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How to Clean and Care for Copper Mugs: The Definitive Guide

How to Clean and Care for Copper Mugs: The Definitive Guide

Since the creation of the Moscow Mule in the 1940's, copper mugs have never been more popular than they are today. This refreshing cocktail made of lime juice, vodka, and ginger beer is traditionally served over ice in an iconic copper mule mug. No matter what beverage you choose to serve in it, the appeal of the copper mug is hard to deny. As bars, restaurants and at-home use of copper mugs continues to grow in popularity, it is important to know how to properly care for and clean copper. This article will tell you everything you need to know, including:

  • Why is Cleaning Copper Mugs Important?
  • Why Does Copper Tarnish?
  • How Do you Clean Copper Mugs?
  • 5 Easy & Natural Ways to Remove Copper Tarnish
  • Is it Safe to Drink from Copper Mugs?
  • Are Copper Mugs Dishwasher Safe?
  • Lined Versus Unlined Copper Mugs
  • The Benefits of Using Copper Mugs
  • Essential Tips to Care for your Copper Mugs

Why is Cleaning Copper Mugs Important?

Like any drinking vessel, copper cups, mugs, water bottles and tumblers need to be washed after every use. Copper does require specific care and maintenance, however it's quite simple and easy to learn and do.

First and foremost, copper mugs should be cleaned properly for health and safety reasons. Whether at a restaurant or at home, you don't want anyone getting sick from drinking from an unwashed cup.

There is something compelling about the warm glow of polished copper. A huge part of the appeal and popularity of cocktails like the Moscow Mule is the unique aesthetic of the copper mug. This metal will tarnish naturally with time and use, so cleaning it properly can be essential to keeping it shiny, and fully experiencing the many benefits of drinking from a copper mug.

Why Does Copper Tarnish?

Like iron developing rust, copper will naturally tarnish  over time with exposure to humidity and other elements found in the air. Copper's blue-green tarnish, known as patina, can be either useful or annoying, depending on its intended use.

The patina actually serves as a protective layer for the copper beneath, and can be useful in outdoor applications such as roofing or pipes.  However, when it comes to mugs or cups, we want the copper to shine as warmly as possible, so it is essential to know about preventative care and maintenance.

Don't worry, it's super easy to do, and incredibly satisfying to restore and polish your tarnished copper mugs.

How Do You Clean Copper Mugs?

Cleaning copper mugs is like cleaning most anything, except that it MUST be washed by hand. In other words, never put them in the dishwasher, ever. Take 30 seconds to gently wash them by hand with a soft sponge, soap and warm water.

For most people at home, this shouldn't be a problem. But some high-volume bars or restaurants might not be able to dedicate the time needed for proper care. This is one reason a business may prefer a tin-lined  or lacquered copper cup that may need less polishing, although they too should still be washed by hand.

The most important part of cleaning your copper mug is drying it!

Residual water in the slightest amount can lead to tarnishing, so experts highly recommend you dry your copper mug twice, with two different soft towels or cloths until all moisture is removed.  This extra step only takes a few moments, and will go a long way towards the durability and cleanliness of your copper mule mugs.

If you want your copper mug to look nice, dry it twice!

5 Easy and Natural Ways to Remove Copper Tarnish

Owning a copper mug comes with the added responsibility of some occasional, simple maintenance. When your favorite mug starts to turn green, here are some easy solutions to restore its natural shine!

Lemon or Limes and Salt

This simple method is quick and easy, and ideal for bars or restaurants that may have an abundance of lemons on hand. Simply pour some table or sea salt onto a dish, and cut a fresh lemon or lime into 1/4th slices. Dip the fruit slice into the salt, and scrub the copper mug with slow, methodical circles inside and out. The change should be almost instantaneous, and when the tarnish has been removed, wash under warm or cool water, and dry thoroughly.

Vinegar and Salt

Mix one cup of vinegar, one tablespoon of salt, and five cups of water. Pour the solution into a saucepan, place your mug into the saucepan, and bring it to a boil. After a few minutes, the tarnish will have disappeared, and you can remove the mug with tongs, rinse it in cold water, and dry thoroughly with two soft dish towels.

Vinegar and Baking Soda

Create a paste with three parts baking soda, and one part vinegar. Use a sponge to apply it to the mug with small circular motions and let it sit for about 10 minutes in order for the magic to happen. After that, simply rinse and dry until all moisture has been removed.

Ketchup

Harness the power of tomatoes to clean your tarnished copper mug! Apply the ketchup using a soft sponge or toothbrush, always rubbing in small circles. Then let it stand for 30 minutes. Remove the ketchup in the same way you applied it (a specially designated tarnish-toothbrush can be a highly effective tool for getting into those hard to reach places). Finally, rinse with water, and dry thoroughly with two soft towels.

Tamarind Paste

Tamarind is a tropical fruit, popular in Caribbean, African and Indian cuisine. It contains tartaric acid, which helps remove tarnish from brass and copper. If this is something you have access to, simply add water to create a paste, and rub it onto the copper with a soft sponge or cloth.  After a few minutes, rinse off the paste, and dry completely.

Metal Polish

Although the natural methods listed above are all equally effective, inexpensive and safe, another option is to use a tarnish remover or metal polish. Popular brands like Brasso are great for polishing many different kinds of metals, but the main ingredients may be less than desirable (rubbing alcohol, ammonia, mineral spirits and silica powder). Chances are you can easily find most of the ingredients for cleaning copper mugs in your pantry, and can avoid buying a product full of harsh chemicals.

Is It Safe To Drink From Copper Mugs?

Yes, it is safe to drink from copper mugs, despite click-bait headlines, myths and legislation that may suggest otherwise. True, when using 100% pure copper mugs it is possible that trace amounts of copper could be ingested. However, this can be mitigated by using nickel-plated copper mugs.

Copper is an essential part of human biology, and is necessary for regulating metabolic systems and vital organs. Copper deficiency can lead to arthritis, osteoporosis, cardiovascular diseases and colon cancer.

Not only do our bodies need copper, we also have systems in place to naturally deal with any excess copper. Verified scientific studies have shown copper can do impressive things.

  • Copper and Iron work together to form red blood cells.
  • Copper helps maintain collagen, and along with other antioxidants, can reduce signs of aging.
  • Copper helps absorb excess iron in the liver.
  • Copper improves brain and nerve cell synaptic responses.
  • Copper aids in digestion and helps with ulcers and inflammation.

Copper toxicity is quite rare and, according to the World Health Organization, "There is a greater risk of health effects from a deficiency of copper intake than excessive copper intake."

The FDA guidelines do not recommend using copper for any food or beverage purposes, solely because of the extra care needed to maintain it, and applies exclusively to commercial operations, with varying local and state regulations.

This is meant to protect consumers from improperly cleaned or exposed copper mugs and cookware in bars and restaurants, and does not apply to home use. The FDA suggests the public learn about proper care and maintenance before using copper mugs, but scientists have debunked the claim that a Moscow Mule can give you copper poisoning.

When using 100% pure copper mugs and a liquid with a pH below 6.0 (like lime juice), and that liquid remains in the mug for an extended period of time, there is a chance you could consume amounts of copper. This is the reason why it is generally a good idea to use copper mugs lined with nickel.

Are Copper Mugs Dishwasher Safe?

No, never! All copper cookware, utensils or mugs should be washed by hand, no exceptions. Dishwashers typically use harsh detergent, powerful water sprays and high heat that can seriously harm your copper mug both inside and out.

Dishwashers can lead to dents, tarnishing, and flaking or cracking. So take 30 seconds to do right by your copper mugs, and wash and dry them by hand!

Lines Versus Unlined Copper Mugs

When purchasing a copper mug, there are three basic options - 100% copper, tin-lined, and copper plated.

Copper plated is a tin or zinc cup with a copper coating. These tend to be the cheapest in both price and quality, and are often made in China. If at all possible, these should be avoided, as the coating can easily be scratched and flake off (all of which are less than desirable in terms of aesthetics and health).

100% pure copper mugs are the most expensive, but also provide the most benefits. They are famously used to make a traditional Moscow Mule. They do give the drink a slight distinction in taste, although most find it desirable, if noticed at all.

Copper is also a great thermal conductor, and will keep your drink colder for longer (or hotter for longer, depending on the drinks). This is a big part of what makes the Moscow Mule an attractive summer beverage, and why copper mugs are great for cocktails in general.

Lined copper mugs, (usually with zinc, nickel or tin) can be a great choice. The double lining improves their durability, and can give them a great look. Unlike pure copper, lined copper mugs also offer additional health benefits by avoiding reactions between acids in your drink and pure copper.

Both lined and unlined copper mugs must be washed by hand and both will develop a patina over time. Lined mugs might take slightly less time to polish, because you only need worry about the outside. However, now that you know how to clean tarnished copper mugs, it's nothing you can't handle.

Essential Tips To Care For Your Copper Mugs

Copper mugs are stylish and good for your health. They keep your cold drinks chilled, and your hot drinks steaming. Copper mugs have been used for thousands of years for water purification and health benefits, and have made a triumphant rise in popularity since the invention of the Moscow Mule in the 1940's.

Whatever you choose to put in your copper mug, remember these three simple tips:

  1. When serving drinks, don't let them sit for more than 4 hours. Drink up!
  2. After each use, take the time to hand-wash your copper mugs with soap and water, and use TWO TOWELS to dry them thoroughly.
  3. When your copper mug begins to tarnish, use one of the five easy and natural ways listed above to polish it to perfection.

Thank you for taking the time to become an expert on using, cleaning and caring for copper mugs. Cheers!

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