How many of us have despaired over our copper pans changing colour? We get them out of their packaging and they are pristine and beautiful - aged or new - only to then find after we have heated them making our favourite recipe that they have changed colour! Similarly, when we get our favourite jam pan out of the pantry only to find it green and lumpy! Or found our new favourite saute that is turning brown and dull. 

I am sure a lot of us can remember the feeling of being dismayed and terrified thinking we may have destroyed our precious pieces of history or potential heirlooms! What had we done wrong? Could we put it right? Would they, like a pulled face when the wind changed, stay like that? Is there enough room in that big cupboard to hide our very expensive mistake?! 

A copper pan with heat oxidation

I will endeavour to unravel the mysteries of copper and its many colours, and touch on the resilience of this wonderful cooking material. Also, I will give you the tools and relay some of the experiences we have had in bringing copper pans, lids and utensils back from 'copper purgatory' - when a pan is neither use nor ornament!

First things first. 

1. New Copper Pans with no lining - Jam and Candy pans

These can be one of the most difficult sorts of copper pans to maintain. They can endure high temperatures for prolonged periods. 

If you want a pure shine on your pans forever then you will need to get used to hard polishing work! New copper will almost immediately, mark on the base - tiny surface scratches will appear, deeper scratches will come from moving your pan across the cooking surface. Tide marks will appear on the inside, the outside base will change colour, to blue or grey, purple or orange or a mixture of all!

This is, however, an easy fix. Wash thoroughly with kitchen detergent and dry. Then use a proper copper cleaner, or metal polish and follow the manufacturers' instructions and all your problems will disappear. Your pristine pan will now have some badges of honour, even the surface scratches will be diminished and it will have a complete and uniform shine. The copper will be almost like new, you will have had a workout and your pan will be back to almost how it was. 

Half has been cleaned with a metal polish and the other half

New Copper Pan Surface

Copper changes colour for many reasons. When it is heated whilst cooking, it will be oxidized by a combination of air, water vapour and salts in the air, then a patina will be formed on your copper item. This can range from black to green or blue or a mixture of all the colours. These surface chemicals can be removed by using a good copper or metal cleaner. Easy. 

2. New Copper Pans with a tin lining

NKC New Copper Au Gratin Pan

The same applies to the outside copper surface as above. The difference is that there is another material on the pan to take into consideration. So, it is important that extreme heat is avoided and or course never use abrasives on the outside or inside of your pan.

Also, cooking grease, sometimes an almost invisible layer can remain on the copper surface, after washing and turn a deep shade of brown when heated, inside and out. 

Brown residue from caramelised oil

3. New Copper Pans with a Stainless Steel or Nickel Lining

Again, the same applies to the exterior, the interiors however are much more robust. These pans as the interiors can withstand much higher heat, tend to blue on the inside as well as oxidise on the outside. Many Cooks or Chefs see these pans as you would any 'normal' saute, they do, however, need special care and handling to maintain the exterior in a good condition - just like any other good copper pan.

4. Antique or Vintage Copper Pans with a New Tin Lining

New hand wiped tin tends to be thicker and more durable than factory tin linings - new or replaced - the general rule is that if it has no swirls then it is mechanically applied and is usually a thinner coat. Be careful about your new tin's provenance, always ask the seller who did your tinning and get them to verify it is 100% pure food grade tin.

New tin needs careful handling for the first few uses, it will bed in and can change colour quite rapidly. See our blog on tin linings: https://www.normandykitchencopper.com/post/1042923310867/normandy-kitchen-copper-tin-lined-copper

If you have inadvertently burned your new tin (it happens) always soak the inside but don't forget your copper exterior - a good wash in soapy water - taking care to take off all the spilt or burned on food off the surface. Then give it a polish - you will be amazed at the difference it will make to the whole look of the pan.

One of the major problems we come across is burned on or carbonised residue. It is extremely difficult to remove without damaging the copper surface. When it is there, it interferes with the copper conductivity of your pan, so it is always best to remove it as it happens.

Carbonised Jam Pan Base

5. Antique and Vintage Copper Pans in general

So, we have our pans, we have a hanger or a special cupboard, we use our pans pretty much, on a daily basis, we cook our recipes expertly, our dishes are cooked to perfection, our families and friends can't wait for an invitation to dinner. 

So why do we sometimes look at our pans and think 'I would really like them shiny again.'  The truth is you don't need them to be shiny, glistening over your stove, making all of your neighbours insanely jealous, do you? 

Great care was taken in keeping this stamp alive and maintaining the antique look of this pan.

I believe just like your car or heating system - your copper pans need maintenance and possibly a little love (just so they know you really appreciate them) and of course, they will perform better for you. 

Shiny bottoms on vintage copper pans

Nothing beats getting your pans back from the re-tinners of course, but you can get there almost with some elbow grease and a little love. The resilence of copper is astonishing, it can bounce back from a green, carbonised dull mess into a beautiful and useful kitchen companion.

Antique vintage and well used professional pans can have their own problems with cleaning, deep surface scratches, ancient priceless stamps, muck under the handle or ring, indentations and dinks. 

Rolled Rim

Firstly, take your pan and give it a thoroughly good wash in kitchen washing up liquid detergent, use a 00000 wire wool (only, no other abrasives, green scourers or anything remotely gritty)or washing up sponge to clean off the worst of the gunk, carbonisation and food residue. 

Then take your copper cleaner of choice and using your cleaning cloth, apply to your pan, taking care to only clean in small areas at first. Your cleaner may become darker as it takes off the oxidation, wipe off with another cloth and then buff with a soft cloth. 

Some polish manufacturers will have different methods of cleaning, some even have washable cleaners - so always follow the copper cleaning instructions on the tin!

For jam pans or any pan that is unlined, any green, black or blue residue must be removed before using. This is about the only time I would recommend salt and lemon juice to clean your pans. The slight abrasive quality will remove the oxidation and the lemon juice will dissolve it.  Be careful, this mixture if left on too long can dissolve the upper layer of your copper pan and cause damage that is nigh on impossible to repair. We come across this damage on Copper Fish kettles where lemon juice has been dripped on lids. Wash thoroughly afterwards.

Very old or very abused pans can be a bit of a challenge. If you have extreme indentations, or iron ring rolled tops. then use a wooden stick (thin chopstick, or toothpick) wrapped with your cleaning cloth to get into the crevices. 

A very dented old copper cauldron

Bill gives my pans and lids a good but careful clean and polish twice a year, just after Christmas and in the Summer, this gives them a lift, doesn't over polish them and my stamps are all still intact!

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