How to Clean a Copper Sink and Restore Its Patina

Follow these steps to clean and care for a copper sink—it's easier than you may imagine.

Copper is a fascinating metal that has a reputation for being temperamental. However, that reputation is a bit unfair. Copper has what's called a "living finish," which means that its color will change naturally over time—think of how a shiny penny darkens with age, developing a deep patina.

Copper sinks, because they are used so regularly, develop a patina quickly, but also very likely experience spotting and stripping of the patina. Neither of those changes to the color of the copper sink is cause for alarm; changes to the patina do not indicate that the sink is damaged. It's simply the nature of copper.

vertical shot of a white kitchen with a copper farmhouse sink near a window
Werner Straube

How Often to Clean a Copper Sink

When it comes to the frequency with which to clean a copper sink, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that cleaning a copper sink is as easy as washing a dish. The bad news is that you'll have to do it often—at least daily—in order to keep the sink looking its best.

Copper sinks should be cleaned daily with mild soap, warm water, and a soft cloth or sponge. Additionally, the sink should be rinsed after each use to wick away any acidic or oily residue that can cause changes to the copper patina. To prevent spotting caused by minerals in the water supply, dry the sink after every use.

What to Avoid When Cleaning a Copper Sink

When it comes to caring for a copper sink, it is crucial to know what not to do. Cleaning a copper sink is as straightforward a cleaning job as there is, but using the wrong cleaning agents or tools can cause irreversible damage to this beautiful metal.

Avoid the following when cleaning or caring for a copper sink:

  • Abrasive cleaners, including scouring powders and cream cleansers
  • Chlorine bleach and products that contain bleach as an ingredient
  • Drain openers and other products that contain harsh chemicals
  • Steel wool, abrasive scrubbing pads, and abrasive scrub brushes
  • Avoid leaving food or dirty dishes in the kitchen sink, especially oily foods and citrus or other acidic foods (tomatoes and tomato products like ketchup, lemons, limes, pickled vegetables, etc.)
  • Avoid leaving residue from cosmetics and personal care products like toothpaste and shaving cream in the bathroom sink

How to Clean a Copper Sink

Routine cleaning helps to keep a copper sink, whether raw or lacquered, looking beautiful for years to come.

What You'll Need

  • Mild dish soap
  • Non-abrasive sponge or dishcloth
  • Microfiber or cotton cloth

Step 1: Rinse the Sink

Rinse the sink with warm or hot water to remove particles or residue on the sink's surface.

Step 2: Wipe the Sink

Use a mild liquid dish soap and a non-abrasive sponge or dishcloth to wipe the entire interior of the sink. Pay special attention to the rim, as food and liquids can splatter and become lodged in that space, causing damage to the finish.

Step 3: Rinse and Dry

Rinse away soapy residue using warm or hot water. Then use a microfiber or cotton cloth to thoroughly dry the sink and fixtures.

kitchen sink with copper faucet and countertops
Tria Giovan

Troubleshooting Common Copper Sink Problems

It is inevitable that at some point, your copper sink will be exposed to something that strips its patina. The first thing to do is stave off any panic by reminding yourself that changes to the appearance of copper are part of its natural beauty and that over time the rich tones of copper's patina will reappear.

However, there are some steps you can take to reverse the discoloration or stripping of copper's patina.

1. Dishes or Food Damaging the Finish

While it's recommended that you not leave dishes or food in a copper sink, the reality is that a sink is a utilitarian item, and dishes, utensils, food scraps, and more will be left in it in the course of regular, daily use.

Since it is not especially realistic to banish plates and food entirely from a kitchen sink, use a bottom grid to keep things off of the copper surface. Similarly, a sponge holder will help to keep sponges and other cleaning tools, like dish wands, from coming in direct contact with the copper.

2. Bright Spots

Bright spots caused by the stripping of the patina will occur when the copper has been exposed to something acidic, like a slice of lemon or a blob of tomato sauce. These are inevitable and should be regarded as part of copper sink ownership rather than a cause for alarm

When bright spots occur, wipe away whatever substance caused the change in color and allow nature to take its course—the patina will return with time. To speed the process, clean the sink with mild soap and water, then use a stiff nylon bristle brush to gently scour the edges of the bright spot to wear away and blend the surrounding patina.

3. Green Spots or Discoloration

Green spots or discoloration on copper known as verdigris occurs naturally and is not harmful to the metal. Verdigris, a buildup of minerals, can be caused by prolonged exposure to moisture and by some soaps.

To prevent verdigris, wipe a copper sink after each use to keep water from pooling and to ensure that soap residue doesn't linger on the surface. Pay particular attention to the drain, faucets, and other fixtures, where water tends to linger, causing discoloration.

When verdigris does occur, simply wipe it off using a microfiber or cotton cloth. Additional pressure can be applied with a fingernail, but avoid scratching verdigris off of a copper surface using anything more abrasive. If more scouring power is needed to remove verdigris, make a paste of baking soda and water and use a sponge to apply it to the copper in a circular motion before rinsing off.

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