Many people wonder how to clean their collectible coins. One method involves using hydrogen peroxide, but it must be done correctly to be effective. This means there are very specific steps to clean coins with hydrogen peroxide.
The 11 steps to clean coins with hydrogen peroxide are:
1. Soak the coins in water
2. Dry them off and remove any oil residue
3. Place the coins in a disposable plastic bowl
4. Cover the coins in hydrogen peroxide
5. Heat up the solution
6. Let it sit
7. Check on the coin every 30 minutes
8. Wait for the bubbling to stop
9. Rub down with hydrogen peroxide
10. Rinse everything with water
11. Repeat if necessary
Cleaning coins in hydrogen peroxide requires almost constant attention. If not done properly, it is ineffective and can damage the face of the coin. Below, we discuss each step in more detail, and when you shouldn’t clean your coins with hydrogen peroxide.
From a cleanliness perspective, coins are fairly gross. There is no getting around it. Coins change hands with thousands of people and pick up all their oils, dirt and germs. Coins get left in drawers, on the floor, in pockets and dozens of other places. Every place it touches, it leaves a little and takes a little. After years, the grime can be so thick that the coin’s imagery is obscured.
In most cases, dirty coins just get cast aside or used in commercial transactions. When a collectible coin is filthy, however, the situation changes. The average coin collector wonders if they should clean up their coins for presentation purposes or leave them be. There are a few things to consider in that debate.
Not All Coins Should Be Cleaned
While it might seem counterintuitive, not all coins should be cleaned. There are a few reasons for this.
Many collectors want their coins to reflect the history of the coin in question. They want the grime and dirt because it illustrates the coin has lived and was not stuck in a wrapper on a shelf somewhere.
Credibility And Collectability
Along the same lines, dirty coins have an air of authenticity. A coin minted during World War II that is life-worn looks more legitimate than one that is mint condition shiny, even though both coins have the same face value.
The value of a coin is largely based on perception. How it is perceived is driven by other collectors and ratings organizations. There are of course tangible aspects of every coin, like the raw materials used to make it, or how rare it is. But to a large extent, a coin’s value is driven by how the market (collectors) perceives it.
Coins that are well worn are not regarded as “dirty” by most collectors. In fact, they are generally considered more attractive than a shiny coin in mint condition. That fact makes a dirty or grimy coin worth more to most collectors.
Part of the reason collectors like coins that are weathered is that each coin conveys a sense of history. A coin from the Civil War era that looks like it was used during a war carries more credibility than a coin of the same denomination from the same era that is in pristine condition.
Mint condition coins are easy to rate. They are what they are. If a coin meets certain criteria it is rated as mint and there is an associated value for that rating. A weathered coin is much tougher to rate. That can mean a valuable coin is unfairly valued, but it also means there is a chance some aspect of the coin will make it more valuable than its face value.
If that Civil War era coin was in circulation, there is a chance it was carried by a soldier during a famous battle. Or it might even have been carried by President Lincoln. The possibilities are endless and, because they are mysterious, collectors will shell out money, even though the coin is dirty.
Cleaning Reveals Blemishes
Dirt and grime can sometimes “hide all sins.” That means that sometimes the grimier a coin the more likely it is that a blemish or damage will go unnoticed. A clean coin has nothing to hide its flaws. Cleaning can even accentuate flaws, like a damaged face or deep nick that might have been overlooked.
Cleaning Can Damage The Coin
If the steps to clean a coin with hydrogen peroxide are not followed, the coin’s face can be damaged and worn away. Hydrogen peroxide is highly corrosive, which means it can do away with grime, but also can do away with most metals over time.
Cleaning Can Enhance Blemishes
Hydrogen peroxide can eat away a coin’s face, but it can also make blemishes more noticeable. This is particularly true if the blemish is from any type of chemical stain.
When Is It Ok To Clean A Coin?
The answer to that depends on your own feelings about the coin. If you have a sentimental attachment to a coin, and don’t care about its numismatic value, and you want a shiny, clean showpiece, the answer is “whenever you want.” If, however, you have no attachment to a coin and do want to maximize its value potential, the answer, with very few exceptions is “never.”
When Not To Clean Your Coins
If you are looking to sell your coins, do not clean them. Cleaning them risks devaluing, damaging and even destroying them. If your coin or coins hold sentimental value and you want to clean them up, use these techniques. Otherwise, leave your coins as they are!
Below is some other advice to help make sure your hydrogen peroxide coin cleaning is as effective as possible.
No Rub Cleaning
Some coins will not need rubbing at all. The hydrogen peroxide solution will dissolve any dirt or grime. Each coin likely is different and the degree to which it needs physical cleaning beyond the hydrogen peroxide is dependent on that coin’s history and what it was exposed to during that history.
Additionally, some coins, if they are pitted by corrosion particularly, are beyond redemption when it comes to cleaning them. They will be corroded or even defaced no matter what you do. Further corroding them or defacing them can negate any value that the coin in question still holds.
Use non valuable coins at first and experiment with your solution and technique. You may find that the less hydrogen peroxide you use, the better your coins clean up.
After cleaning, protect your coins by coating them with a coin preserver.
What You Need To Clean Your Coins
Using hydrogen peroxide to clean coins is easy, but it does require some specific supplies, equipment and materials.
Cleaners And Polishes
Never try and clean coins using jewelry cleaner or metal polish. Both are too harsh for most coins and can cause irreparable damage, including causing defacement. A coin damaged by cleaners or polishes will lose most and even all its value aside from its face value.
Do not use hydrogen peroxide with a concentration higher than 3%. A higher concentration risks damaging the coin.
You should wear safety glasses whenever using hydrogen peroxide, with no exceptions. Not wearing glasses risks a splash getting in your eye, which is definitely a bad situation. Eyes exposed to hydrogen peroxide become inflamed, swollen and bloodshot, and they can feel like they are burning.
In the worst case, you could lose your vision. That risk is not worth the pain and suffering, especially when it is avoidable by simply wearing safety glasses!
Access To Water
Have a bowl of water available or be very close to a faucet when using hydrogen peroxide. This way, if you do get some in your eye, you can flush it out immediately. The same goes for spilling hydrogen peroxide on your clothes. Flush any spill area immediately and thoroughly soak the area too. Then wash the article of clothing as soon as possible in cold water.
Disposable Plastic Bowl
Do not use glassware or anything that has actual or sentimental value as hydrogen peroxide can damage it, especially if it has any type of coating on it. The bowl should be microwave safe. You can reuse the bowl, but it should be discarded or cleaned after each use. A dirty bowl from prior cleanings can make a cleaning less effective.
Box Of Q-Tips
Use Q-tips for cleaning. You can use cheap cotton swabs, but these tend to fall apart after using them a few times. Q-tips are more durable and because they are more finely pointed, can be used to clean intricate engraving or small areas without smudging dirt.
Any heat source that will warm the hydrogen peroxide but not melt the plastic bowl will work. Remember the solution is hot when checking up on it. Sticking your finger into hot hydrogen peroxide is no fun at all!
11 Steps To Clean Coins With Hydrogen Peroxide
1. Soak The Coins In Water
Soak the coins in water to soften any debris and to remove any lose dirt. If your water is hard, use store-bought water. It’s not necessary to use distilled water, but that does ensure no harmful chemicals reside in the water. Let the coins soak for about a half hour.
2. Dry Them Off And Remove Any Oil Residue
After 30 minutes, drain the water and rinse off the coins. If possible, use a sprayer, either from a spray bottle or the kitchen sink sprayer. The purpose of this is to knock off any debris that might be loose, but still hanging on the coin.
Then, dry off each coin individually, examine them for oil residue, and wipe that off. If the oil residue doesn’t come off cleanly, resoak the coins with oil and add a drop or two of anti-grease dish detergent. Let the coins sit for another half hour.
After 30 minutes, drain the water and soap and rinse the coins thoroughly. Dry them off individually and remove any oil residue that still remains.
3. Place The Coins In A Disposable Plastic Bowl
As you are drying the coins, place them in the plastic bowl so that each coin sits on the bottom of the bowl and does not touch any other coins. Unless you have a large bowl, this will restrict the number of coins you can fit into one hydrogen peroxide cleaning session.
If you have leftover coins, you can do two sessions with the same bowl or find another bowl and let them run at the same time. If you do two back-to-back sessions, keep in mind that each batch must sit for the entire time before being removed or the cleaning will not be complete.
4. Cover The Coins With Hydrogen Peroxide
Cover the coins in the bowl with hydrogen peroxide. Make sure each coin is immersed in the solution with room to spare. If you have enough, pour enough hydrogen peroxide to have an inch between the surface of the liquid and the top of the coin.
This will ensure that as the hydrogen peroxide reacts to the dirt and grime on a coin, liquid will not be lost sufficiently to expose the coin to air. This is particularly important if you are cleaning extremely dirty coins.
5. Heat Up The Solution
Hydrogen peroxide responds to heat. Use a lamp or some other heat source to heat the solution above the temperature of the hydrogen peroxide when it was in the bottle. Be careful not to get the heat source too close to the bowl or melt the side of the bowl.
If you do it correctly, the hydrogen peroxide will heat up and the reaction will speed up and be more effective. The better the reaction, the more likely it will be that any dirt or debris is removed from the coin and any grime on the coin will be cleaned off.
6. Let It Sit
Let the hydrogen peroxide work in the heated stage for the duration of the cleaning. If the solution starts to cool, reheat the solution. Keep in mind that a heat source is not necessary to clean the coins, but it does speed up the cleaning process significantly.
7. Check On The Coin Every 30 Minutes
Because it is a chemical solution, it is important to periodically check up on the process. While nothing dangerous could happen, if the solution is compromised in any way it will be ineffective. Check the solution every 30 minutes or so for at least the first few hours.
You can remove the coins to check on the progress of the cleaning. When you remove the coin rub it down with a peroxide-soaked towel and use a Q-tip to remove any grime you can. Then, put the coin back in the solution.
8. Wait For The Bubbling To Stop
Wait for the bubbling to stopbefore moving any coins. If possible, let the coins sit for 12 to 24 hours or until the bubbles have disappeared. The longer they can sit in the solution, the more effective the cleaning will be.
9. Rub Down With Hydrogen Peroxide
After the hydrogen peroxide has stopped bubbling, carefully remove the coins from the bowl and place them on a paper towel. Gently rub the coin with a hydrogen peroxide-soaked towel to remove any remaining grime and dirt. Then, let them dry.
You can use a cotton ball to clean the coins, but they get dirty quickly and begin to come apart. Use a Q-tip if possible as they are more durable, and you can clean each coin more thoroughly.
10. Inspect The Coins And Rinse With Water
After the coins have dried, inspect them for hydrogen peroxide residue and any remaining dirt and grime. Rinse all the coins in water as that will remove most of the hydrogen peroxide residue that might collect on some coins. Let the coins dry on a paper towel and then place them in a protective cover.
11. Repeat If Necessary
It is possible that the coins will not clean thoroughly the first time around. For coins with stubborn dirt, debris and grime, you may need to put them through the process again.
Make sure for any coins going through a second time that you rinse out the bowl and dry it before adding new hydrogen peroxide. Do not reuse any materials in a second cleaning.
Alternative Coin Cleaners
If using hydrogen peroxide is not something you want to do, there are a few options that will still get your coins reasonably clean.
Run your coins under tap water to knock off any debris or loose dirt. You can also use a dishcloth to aid in the removal of dirt and debris. This will not remove tarnish or deep stains. If you have hard tap water, use distilled water instead.
Adding soap to your water can enhance the cleaning process. Using a dish soap that helps break up grease is sometimes beneficial in and of itself and useful before you clean your coins with hydrogen peroxide. Just make sure the soap is mild. Put a few drops in your water, immerse your coins and rub them one at a time either with a rag, your fingers or a soft toothbrush.
White vinegar can help wear away contamination on coins. Soak the coins in vinegar for a minimum of 30 minutes but preferably overnight. Remove the coins and wipe them with a clean cloth. You can also clean them with a soft toothbrush. Rinse with water when done, and repeat if necessary.
Listerine is the best for this, but other antiseptic mouthwashes will work too. Mouthwash can clean dirt, oil and debris from coins. Soak them for 12 hours and then wash them under water with a clean cloth.
If you have coins that are particularly dirty, you can clean them with hydrogen peroxide. While this can damage some coins, it is an effective way to get a coin back to looking brand new if you follow all the steps above very carefully. Before you clean any of your coins with hydrogen peroxide, ensure you understand the risks, and consider whether it’s best to just leave your coins as is.