Oops! How to Clean the Tin Lining in Copper Pots.

First off let me say if the tin lining in your copper cookware is stained you do NOT need to clean it.  Having said that … here’s how to clean it, lol.

Copper pots tarnish.  True story.  I don’t mind the look of copper pots that are tarnished so I don’t clean mine very often; maybe once or twice a year?  I just use the standard copper polish or a lemon and salt if I’m out of polish.

I’ve never even thought of cleaning the tin lining of them.  I mean other than washing the pot.

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I’d never had to think about cleaning the tin lining …  because I’d never left pasta with rapini in a pot for 3 days straight. Until I did.

I made one of my favourite, go-to recipes, this penne and rapini recipe from chef Cory Vitiello on the Catelli website.  This has nothing to do with cleaning the tin lining of pots but if you want a GREAT Italian recipe that doesn’t involve a red sauce try this one.  Lemons, chorizo sausage, penne, rapini, lemon juice, Fontina cheese and hot peppers.  SO good.

If on the other hand you’d like a classic spaghetti and meatballs recipe, I’m pretty fond of my own recipe for that.

Right. Back to cleaning the tin lining of your copper pots.  So what I did was leave an entire pot of this dish on my stove for 3 days.  Maybe 4, I can’t remember. I ate my dinner the first night I made it and just put the whole pot of leftovers in the fridge instead of transferring them to a bowl.  Stupid mistake #1.

Then after 2 days in the fridge I took it out and put it on the stove to have for dinner.  Then that night I had a hideous migraine and couldn’t even think of moving let alone eating. So there the pot sat until the next morning at which point I decided it looked quite pretty on the stove and decided to get to dealing with it later in the day.  Which turned into the next day.  Which turned into the day after that.

Which turned the tin lining in my copper pot BLACK.  You could see every single spot that the rapini had touched as blobs of black.

I washed it and washed it and it still looked like this.

See?  Blobs of black.  Normally discoloured cookware like this wouldn’t bother me. That’s what happens when you use pots and pans. They get used looking.  But this dark, random blobby mess bugged me and I wanted to clean it up.

Why not just scrub the copper pots tin lining?

You can’t scrub the tin lining in copper pots because the layer of tin is thin and soft, so vigorous scrubbing will remove it.

How to Clean the Tin Lining in Copper Pots.

Materials

  • Aluminum foil, the size of the bottom of the pan
  • Baking soda, 1-2 Tbsps
  • non-iodized salt, 1-2 Tbps
  • water

Method

  1. Fill your pan or pot with water and bring it to a boil on the stove.
  2. Once it boils, remove the pan from the heat and add the baking soda and salt.
  3. Fold a long sheet of aluminum into thirds and put it in the pot. Push it down with a wood spoon and set a bowl on top to keep it from floating.
  4. Put a lid on the pot and leave it for at least half an hour.
  5. Remove the lid, aluminum foil and water then wash the pot like you normally would.
  6. Repeat as many times as necessary.

TIPS

  • The baking soda and salt will bubble up so add it slowly so you don’t have an accidental volcano situation.

  • Don’t use metal spoons or bowls.  It’ll affect the reaction.

  • To make sure the entire inside of the pot gets lean, top the water level up  so it comes right to the rim of the pot. Don’t bother boiling  this water, just use hot out of the tap.

 

This isn’t going to make a really discoloured pot look  new.  Unless you do it 30 billion times.

But it’ll make it better.

When you remove the aluminum foil it’ll be black from attracting the black staining.  The foil was every bit as black on the last attempt as on the first!

For me, repeating as many times as necessary meant doing this 6 times.  I did it twice and thought, that’s good enough. Then I’d look at it and think, well maybe just one more time.  And repeat until I ran out of non-iodized salt.

The non-iodized salt is important.  I tested the method with regular salt and it did not work at all.  I folded my aluminum foil so the shiny wide was out but I really don’t think it would make any difference.

How does this work?

Kind of like a magnet. The aluminum foil attracts the tarnish from the tin.

It’s possible that it’s a little more scientific than that, but that’s the gist of it.

Why you really shouldn’t do this.

As the tin in your copper pots darkens, oxidizes and stains it’s actually IMPROVING.  It won’t stain as easily, becomes harder and retains heat better.  All good things.  Letting the tin in your copper age over time is the best thing you can do for your pot.

So why did I do clean my tin?

I did it because the pan was really stained dark and I was a bit worried about it transferring a weird taste to any food I cooked in it later.  This, I will admit, is probably a completely unreasonable fear.

But there you have it, I’m not one to be entirely reasonable all the time. (please refer back to leaving my dinner in a pot on the stove for 4 days for further evidence of this)

38 Comments

  1. Paula says:

    Great tip!
    Thanks

  2. Stephbo says:

    I remember seeing something ages ago about creating some kind of chemical reaction to clean tarnished silver. Is this the same thing?

  3. Julie Anne says:

    Don’t quote me on this. My mother used to clean her pans by cooking some rhubarb in them. You could give it a try this spring when your rhubarb is in season. Or not worry about it.

    • Karen says:

      Those were probably stainless as opposed to tin. I’ll give it a shot in a particularly offensive stainless pot I have that I use for non food items that’s a DISASTER. 🙂 ~ karen!

  4. D.Bret Merideth says:

    You are truly a very funny person. Thank you for always putting a smile on my face.

  5. D.Bret Merideth says:

    p.s. I do not ….. cook, raise chickens, refinish floors, do knick-knacks,home decorating; yet, I still read your articles because they are funny.

  6. Sharon Whiteley says:

    Yep, you can clean silver with a similar method. Use hot water, strip of aluminium foil, and baking soda. Cleans silver instantly. One word of caution though..if your silver is engraved and you like the look of the engraving when it’s darkened compared to the rest of it you’d better clean it the hard way because this method cleans everything. Be careful with silverplate no matter what method you use because it will wear off with time and then you’ll have to either give it to the local thrift shop or get it re-silvered.

  7. Carole Larose says:

    Timely info. I have a gorgeous Mexican Tin Christmas tree that has darkened or tarnished. Do you think using the tin foil with baking soda and salt would work if I rubbed it on with the tin foil.?

    • Karen says:

      I would put the tin tree in a plastic bin (like tupperware). Pour boiling water into the bin, add the ingredients, put down aluminum foil and then place the tree in it. ~ karen!

  8. Denise says:

    Glad to know there are others getting Karen’s pot cleaning info at 1 a.m. Sorry to hear about your migraine. They’re the worst. You get total absolution for leaving your dinner in the pot for four days.

    • judy says:

      You look very young to me but then so does everyone-anyhoo when I hit my forties I began suffering and I do mean suffering from migraines. I would lay on my bed with a heating pad turned to high on the left side of my head. they lasted for days and I have since read that they can be a part of perimenopause. I lay down on the bed one day not noticing that I had left the pad on high and felt like I had 3rd degree burns. Read that the body cannot process pain and heat at the same time so not having pain at that moment found out just how bad the pain must be for me to lay on the darn thing for hours and still feel pain. Hope you can find some relief,that was almost 40 years ago and I still remember how horrible the pain was. Weird how one never thinks of a funny,powerhouse like you ever being brought low by anything. My imagination would bet money that you could hold back a tsunami,with one hand,blindfolded,riding a unicycle-OK that might be a stretch.

  9. Amy says:

    Holy crap. Sooooo glad to know I am not completely alone in having left something like that. I guess I am not a complete home keeping failure after all.

  10. neil says:

    Ok. So I thought I would share the post with my wife on how to properly clean the copper pot on the inside. Thats worth a try she exclaims.
    Now guess what im doing what looks like the rest of eternity .
    Thanks Karen,,,,,,,,, foiled again

  11. Mary W says:

    I have always thought that tomato cooked in tin would eat away at the tin which you would then eat and to NOT cook with acidic food in a tin pan or store it in tin which is why the cans be buy with food have a lining over the tin. Do you cook with acidic things in the pot? Just wondered if that could cause migraines. I don’t own copper pots unless they are layered inside steel since I never wanted the chore of cleaning them and since I don’t want them out where I can see my cooking pots – waiting for me to work with them. Too much stress and why I never store my tools out in a crock which is pretty but still having to look at them waiting for me and also wondering about the dust – I’d rather use drawers. One time I covered the best lasagna I’d ever made with aluminum foil to keep the extra in the refrigerator. I was shocked the next day when I uncovered it to microwave a piece for lunch – the aluminum had melted into the tomatoes wherever they showed through the cheese topping. I threw the whole thing out and never cover acid things with aluminum now. What is going on and why don’t you have these problems?

  12. Pat B says:

    Just wondering…I picked up a great copper dish at Value Village and the previous owner had cleaned the crap out of the inside and scraped away some of the interior finish. Do you know if there’s a problem cooking food directly in copper? It smells a little metallic, but I’m not really clear on whether or not it’s still OK for regular baked pasta. I suppose I could search The Google, but Karen you’re much more fun to ask.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Pat. Copper is toxic. That’s why it’s lined with tin or steel. Acidic foods can cause the copper to leach into the food you’re cooking but that’s only a concern if you’re cooking in a pot that either isn’t lined or where the lining has thinned. If the copper showing through the bottom of a lined pot adds up to more than the size of a dime it shouldn’t be used anymore. (until it’s be retinned) ~ karen!

  13. Joe says:

    So not sure if you should try this on copper. We had 30 year old stainless steel dutch oven that was severly scorched from heating beer making malt cans on the inside of the pot. Tried everything with no success. sp weput approximately 1 inch of water, 1tsp. baking soda,1tsp. of vinegar and simmered for 5min. Vwah lah pot was like brand new.

    Issue is copper versus stainless, monetary closely.

  14. Lise Cameron says:

    Good morning Karen…I have a lot of copper pots and will give this a try….Is it the same solution to clean silver plated cutlery….I have seen it done before but have never tried it…It is done in the sink and they come out spotless….Mine are really looking unloved….Thanks and keep on posting as I really do look forward to seeing you three times a week….Cheers….

  15. judy says:

    does anyone have an opinion or an experience with vinyl plank flooring,grip strip or click type? I have put so much money into this 38 year old rancher and now the darn 1700 dollar dishwasher has evidently been leaking under the multiple layers of flooring and the floor must be replaced with something durable and water resistant. Estimate for sheet vinyl $3600.00-yowza! I was hoping for $1000.00 or less. Keep hoping right?

  16. susang says:

    this is about the rabbit hole on your site. I read about the copper stuff, I looked at the 6 cleaning tips. which lead to the cat pee. (see – rabbit hole!) I wanted to write down the cat pee potion. I read the beginning of the post and now I am really interested in the 4 day challenge about getting things done. sorry if I phrased this wrong but I haven’t figured out how to jump between screens. anyway, could you at some point redo that challenge? I really need it!

  17. Heather Sykora says:

    Thank you for posting this! We purchased a Mauviel potato steamer for Christmas with our Card points. I LOVE that pot and the potatoes taste delicious. It is the only pot I have that is tin lined. I have another Mauviel, but it is steel lined.
    I was wondering if I need to scrub it more, so it’s nice to know I don’t need to worry about- and if somebody does happen I have a plan of action!!! Yeah!
    Thank you!!!!
    Also – steamed potatoes of any kind- are delicious and their glycemic index is apparently lower when steamed!

  18. Laura Bee says:

    I have left pots more than once over night. But I am more guilty of burning food or letting my lovely copper pot full of cinnamon and orange peels boil dry and now it sits on the porch with pinecones and greenery.

  19. Carolyn Boyd says:

    I also have copper pots which are not polished very often 🙂 I am a little concerned with this method, though. It’s basically the same as “cleaning” silver with hot water, aluminum foil and baking soda. This method actually creates a chemical reaction that lifts off some of the (tarnished) silver every time you do it and deposits it onto the foil – not so good for your silver. I have a feeling that what you are seeing on your foil is actually some of your tin plate?? Just wondering …….

    • Karen says:

      HI Carolyn. Using this same technique with silver doesn’t lift off any silver at all. It only lifts sulfides. Polishing silver with a cleaner can lift off some silver because you’re rubbing it with an abrasive. The same with certain silver dips. Those are chemicals that are acidic that eat away at the surface. The tinfoil plus baking soda method on the other hand creates an electrolytic current that cannot remove silver; only the silver sulfide (the sulfur that has turned the silver black, resulting in silver sulfide) Same deal with the tin. ~ karen!

  20. JG says:

    I remember my mom complaining about her father who had left food in a pot. I don’t know if this applies to your situation, but just in case, she said the marks and tiny pin prick marks left were from salt being left in the pot (on/in the food) and never to leave salted food in a pot unless I wanted them to go black and pitted.

    Meanwhile since people are talking about copper, I have a tip. I had a copper countertop (highly recommend…loved that counter) and although I loved it when it had a patina it did sometimes need cleaning up. I tried all the products, lemon/salt, you name it until someone told me about ketchup. Heaven! No rubbing or scrubbing, just put ketchup on it, let it sit until the copper is the colour you like and wash it off (if memory serves, and I won’t vouch for that, it had to sit about an hr on my counter). First time I tried it I ended up having to explain to a visitor why I painted ketchup all over my counter but that thing came out like brand new shiny copper so it was worth the embarrassment of the explanation. I don’t think this works on copper that has a protective coating but most pots don’t have a coating.

  21. Gail says:

    I don’t really understand the allure of copper cookware with tin lining.

  22. Janet says:

    I have no copper pots lined with tin so I don’t give a rat’s ass about cleaning them. However, I loved that recipe for penne with rapini n and sausage. I copied it immediately and plan to make it this weekend. I also love you meatballs and spaghetti recipe.
    Thanks,
    Janet

  23. SueB says:

    I really really want you to do a test to see whether doing that same process to a clean (preferably brand new) pot will stain the aluminium foil black too.

    I just have to see these things with my own eyes to believe them and I don’t have any tin lined pots of my own.

    If anyone else does it, please please appease my curiosity by posting about it.

    Thanks

  24. Neelam says:

    Hello all. I love your posts Karen, and all the comments of the lovely people too. I have a German silver pot that becomes black like that when I cook some items ( I forgot what). I accidentally hit on a remedy. Cook some spinach in the pot. Just boil with some water. Became sparkling clean like new. Might work on tin. I don’t have any tin pots or I would try it out. Maybe one of you lovely ladies can give it a go and test it out . 🙂

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