use the soapy toothbrush to scrub the dirt and gunk off the surface of the penny. Rinse under warm running water and dry with a soft clean cloth.
- Dishwashing liquid
- Warm water
- An old toothbrush
- Soft clean cloth
- Materials are readily available
- Easily removes dirt and gunk
- Does not bring out the bright copper color on the penny