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Polished plumbing: how to clean copper pipes

Shiny copper piping in the home can be a gorgeous feature — with a bit of regular TLC, that is. Learn the best way to clean copper pipes here.

Updated

closeup of polished copper pipes

Key steps

  1. Wash away loose dirt first.
  2. Use a commercial metal polish if you have one to hand.
  3. If you prefer a homemade solution, mix white vinegar with salt or cream of tartar, then apply it to the pipe.
  4. Rinse and dry the pipe completely when you’re done.

Exposed copper pipes can be a gorgeous feature, but they can also end up tarnished or corroded. Here’s the best way to clean copper pipes.

Note: If you’re using any of the below methods for the first time, try them out on an inconspicuous area of the pipe first. If the copper has been sealed, don’t use these methods, as they could strip off the sealant. If the pipe is seriously corroded, or if it’s leaking, contact a plumber rather than trying to clean it.

If you find that the salt and vinegar method is the best way to clean copper pipes for you, but you think your pipes could benefit from longer treatment, add flour to the salt and vinegar mixture to make a paste. You can now apply the paste to your pipe and let it sit for half an hour before cleaning it away.

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How to clean a copper pipe

If your piping is looking a little dull, or there are green spots tarnishing the metal, here’s how to polish a copper pipe until it shines.

  • Use a sponge and warm water to clean away loose dirt. Dry the pipe completely with a cloth.
  • A metal polish that’s suitable for copper, used according to the instructions, will usually get the best results.
  • If you don’t have metal polish to hand and you want a home solution, try dissolving a tablespoon of salt in a cup of white vinegar. Use a soft cloth to rub the salt-and-vinegar mixture onto the pipe. It’ll create a chemical reaction that will usually remove the tarnish from copper within seconds.
  • Rinse the pipe thoroughly with a sponge. If you’ve used vinegar and you don’t wash it off completely, the pipe will turn green.
  • Buff and dry the pipe with a clean cloth.
  • Sometimes, after a polish, copper pipe can still look a bit tarnished or uneven. If so, you can use fine wire wool to scrub away remaining tarnish and to even out the surface. Wash and dry the pipe again afterwards.

Similar tips and tricks can get metal surfaces gleaming smartly all around your home. Check out our article on cleaning brass, copper and pewter surfaces for more!

Descaling copper pipes: dealing with mineral deposits

Limescale build-up isn’t usually a problem inside copper pipes; it tends to affect steel pipes. If you do have limescale problems inside your pipes, it might be worth looking into installing a water softening system.

  • However, you might find unsightly mineral deposits on the outside of your copper pipes. Learning how to clean copper pipes with encrusted limescale is easy: you can even use ordinary ingredients you might have around the house.
  • Again, wash the pipe with a sponge dipped in warm water before you begin. There’s no point in applying a cleaner to mineral deposits that are already loose.
  • Make a paste of two parts cream of tartar and one part white vinegar. If you prefer, you can replace the vinegar with lemon juice.
  • Apply this acidic paste to some kitchen roll or a stiff brush and use it to scrub away the alkaline deposits on your copper pipe.
  • Once you’re done descaling the copper pipes, rinse and dry them off thoroughly.

Knowing these handy tips for how to polish copper pipes and keep clean will help you to turn this utilitarian element of your home into a feature that adds some shiny warmth to your décor.

Originally published