how to clean a steel penny

Shine Like a Pro: How to Clean a Steel Penny in Minutes

Last Updated on March 24, 2023

Have you ever come across a steel penny? It’s an interesting piece of American history that can often be found in coin collections. Steel pennies were made from 1943-1945 due to a shortage of copper during World War II, and they’re now highly sought after by collectors. But if you have one of these rare coins, how do you clean it without damaging it? In this article, we’ll show you how to clean a steel penny properly so it looks as good as possible!

Soaking Methods

Soaking a steel penny is one of the best ways to clean it. You can use either vinegar, baking soda or ammonia for this process. Vinegar and baking soda are both acidic chemicals that break down dirt and oil from the surface of the coin. To soak in these materials, mix 1/4 cup of each with two cups of warm water in a bowl or container. Then submerge your steel penny into the mixture for about 30 minutes. If you’re using ammonia instead, add 2-3 tablespoons to a cup of water and then let the penny sit in solution for 20 minutes before removing it and rinsing thoroughly.
Once your steel penny has been soaked, remove it from its liquid bath and rinse it under running water to get rid off any remaining residue. Dry the coin with a soft cloth or paper towel before handling it again.

Chemical Cleaning Agents

coins inside a container

Chemical cleaning agents can be used to clean steel pennies. To use ammonia, soak the penny in an ammonia-soaked solution for 30 minutes and then rinse it off with warm water. For vinegar-cleaning a penny, soak the coin in a vinegar-soaked solution for at least one hour before rinsing it off with cold water. Baking soda is also effective; simply submerge the penny in a baking-soda-soaked solution and let sit overnight, then rinse off with lukewarm water. Commercial cleaners are available from retail stores but should only be used if you’re experienced or have instructions from an expert on how to do so safely. Finally, a liver of sulfur is another option that offers powerful results; just prepare a diluted mixture according to directions and apply it liberally to your coins. Be sure to rinse them afterwards with hot water for the best results.

No matter which chemical cleaner you choose, always ensure that you wear protective gloves while working and take extra precautions when using any type of corrosive material such as acids or other harsh chemicals. With proper care and maintenance, these methods can help restore your rusty steel pennies back to their original shine!

Mechanical Cleaning Techniques

Mechanical cleaning techniques are a great way to restore the shine of your steel penny. This type of coin restoration requires some basic tools and supplies, such as polishing cloths or buffing wheels and a mild abrasive material like toothpaste.

Start by applying one of the above materials to the surface of your steel penny. Gently rub it in circles until you have achieved the desired level of shine. If necessary, repeat this process several times with different grades of abrasives for an even more polished look. Once you’re done, use a clean cloth to wipe away any excess residue before displaying your restored steel penny proudly!

Buffing Options

Moving on from mechanical cleaning techniques, buffing is another way to clean a steel penny. A buffing wheel and a buffing compound are needed for this method. The buffing wheel should be made of cotton or muslin and the compounds come in several forms such as rouge, tripoli, white diamond and others. Once the buffing wheel is set up, it’s time to apply some pressure with the compound against the Buffing Wheel while making sure not to put too much downward force on the coin itself. This process will remove any oxidation that may have built up over time. After completing this step, use a polishing cloth or steel brush to add luster and shine back into the coin. To finish off this process make sure you wipe away all remaining residue before putting your freshly cleaned steel penny away.

Drying and Finishing Steps

Once the penny has been thoroughly rinsed and dried, there are a few finishing steps that need to be taken in order to prevent rust from forming. The first step is to dry the penny completely with a soft cloth or paper towel. This will help remove any remaining moisture and debris on the surface of the coin.

The second step is to use a polishing cloth to gently buff away any dirt or tarnish on the surface of the penny. Lastly, it’s important to condition the metal using a conditioning wax so as to protect it against oxidation and keep it looking shiny for longer periods of time.

These three steps should help restore your steel penny back to its original glory:

a blue polishing cloth
  1. Dry with a cloth/paper towel
  2. Use polishing cloth
  3. Conditioning wax
    To finish off, you may want to display your newly polished penny in an airtight container such as a plastic bag or jar; this will help prevent further oxidation and keep your steel penny looking great!

Restoring Color to the Coin

Now that the rusty penny has been dried and finished, it’s time to restore its color. To do this, a penny-cleaning solution must be made. Mix one part salt with two parts white vinegar in a small bowl or cup until completely dissolved. Dip the tarnished penny into the cleaning solution for about three minutes, then rinse thoroughly under warm running water before drying again with a soft cloth.

The result should be a shiny penny that looks much better than when you started out! Be sure not to use any harsh chemicals on the coin because they could damage or discolor it further. With careful attention and patience, your steel penny will look just as good as new.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Should I Soak the Steel Penny in a Chemical Cleaning Agent?

Soaking a steel penny in a chemical cleaning agent is an effective way to clean the coin. The length of time needed for soaking should depend on how dirty or corroded your steel penny is. If you have a lightly tarnished penny, it may only need to be soaked for a few minutes; however, if the damage is more severe, you will likely need to soak it for longer periods of time.

coins submerged in a solution

When preparing to soak your steel penny, ensure that you are using appropriate protective gear such as gloves and eyewear. It’s also important to make sure that the container used for soaking is large enough so that the entire penny can fit inside without being bent or distorted. Once everything is ready, submerge your steel penny into the chemical cleaner and allow it to sit until all dirt and corrosion has been removed from its surface. While some people may recommend specific lengths of time for soaking, ultimately it comes down to personal preference – just remember not to leave it in too long! After removing your cleaned steel penny from the solution, rinse it off with water and dry it thoroughly before handling further.

How Can I Determine the Grade and Value of My Steel Penny?

Determining the grade and value of a steel penny can be an important step for collectors before cleaning. Steel pennies, or Lincoln wheat cents made from 1943 to 1945, are generally worth more than their face value due to their rarity. To establish this rare coin’s true worth, it is essential to know how to assess its grade and determine its value.

The first step in assessing the quality of your steel penny is known as grading. This process involves determining the condition of the penny based on factors such as scratches, wear, and discoloration. Grading helps you identify which level of preservation your steel penny resides at. The most common levels used when grading coins are Poor (P-1), Fair (FR-2), Good (G-4), Very Good (VG-8), Fine (F-12), Very Fine (VF-20) and Extra Fine (XF/AU). Once you’ve identified the grading level for your steel penny, you’ll have a better idea about its current market price.

It may also be beneficial to utilize third-party resources that provide certified grades and values for coins like yours. These services often use professional graders who will examine photos taken by yourself or submit your physical coin directly for evaluation – both options can give you access to accurate information regarding a coin’s grade and potential monetary value. Knowing the grade of your steel penny is key in understanding what it might fetch if sold on today’s market.


In a nutshell, cleaning and restoring of a steel penny can be a rewarding yet challenging task. With the right knowledge, patience, and techniques on how to clean a steel penny, you can bring your penny back to its former glory.

We’ve discussed how long to soak it in a chemical agent, if buffing is necessary, what’s the best way to restore color, how to determine grade and value, and whether mechanical cleaning is safe or not. So now that you know what needs to be done to clean a steel penny correctly, all that’s left for you to do is get started!

Remember: take your time with this process. Cleaning coins properly requires attention to detail so don’t rush through it. If you follow these steps carefully and thoroughly, you should have no problem getting your steel penny looking as good as new. Good luck!

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