Do you have copper pipes that are starting to show signs of tarnish, corrosion, or build-up? If so, it’s important to clean them on a regular basis to prevent damage to the pipes.
Since it’s not an activity done every day, however, you may be wondering how to clean copper pipes. In this blog post, we will provide a step-by-step guide using various household ingredients that you probably already own.
Let’s get started!
Why Do Copper Pipes Need to Be Cleaned?
While newer houses tend to use PVC piping more often, copper pipes are prevalent in older houses. Additionally, they are still a popular choice for many homeowners.
One of the reasons copper pipes are favored is that they’re less susceptible to leaks. They can last up to 70 to 80 years, while PVC only tends to last 25 to 50 years.
However, copper pipes can develop problems over time if they’re not properly maintained. One of the most common issues is tarnished. This is caused by a reaction between the copper and oxygen in the air.
Tarnish is not harmful and can be cleaned off. However, if it’s left for too long, it can lead to corrosion. This happens when the copper pipe starts to break down and develop holes.
Another problem that can occur is build-up. This can be caused by a number of things, including calcium, lime, and other minerals in the water.
Copper pipes are susceptible to tarnish, corrosion, and build-up for a few reasons. First, copper is a reactive metal, meaning it reacts with other elements in the air and water. Second, copper pipes are often located in damp or humid areas, which can speed up the tarnishing process.
That’s why it’s important to clean copper pipes on a regular basis using one of the methods below.
How to Clean Copper Pipes
Now that we’ve gone over some of the reasons why copper pipes need to be cleaned, let’s take a look at how to do it.
Method 1: Clean Copper Pipe with Vinegar and Salt Cleaner
One of the simplest ways to clean copper pipes is to use a vinegar and salt solution. Vinegar is one of those magic ingredients that can be used for cleaning a variety of surfaces (as well as sanitizing them), and so it’s also great for copper pipes.
The acidic nature of vinegar helps to break down tarnish, corrosion, and build-up. And no sweat if you don’t have any vinegar. You can use lemon juice in its place.
Salt is also a good cleaning agent and will help to scrub away any stubborn dirt or grime.
To make this solution, all you need is white vinegar, salt, and a clean cloth or sponge.
Start by mixing together equal parts vinegar, salt, and all-purpose flour in a bowl. This will create a paste. Then, apply the mixture to the copper pipes using a cloth or sponge.
Rub it in well, paying special attention to areas that are tarnished or corroded. Then let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes.
After you’ve rubbed the cleaner into the copper pipes, rinse it off with warm water. Make sure to remove all of the cleaner so it doesn’t cause any damage.
Method 2: Clean Copper Pipe with Vinegar Only
If you don’t have any salt on hand, you can still use vinegar to clean copper pipes. However, you’ll need a lot of vinegar for this method.
To clean copper pipes with only vinegar, simply place the copper pipes in a shallow tub and pour the vinegar onto the pipes. Again, let the vinegar soak for 10 to 15 minutes before pulling the pipes from the tub and rinsing them off with warm water.
Dry the outside of the tubes with a soft cloth and then let them up so that the inside moisture can drain and dry.
Method 3: Clean Copper Pipe With Ketchup
Yes, you read that correctly! Ketchup can actually be used to clean copper pipes, just like lemon juice or vinegar. The acid in ketchup is effective at removing tarnish, corrosion, and build-up.
To use ketchup, apply a large amount of the condiment to a clean rag. Rub the ketchup into the copper pipe in a circular motion. Rinse the pipe with hot water and dry it with a soft cloth.
Sounds a little odd, but it actually works!
Method 4: Clean Copper Pipe with Chemicals
One way to clean away patina (tarnish) is by using chemicals specifically designed for this purpose. Some of them will also add a wax coating to the pipes, as they are also used for copper items like sinks and cookware. However, they are also effective on pipes.
You can find these at most hardware stores or online. Generally, clean the area first with soapy water and a cotton cloth, then apply the chemical using the manufacturer’s instructions.
Also, a household chemical option that you may have already is acetone. This is a chemical found in nail polish remover. It’s effective at removing tarnish and corrosion from copper pipes.
However, it’s also highly toxic, so be sure to use it in a well-ventilated area and avoid inhaling the fumes. It also evaporates quickly, so you have to work fast.
Method 6: Clean Copper Pipe with Lemon Juice and Baking Soda
Baking soda is another common household item that can be used to clean copper pipes. Not only is this mineral safe to use (you use it to bake, after all!), but it is also naturally abrasive. This means it is able to scrub at the tarnish, corrosion, and build-up and remove them.
To use baking soda, mix it with the lemon juice to create a paste. Apply the paste to the copper pipe and let it sit for 10 minutes. Then you will want to buff the plumbing pipes until clean.
Rinse the pipe with hot water and dry it with a soft cloth.
How to Clean the Inside of Copper Pipes
While cleaning your copper water pipes, you may find that there is a lot more corrosion inside the pipes than what a simple soaking in a solution can eliminate. To scrub away the corrosion, use a wire brush.
- Start by disconnecting your copper pipes from the water supply.
- Next, using a clean cloth and something to poke the cloth down along the inside walls of the pipe, apply a small amount of vinegar to the inside of the copper pipe.
- Then use the wire brush to scrub away at the tough corrosion spots. You may need to do this several times before all the corrosion is removed.
- If you have any copper pipes that are soldered, you will also need to clean the flux around the solder joint. Using a mixture of equal parts vinegar and water. Apply the mixture to a cotton cloth and then scrub at the joint until it is clean.
- If they need more scrubbing, you can also use an emery cloth or a wire brush to scrub the hard-to-reach nooks and crannies. Again, rinse the area with hot water and dry it.
What Not to Use to Clean Copper Pipes
While there are many things that won’t be effective in cleaning your copper pipes, we wanted to mention just a few of them here.
CLR (Calcium, Lime, and Rust Remover)
The problem with using CLR to clean your copper piping is that it can remove the finish off of it. Not only that, but it can also pit certain grades of copper, and that’s definitely not something you want to have happen to your pipes.
There are several other chemicals that react with copper in a way that would cause more harm than good. These include hydrogen peroxide, bleach, and muriatic acid. So if you find yourself tempted to try any of these options, remember that they will actually make your copper reactions worse, not better.
Now that you’ve cleaned your pipes, you will want to reinstall them. After that, you will want to turn the water back on.
A note about turning on the water: be sure to go back and check the pipes now that water is running through them. You’ll want to watch for any leaks through the joints or any pinhole leaks that may have been created by scrubbing away extreme corrosion.
As always, if you do find leaks in your copper pipes, you’ll want to temporarily patch the area and then call a plumber to fix the problem permanently.
Cleaning copper pipes is important in order to keep them functioning properly. Over time, copper pipes can become stained with a green oxidation of tarnish, corrosion, and build-up. If not cleaned regularly, these substances can cause the pipe to deteriorate and eventually leak.
There are many methods you can use to clean copper. Which method you use will depend on what ingredients you have on hand and how much time you are willing to spend cleaning the pipes. Whichever method you choose, be sure to follow any instructions carefully and always be safe.
Have you ever had to clean your copper pipes? Let us know about your experience in the comments below!