Tuesday, September 23, 2014

On Martha, Homekeeping, Copper and Memories

I've always had a soft spot for the rich, warm tones of copper. I suspect I inherited the gene -- it was a favorite of my mom and when she died I also inherited her copper. Teakettles, mostly, a lovely candelabra, some plates, a leaky vase that holds umbrellas rather nicely. And with copper comes copper polishing!


My mom had it figured out. When a crowd surrounds, employ critical mass to help. Who else but my mom would have put all of us kids to work one day up at the lake polishing her copper? You might call it child labor. She would call it taking advantage of a good opportunity!

OK, maybe it was a rainy day, hence the lack of rebellion. Nonetheless, everyone seemed to get into it. (Well, my aunt observed and I got into taking the photos!

Of all the things I didn't have in copper that I really wanted, a copper boiler was one of them. I wanted it for the cottage to either set by the fire filled with wood or -- if it was too big for the spot -- to sit in the utility room next to the cat box filled with wood. We had made too many wet trips to the garage to bring in more wood on cold and rainy days. At least this way we could stock up.

So, when antique hunting with my friend Richard recently we came across one. It was $40 and Richard pointed out that the bottom seam wasn't good. He suggested asking if they had another and sure enough, another showed up at $23 -- with 20 percent off on top of that!

Not that it looked like copper. It looked more like zinc. And the handle was off (but easily replaced -- I don't plan to be moving it anyway). It was time to employ my copper polishing genes and see if I could shape it up a little.

I didn't have any copper polish but I did have Martha going for me. Long ago I remember her polishing copper using lemons and kosher salt. I'd tried this before on small pieces and it worked quite well. And, I had saved the lemons from yesterday's pesto just in case! (I put lemon juice in pesto. It rocks.)

So, there I was in my little sink with my big boiler and not enough lemons. I scrubbed and washed -- even used the Mr. Clean sponge now and then (not helpful, for once! and the scrubby end of a regular sponge. It took about two hours -- and it still needs more work but I had places to go, people to see, things to do. Here's the finished result! That one spot on one side is still pretty yucky but lots better than before!

Not bad! Here are my hints.
  • First, buy more lemons than you think you'll need -- you'll always use the leftovers and it takes more than you might imagine. The same for the kosher salt. I must have ended up using at least a cup.
  • Have plenty of paper towel on hand and a scrubby sponge will help, too.
  • You might want to wear gloves. I didn't. The yuck will come out of my nails someday. An apron is good, too.
  • If you have a spot bigger than the kitchen sink, use it. This isn't a tidy project.

The technique is simple -- wet the surface with the lemon, sprinkle over the salt and rub till the cows come home. Lather, rinse and repeat.

Have you tried other methods? I'm all ears! Any favorite polishes that bring out the glow but don't turn it into something gaudy? Share the tips!


Marilyn Miller said...

Love your copper bucket. Don't think I would have patience to scrub and scrub so more. Good job!
The only copper I have it the hood over my stove is copper. The grease from cooking seems to keep it fairly Ok with just a soft cloth wipe down on a regular basis.

Mae Travels said...

I have used all-purpose metal cleaner on copper-bottom cooking pots. My copper wash-boiler-converted-to-log-holder doesn't seem to tarnish much, since it doesn't see the type of use as those old Revereware pots (which I don't have any more).

Joanne Huffman said...

The polishing is the reason I've never been interested in copper pots or bowls.

Angelsdoor * Penny said...

Ok Jeanie, now you have made me tired! LOL... But you have done a great job.. I would imagine your poor hands are quite sore.

Mary Rose's said...

Vinegar instead of lemon juice.
But I think lemon juice smells nicer.
The salt can be any old Sodium Chloride, doesn't have to be kosher. :-)
Really good looking end results!
You can tell non-blog readers, "It's been in my family for years..."


Jeanie said...

All of your efforts (and the memories that went along with those efforts) will make this a well loved piece for a long, long time.

Anonymous said...

We didn't polish copper at my house, it was silver and we were expected to help, frequently. Your story reminds me of a story my mom told. A gal had donated a dingy metal pitcher to a charity sale she was working. Mom looked at it, pondered, and took it home. When she had it polished up it was a beautiful pewter pitcher. The gal changed her mind about donating it! I, like you, like copper. I think I read that vinegar and salt works and is probably cheaper than lemons. Enjoy your new toy. Will it fit by the fireplace? Kitty

Tracy said...

LOVELY COPPER! I love copper...mmm... I think all the polishing has put me off having/collecting any, though... LOL! Such fun to see your family photos... And your "new" boiler--what a great big beauty that is--nice find! Love me a hit of lemon in a pesto--it really up the WOW factor! ;o)

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...


Yes, I have tried this and it worked well. I just use the cream copper cleaner for my pots and pans and it works great. I don't like using harsh chemicals, but for the small amount of copper on my pans, I just use the cream every 6 months!

I LOVE to see how your mom used her troops to clean! So adorable are those photos....

littleRamstudio said...

What a great find.
It's going to look gorgeous with the glow of a fire flickering in its soft reflection.
Heather :)

shoreacres said...

For smaller pieces, I've made a lemon juice/water/salt solution and soaked them for a bit. Scrubby sponges are good, but you'll scratch the copper with many of them. That's why using a regular sponge or cloth is better.

I've got two antique copper molds hanging in the kitchen. One has a wonderful, long-eared squirrel!

Vagabonde said...

That was a great buy for sure.

Esme said...

This will look lovely once it is finished. Thank you for your kind words-you have a way of making me feel settled-when we talked about grief you spoke about it like the ocean ebbing-it is the once piece of advice that made sense to me.

I hope to me you in person one day if just not to give you a hug.

Betsy@My Salvaged Treasures said...

What a great find and an even better bargain. I remember using some sort of copper paste to clean the bottom of my mom's pots and it worked really well. This was a big job, but I think you did a great job. I like the patina.

The Artful Diva said...

I had one of those copper drums for a number of years - sold it at a garage sale

Arti said...

No sorry, never tried cleaning and polishing copper. But, they look so classy and your close-up photos are like abstract paintings! Character pieces. ;)

Janet said...

Your copper boiler looks great! I can see it filled with wood. I've never owned anything copper that I can remember. I'm not sure why because I love the soft color it has.

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

I love the look of that copper boiler - it turned out great! Your copper polishing pictures remind me of having to polish silverware when I was young as that was a task my mom set us girls to (but the boys were absolved, go figure!).

I need orange said...

It looks wonderful in the cottage with wood in it! Good eye, and good work! Do you watch Rehab Addict on HGTV? She says her arms are ripped (visible muscles!) because she spends so much time scrubbing out old tubs and sinks. I'm sure copper boilers would make the same benefits possible.......... :-)

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