How Do I Clean Copper Sheet Metal?

Over time copper sheet metal can tarnish, but luckily there are some options for cleaning it up. Even if it hasn’t been tarnished yet, it’s always a good idea to clean your material before using it for a project to remove any dirt or residues. Without material preparation, you will run into issues during the welding and fabrication stages of your project. Better safe than sorry when it comes to material preparation. Check out this article to learn how to clean copper sheet metal for future projects.

Cleaning Solution Options for Cleaning Copper Sheet Metal

A vinegar (also known as acetic acid) and salt mixture is a simple but effective method to clean copper. It’s free of harsh chemicals and an affordable option. One tablespoon of salt to one cup of vinegar can be used as a ratio for the mixture. Using a soft cloth or soft scrubbing pads, rub the mixture on the copper followed by a rinse of water and a pat dry. Do not use steel wool as it is a harder metal than copper and will damage it. Allowing the copper to soak in the vinegar and salt solution is optimal but not always an option when dealing with copper sheet metal.

Citric acid, available in powder form, can be used as a diluted solution. In place of powdered citric acid, lemon or lime juice is a great substitute. Two and a half teaspoons of citric acid to one cup of water can be used as a ratio. Similar to the vinegar and salt mixture, use a soft cloth or scrubbing pad to apply the mixture. Avoid exposure to direct sunlight or other acids immediately following using a citric acid-based cleaning solution.

Another option is acetone. Acetone is a solvent that can be used with a soft cloth to remove stains from copper. Just make sure your workspace is well ventilated. You also better work fast because the acetone will evaporate very quickly.

Although some sources will recommend the use of ammonia, it should be avoided. Ammonia is a harsh chemical, and even as a diluted solution, it can cause the copper to become brittle and crack. In addition, this cleaning method leads to the copper being difficult to solder.

Safety Precautions When Cleaning Copper Sheets

When cleaning copper metal sheets, safety glasses should be worn when mixing up and applying your chosen cleaning solution. Gloves are not essential when using weak acids such as citric acid for a short time. However, you can never be too careful, and if you plan on doing a lot of copper sheet metal clean-up, your gloved hands will thank you later. No one wants hands that reek of vinegar. If your project using copper sheet metal requires you to grind or cut, the same safe work practices as working with steel will apply. Grinding and cutting copper sheet metal produce small particles that can be inhaled, ingested or cause irritation if rubbed into the skin or eyes. Therefore, you should wear a respirator, face shield, safety glasses and work gloves when grinding or cutting copper sheet metal. After the copper sheet metal has been cut or ground, acetone can be used to clean off any residues left behind, and your copper sheet metal will be ready for the next stage of your project.

Preventative Measures to Protect your Copper

Lastly, once your project is complete, and you want to protect it from tarnishing and corrosion in the future, a coating can be applied as a protective layer. Everbrite Coatings offers protective spray coatings such as ProtectaClear that will provide a durable, clear coating that will dry quickly and be food-safe once cured. Applying a protective coating will keep your copper sheet metal project looking freshly polished and untarnished. You probably put a lot of time and effort into your copper sheet metal project. Without a protective coating, once completed, you are essentially giving yourself a lot of rework and recleaning to do in the near future. Save yourself the trouble and protect your hard work!

To learn more about how to clean copper sheet metal or for professional welding services in the Greater Toronto Areacontact the Central Mobile Welding team today.

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