How To Clean Old Coins (Hint: Don’t!)

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Old coins are not just fun collectable items, they can also be extremely valuable. Of course, if you collect or trade coins, you’ll want to keep them in the best condition possible and have probably wondered at some point if you should clean old coins? Well, we’re here to give you the low down on all the dos and don’ts when it comes to cleaning coins.

Collection of dirty South African vintage coins

So what is the best way to clean old coins?

The best way to clean old coins is, incredibly, to not clean them at all! Your first instinct, if you collect or want to sell old coins, might be to try to get them as shiny and beautiful looking as possible. However, the reason that you shouldn’t clean old coins is that their tarnish and signs of age are actually part of their appeal.

Coins are graded by collectors due to a number of different factors, from the rarity of the coin, to the date, to the mint where it was produced, and of course the condition of the coin. But the condition of the coin is classified as wear and dents, not the superficial aesthetics such as dirt and grime.

Patina, that green film that forms on old metals due to exposure over the years, is actually desired and appreciated by avid coin collectors. It is best not to clean rare coins as removing the patina can significantly reduce the value of them. For this reason, most coin hobbyists almost never clean their coins. In fact, 99% of coins do not increase in value after you clean them, but many will be greatly devalued.

Old coins in patina

If you really insist on trying to tidy up your coin collection, a very light brushing, or possibly a quick rinse with water is the absolute limit of what you should attempt. Do not rub coins, just let them dry naturally in the air. Coins all shiny from using brass or silver polish will have actually lost much of their value.

How can I clean old coins?

Copper, silver, nickel, and gold coins should strictly never be cleaned. But if you do really want to get stuck in and have a go at cleaning some coins, we recommend that you experiment on some modern loose change instead. Something like a penny for example.

There are a variety of suggested ways when it comes to cleaning coins, and cleaning coins with coke is the internet’s number one method of choice.

Simply place one coin in a glass or tub and pour coke over the top, enough so that it is fully submerged in the liquid. Leave the coin to soak for about 5 minutes or so and then check on its condition. If you feel that it needs longer, you can soak it for up to 15 minutes.

Coin cleaning in progress

Once you’ve removed the coin from the coke, gently rinse it under cold running water. Next, carefully pat it dry and leave it to fully dry naturally on a windowsill or similar.

Warning – do not mix coins together when they are soaking in the Coke, as some coins may discolor other coins.

What other ways can I clean my old coins?

If you really need to clean a coin and are looking for alternative methods, then here are some other ways that you could try.

Firstly, we recommend holding the coins by their edges, as this will hopefully limit the amount of damage that you might do.

Perhaps the gentlest way that you can try to clean a coin is by rinsing it in distilled water. Most water is now treated with fluoride, which can cause a chemical reaction in some of the metals used in coins. Using distilled water, therefore, removes some of the potential to cause harm to the coin.

Soaking old coin in vinegar to clean them

Soaking the old coins in vinegar is another method that you can attempt. Just leave the coin immersed in vinegar for around a minute or so, then rinse off the vinegar and leave it to dry.

If you don’t have any vinegar to hand, then you can try a tomato paste or ketchup as a substitute. The tomatoes and vinegar in ketchup are lightly acidic. The acid will attack and remove any oxides that have formed on the surface of the coin.

So should I really sell my old coins without cleaning them?

Yes! Numismatists – that’s coin collectors to you and me – really don’t mind about a bit of dirt and discolouration (know as toning in the trade). In fact, they actively encourage you not to clean old coins before selling them.

If you have some old coins that you want to sell and are looking for a new and easy way to get a great price for them, then you’re in the right place. Here at Vintage Cash Cow, we love nothing better than a handful of grubby old coins! Their griminess actually adds to the mystique of their history, and our team of experts can easily see past a bit of old dust and dirt to assess the coin’s true value.

How to clean coins

We see hundreds of old coins each week, so can quickly give you an accurate valuation of the coins and make you an offer based on their market value.

How does Vintage Cash Cow work?

Simply collect up your old coins, along with any other old valuables that you want to sell. Package them up and pop them in the post to us using one of our free postage labels.

As soon as your items arrive with us, we’ll get our team of in-house experts to check them over and make you an offer according to their value. The more things that you send in, the greater that your amount is likely to be. Accept the offer and you’ll get paid out on the same day.

It’s quick, simple and safe. Call one of our friendly team and request your free information pack today. They’re always on hand to answer any questions that you might have and will keep you informed every step of the way.

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How to clean coins


6 thoughts on “How To Clean Old Coins (Hint: Don’t!)

  1. I have a freedom dollar and several other old coins. I am a bit worried sending them through the mail. Is there a office located near me happy to bring them in.

    1. Hi Christine, We only have one office at the moment, based in Leeds, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom.

      Unfortunately, for security and insurance reasons, we’re unable to allow our customers to drop items off with us.

      Our postage service is very reliable and all parcels received and sent by us are tracked and insured for their whole journey.

      If you’re unhappy sending items through the post, unfortunately, we wouldn’t be the correct service for you on this occasion, but I wish you the very best of luck with your coins.

      Kind regards,
      Katie – Vintage Cash Cow

  2. Thanks for the helpful advice. I have literally pounds of coins left to me. I will do the best i can to go through them. A lot of them r green & seem moldy. Ones i figure r of just face value i will clean per ur advice as i want to roll them & bring to the bank. Again thanks for the help.

    1. You’re very welcome, Lynne – glad we could help! The green colouring on most base metal coins is actually oxidisation, which many coin collectors will look out for when adding to their collection, as it’s a sign that the coin is old and of interest to numismatists. Kind regards, Katie – Vintage Cash Cow

  3. I found a really thin coin on a cornish beach near my house today. It is very green and can’t see any markings!!! It’s about a two pence size. Maybe possibly its has Chinese writing on.!! I worried to clean it because it’s so thin ! Should I or no ? Any tips ..Thank you .please

    1. Hi Scott, Congrats on your find! The reason that you shouldn’t clean old coins is that their tarnish and signs of age are actually part of their appeal and many coin collectors will be more interested in coins that just look dirty to you or me. We receive thousands of coins every month, and trust me when I say they’re not all sparkling clean! I’d recommend getting in touch with a numismatist local to you as they’ll most likely be able to give you more information on your beach find! Best wishes, Katie – Vintage Cash Cow

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