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How to Clean Coins

Say to a professional numismatist that you have cleaned some coins and he will probably cringe, but then say to that same numismatist that you have collected coins from circulation and he will certainly cringe again.  Many a fine silver coin has been ruined because because someone or another thought the old coin would sell better if not so tarnished.  Coins, buffed and polished to a high lister, and simultaneously wearing the features of the coin into oblivion, command much lower prices than those same prices unpolished but with much better features.  The coin from circulation however, cleaned as much as it should be, and properly, will greatly enhance the look and appearance of your collection.

First, it should be clear what coins you are not supposed to clean.  Never clean uncirculated coinage, it will make the resulting coin look circulated, losing the premium that mint state coins command.  The reason experienced coin collectors avoid cleaning coins is that inevitably, however soft the cloth, however non abrasive the solvent, some scratching and loss of luster will occur.  But don’t worry, that is fine, for the purposes of collecting circulated coins, eye appeal and overall appearance mean more in final asking prices than a slightly higher grading.  This is because unlike uncirculated, mint state coins, where any imperfection or flaw is scrutinized and critiqued, a circulated coin is judged by its wear, and the broad distinctions between these grades leave more room for allowances.

It is ultimately up to the collector however, as to his decision whether or not to clean his coins, as some serious loss of detail may occur, and irrecoverably damage the coin.  However, this is rare if the right solvents and techniques are used.  There is also added benefit to a cleaned coin in that it will be cleaned of contaminants that may further degrade the coin.   This results in a lower coin grade than the uncleaned coin, and a lower value as well.  In a collection for display to friends and family, the cleaned circulated coins look much better than their uncleaned counterparts.

When cleaning coins, use this procedure.

First gather the appropriate cleaning supplies:

  1. One large shallow tub, suitable for cleaning a small batch of coins in
  2. Solvent of your choice, either a professional one like Koin-clean,  or a simple homemade version of lukewarm water and a tiny amount of dish soap
  3. two clean kitchen cloths
  4. toothbrush, or lots of q-tips
  5. white cotton gloves
  6. a storage method such as sleeves or coin holders to store newly cleaned coins

Now, with the coins you need cleaned, simply allow a single layer of coins to soak in a mixture of water and your solvent (soap etc.) and warm water for a couple of minutes.  Then take the coins out one by one and gently rub the grime and dirt from the surface of the coin.  If the dirt is particularity troublesome, then return it to soak.  Handle only one coin at a time, and limit the coin to coin contact that occurs when you carry them in a bulk container, or by pilling, dumping or scraping the coins on themselves or work surfaces.  A toothbrush or q-tips become invaluable to help you with the grime.  Dry coins deemed clean, and place them on a separate towel to dry completely while you clean the rest of your collection.  While cleaning, it may be a good idea to sort the coins by year and mint mark.  When all coins are complete, safely store them against future contaminants to ensure your coins remain the now brilliant coins they are.