Should You Clean Silver Coins?

When it comes to silver coins, some people may believe that polished is always preferable, whilst others may not dare go near their coin collections with any kind of cleaning solvent. From a numismatic perspective, it’s very useful to know whether or not you should clean silver coins.

You should not clean silver coins. The act of cleaning a silver coin not only runs the risk of damaging the precious metal, but it may also drastically reduce its value as a collectible. However, there are numerous ways you can minimize the risks of damaging your silver coins when cleaning them.

There are some instances when you might be curious about coin-cleaning, or want to try to tidy up your coin collection for some practice. Although we strictly do not recommend cleaning silver coins, read on to find out more about cleaning them and how you can do it fairly safely.

Reasons People Clean Silver Coins (And Why They Shouldn’t!)

Whether it be to enhance the appearance of their collection, sanitize their stash or even simply out of morbid curiosity, there are people who feel that cleaning their coins is a necessary procedure. Although we must stress that this is very rarely the ideal route to go down, we have compiled a list of circumstances in which the decision to clean a coin may arise.

The Desire For ‘Mint’ Condition

Possibly the most obvious reason someone may want to clean a coin would be, quite frankly, because they want it to be clean!After all, who doesn’t love a shiny coin?

The feeling of obtaining a brand-new, shiny silver bullion coin is undeniably satisfying. But any silver coin that has been in general circulation will more than likely tarnish over time, which means that a coin which hasn’t been newly minted or painstakingly preserved will probably not stun anyone with a blinding sparkle.

However, it is important to understand that that mint shine isn’t necessarily what adds the value to a coin. In fact, the tarnish and other less aesthetically pleasing signs of age are actually often desirable aspects of a collectible coin. We’ll discuss this in more detail shortly.


It’s no secret that circulated coins are rife with germs. After all, there’s no telling where they have been before. Many numismatists enjoy hunting for rare or special edition coins in general circulation, meaning their collections could potentially be filled with all sorts of unthinkable grime.

This problem of germs may also be a concern for those who are perhaps encouraging younger coin enthusiasts to build their collections. If they will be in the hands of a child, it is understandable to prefer coins to be sanitized beforehand.

Coins are, of course, a choking hazard, and therefore not recommended for young children to be in the possession of unattended. If having sanitized coins for your child’s collection is important, we perhaps recommend cleaning more common, non-silver coins for them to collect. A popular suggestion for young collectors would be US State Quarters, for example.

Indeed, if you are investing in silver bullion coins for your child as a portfolio, we would recommend keeping them protected in their casing, rather than allowing the child to play with them. This will not only keep them in as close to mint condition as possible, but it should also ensure you have no desire to give them a clean.

Education & Experimentation

Following on from the topic of children and coin collecting, it is worth noting that carers and educators often use the act of coin-cleaning as a teaching aid.

I remember in kindergarten having a lesson where the teacher soaked old pennies in a glass of Coca-Cola overnight. The soda cleaned the penny up to be sparkling, and the lesson served as a great teaching aid to demonstrate the negative effects of soda on teeth.

If these experiments are to be done with children, whether for fun or for educational purposes, you can try using some of the cleaning methods we have detailed out below.

It goes without saying, but please do not perform experiments on coins minted from precious metals! It would be far preferable to use common, loose change, such as pennies. If you are unsure of the coins you have, or whether they are at all valuable, we suggest taking it to a coin specialist to assess and advise.

The Science Of Silver

Coins are delicate and valuable objects, especially those made of silver and other precious metals. It is important for any collector to be aware of the science behind their silver and the steps they can take to help preserve the coins, especially those who would prefer to keep their collection in as pristine a condition as possible.

What Causes Silver To Tarnish?

The black coating that forms on silver is a naturally occurring chemical reaction between the silver and sulfur in the air. When combined, the two elements form silver sulfide, which is what we would commonly refer to as ‘tarnish’.

A common misconception about tarnish on silver is that it is an indicator of ‘ruined’ metal. In fact, tarnish is only a superficial reaction, completely unlike how rust forms on iron. Therefore, it effectively forms a coating around the precious metal, which is protected underneath.

The rate of reaction on coins depends on different variables. Firstly, the amount of sulfur the coin comes into contact with, and to what extent, is very important. Although the reaction may take time, a silver coin left uncovered will still tarnish, since particles containing sulfur may be present in the air.

However, the rate of reaction may occur much quicker if the coin comes into more direct contact with substances containing higher levels of sulfur. Perfumes, perspiration, and natural oils on the skin can cause tarnish, which is why the reaction is somewhat inevitable for circulated coins. Similarly, household items such as wool, vinegar and fruit juices also trigger a quicker chemical reaction.

High-Purity Silver

The other factor to consider when examining the chemical reaction of a silver coin is the purity level of the coin’s composition.

The good news is that silver coins of high purity levels are less likely to tarnish over time. Generally speaking, the purer the silver is the less it will tarnish, whereas coins made from silver alloy will tarnish quicker, depending on the purity of the alloy.

This is one of many reasons collectible silver bullion coins such as US Silver Eagles and Canadian Silver Maple Leafs remain popular choices for investments in silver coins, since both are minted from a minimum of 99.9% pure silver.

Therefore, if purchasing second-hand, dealers and investors would be more likely to favor bullion coins of this kind which are still in mint condition. However, this does not mean that a slightly tarnished .999 silver coin should be cleaned before trading in, as the damage which could be caused from such cleaning would decrease the coin’s value far more than a bit of natural marking.

Can Dirty Silver Coins Still Be Valuable To Collectors?

Dirty silver coins can still be valuable to collectors. They can actually be even more valuable than they would be if they were still in a shiny, new condition. Stripping a silver coin of its natural tarnish can reduce its value by up to 50%.

The reason for this is that unmistakable mark of age is often what draws numismatists to rare coins. Such coins portray more of a worn history than a coin of mint condition. As the saying goes, ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’.


Patina is the term used to describe the buildup of tarnish on coins. This predominantly forms around recesses in a coin’s engravings and is actually a surprisingly desirable attribute for numismatic coins.

Some sneaky coin collectors may even artificially create patina on their coins, just to make them look more worn and historical. This is achieved by purposefully exposing the coin to sulfur, and gently polishing the tarnish in. This is not something we recommend, for the sake of authenticity.

Somewhat more acceptably, the method of creating patina is often used in jewelry making, to add finish to pieces made of silver, bronze, or other similar metals.


The history associated with old coins is a fascinating area, and one which inducts may coin collectors into the hobby. We can never tell exactly where a coin has been, but its markings, engravings and condition can say a lot about where it may have come from.

Many will argue that the act of cleaning a coin is effectively scrubbing away its history. By cleaning a silver coin, one may be preventing a historian from being able to trace its path from its natural markings and patina.

Although some numismatics prefer their coins in mint condition, the imperfection of a naturally worn coin offers many the warm enjoyment of a historic finding.

What If My Coin Has Been Cleaned?

If a coin in your possession has been cleaned – whether you believe the cleaning to have been successful or otherwise – it is always good practice to be honest and upfront about it. For instance, it would be most sincere to mention the cleaning to a potential buyer if you are attempting to resell the coin, as it could jeopardize their reselling options in the future.

Similarly, if you have taken your coin to a specialist to be valued, it would be advisable to mention it to them to so they can offer their best estimation – that is, of course, if they haven’t already noticed it’s recently-cleaned state!

Finally, it’s important to remember that hope is not lost, and by cleaning a coin you have not necessarily wiped away all of its value! Although the coin’s value may have decreased significantly, there is so much more to a coin than its appearance.

If you take your coin to a trusted coin dealer to assess, they will be able to advise on how much the coin is still worth, and answer any specific questions you may have about the state of your coin.

Methods For Cleaning Silver Coins Safely

Although we don’t recommend it, there are some tips we can provide if you decide to go ahead and clean your silver coins anyway. Below are some ideas for safe methods to try.

Practice Makes Perfect

Before you begin, it would be a wise idea to practice your cleaning technique on some older, less-valuable coins. This will give you a better idea of the process and what to expect, and perhaps even demonstrate how the cleaning could go wrong.

Perhaps you could begin on copper pennies, and build up from there for practice, rather than going straight into the process with silver.


The gentlest way to clean a silver coin is to simply use water. However, it is very important to only use distilled water, as the fluoride commonly added to tap water will likely cause an unwanted chemical reaction with your coins.

Simply place your coin in a shallow container of the water for no more than a couple of minutes. Alternatively, you may gently rinse the coin by pouring the water over each side. The coins may then either be left to air dry naturally, or you can pat them dry with a soft, fluffy towel. Never rub them!

A small amount of regular dish soap may also be added to the water for a slightly stronger clean. If you’re using this method, you may gently rub the coin in the water with your finger, being careful not to scratch it. The coins should then be rinsed in the clean, distilled water, and dried as above.

The Aluminum Foil And Baking Soda Method

This option utilizes a bit of chemistry to achieve its results, and it can be effective at removing tarnish from silver.

You need to line a container with aluminum foil, with the shiny side facing inwards. Next, sprinkle in some baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), and add in some hot water. This forms a bath to soak your coins in and is effective in reducing tarnish due to the chemical reaction which occurs between the foil, the water, and the powder.

The effectiveness of this process depends on many factors, including the coin and the amount of tarnish on it. Therefore, it is advised you start with a small amount of baking soda (just enough to cover the bottom of the container), and repeat the process with increasing amounts as necessary, to ensure the least amount of damage is done.

We don’t recommend using boiling water for this method, as water which is just hot to the touch is fine. You may also vary the amount of time the coin is left soaking for. However, five minutes should be long enough.

Once you finish bathing the coins, you should wipe them with a clean, soft cloth, both to remove any residue and to help them dry.

Some Tips To Consider

Finally, here are a couple of tips which will help ensure any coin-cleaning experiments cause the least amount of damage possible.

  1. Do not mix coins of different materials when soaking. This may cause discoloration, or cross-contamination of oxidants.
  2. Always hold the coins by their edges, to avoid damaging the face sides of the coin any further.
  3. It is a good idea to wear latex gloves when cleaning coins, not only to protect your hands from any chemicals but also to ensure no oils from your skin will further damage the coin. A further advantage of this is that latex is soft enough to use to wipe coins with, thus preventing damage from scratching.

Things That Should Never Be Used To Clean Silver Coins

As a general rule, silver coins should never be scrubbed with any abrasive objects. Items such as scourers, toothbrushes or dishcloths should all be avoided, and soft cloths, such as those made for lenses, should be used instead.

Solvents designed for cleaning silver jewelry should not be used on silver coins, nor should bleach or any other multi-purpose household cleaners. As mentioned previously, vinegar, fruit juices and sodas should be avoided at all costs as well!

Final Thoughts

You shouldn’t clean silver coins, as cleaning them runs the risk of damaging the precious silver metal. It may also significantly reduce the coin’s collectible value. You can clean them in various ways that reduce the risk of causing any lasting damage, but these are still generally not advisable.

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