How to Clean Silver Coins without Damaging or Devaluing Them

A bunch of dirty coins

April 26, 2024

First thing first: You should never clean silver coins that are collectible numismatics. The simple truth is that even a light cleaning can reduce the numismatic value of rare coins by 50%, and even more in some cases. 

On the other hand, because bullion and “junk” silver coins are valued for their intrinsic precious metals content, you can clean them without devaluing them. That said, there’s always a chance that a bullion coin could become collectible in the future, so there’s still risk involved.

As a general rule, we strongly recommend that you seek professional guidance if you’re adamant about cleaning a coin. A numismatist can provide personalized guidance as to whether you should clean silver coins at all, as well as cleaning services.

Why You Should Never Clean Numismatics

Unless they’ve been carefully preserved, coins—especially old ones—pick up gunk and grime over time. This buildup may be unappealing to the untrained eye, but cleaning will usually do more harm than good, with the rare exception being ancient coins that must be cleaned to be identified.

Even if you clean your coins extremely carefully, there will almost always be hairline scratches left behind. Additionally, cleaning can permanently remove layers from the coin's surface and irreparably damage its patina, tone, and luster. Coins are more fragile than you think, and the magnifier reveals everything.

Furthermore, if you clean silver coins and then have them appraised by a grading service, they’ll receive a lower Details grade, which makes them less desirable to the vast majority of collectors who prefer to buy coins that have high grades and are in original, unblemished condition.

With that extremely important warning out of the way, we’re going to explain how to clean silver coins without devaluing them. Just remember that these methods should only be used with non-collectible bullion coins or “junk” silver coins. Proceed at your own risk!

1. Soap and Water

When in doubt, keep it simple. The most straightforward and non-intrusive way to clean silver coins is with a solution of mild hand soap and distilled water. Let the coin soak in the solution for 10-15 minutes, and then carefully place it on a soft cloth to air dry.

If the buildup won’t come off after a few soaks, you may wish to use a soft-bristled brush or a well-worn toothbrush. This method is virtually guaranteed to leave hairline scratches (or worse), so keep that in mind and be as gentle as possible.

2. Acetone

A variety of silver bullion coins

For tougher buildup, soap and water may not suffice. We can’t stress enough that this method can affect the coin’s value as a collectible. If you just want to clean silver coins to make them look nice for personal enjoyment, it’ll do the job.

100% pure acetone (not nail polish remover) can remove all organic material without affecting the coin’s patina, luster, or tone, but that’s not guaranteed. As far as numismatics go, if you want to know how to clean silver coins without devaluing them, the simple answer is you don’t!

If you decide to proceed with this method, be very careful not to expose the coin to acetone for too long—start with one minute at most. Rinse or dip the coin in acetone, being careful not to let it come into contact with your skin.

3. Baking Soda and Water

This method uses an abrasive solution to clean silver coins, so it will likely cause surface damage. That damage may not be detectable to the naked eye. So, it’s a fine option if you simply want clean coins, but the damage will show under a microscope.

  1. Line a container, such as a casserole dish, with aluminum foil.
  2. Cover the entire bottom with baking soda.
  3. Place the coins in the baking soda with the most tarnished sides facing up.
  4. Completely cover the coins with more baking soda.
  5. Pour hot water to cover the coins.
  6. Add more baking soda.
  7. Let the solution sit for five minutes or so.
  8. Rinse the coins in cold water.
  9. Flip the coins and repeat if necessary.
  10. Let the clean silver coins dry on a soft cloth.

4. Acid (Vinegar or Lemon Juice)

Soaking coins in an acidic liquid such as vinegar or lemon juice will clean them, but the acid will also eat away at the coin’s surface. Again, this method will reduce the value of collectible coins, so only use it on coins that are valued for their silver content.

5. Silver Polish

A close view of silver bullion coins

As you research how to clean silver coins without devaluing them, you’ll find many methods, but they all have one thing in common—they’ll reduce the value of your collection. We stress this point many times because we want to prevent people from making this unfortunate error.

Using silver polish to clean silver coins can leave your coins with a brilliant shine. So if that’s what you’re after, it’s one of the best options. Just remember that the shine occurs because silver polish contains acids and abrasives that remove surface layers.

Contact Us for a Free Consultation

If you’re not 100% sure that cleaning your coins is a good idea or don’t know how to tell if a coin is rare, please don’t hesitate to contact us to speak with a qualified numismatist. We’ll be happy to provide one-on-one guidance.

Instead of cleaning your coins, why not purchase silver numismatics in pristine condition? We proudly offer a wide variety of clean silver coins that have been professionally preserved and graded. Besides silver, we stock gold numismatics, platinum numismatics, and palladium numismatics.

If you’re not interested in rarity and historical significance, silver bullion coins may be a better fit for your portfolio. These coins are brand new and won’t need to be cleaned. We also offer stunning gold bullion coins, platinum bullion coins, and palladium bullion coins.

We can help you add beauty and value to your coin collection. Explore our extensive catalog, and get in touch if you need help tracking down a specific piece. We can reach out to our vast connections to help you find the finest silver coins and how to clean them.

Final Warning

In closing, if you’re wondering how to clean silver coins without devaluing them, the simple answer is that cleaning almost always reduces value. The only real benefit is that your coins will be more visually appealing to the untrained eye. 

Check our blog for more expert information about numismatics and precious metals. Grow your coin collection with Endeavor Metals!

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