Simichrome makes copper look gorgeous, but it’s a task that I reserve for display copper that I don’t use very often.
A metal polish cleans and resurfaces metal to create a shiny finish. I like Simichrome, which is an abrasive polish: it contains aluminum oxide (Al2O3) in a petroleum-based cream (naphtha and kerosene, primarily). Aluminum oxide is a very fine-grained abrasive (8 to 10 microns) that polishes the copper surface; the petroleum base helps the polish spread, dissolves surface grease, and leaves behind a thin layer that protects the metal against oxidation and tarnish. The solvents are potent — you may want to use gloves, and the fumes are pretty strong until the solvents evaporate. (Here’s Simichrome’s Safety Data Sheet if you want to check it out.)
I think of Simichrome as a protectant but not something I use on my regular cooking copper for a couple of reasons.
It takes time and physical effort. You work over a few square inches at a time: apply a dab of polish, rub it in with a rag, then wipe it off and buff it to a shine. That’s a lot of repetitive motion, and a big piece with lots of surface area can take a while.
This is not for pieces you use to cook. Soap removes the protective layer left behind by Simichrome, so if you cook with a polished piece and wash it afterwards, you’re stripping off the Simichrome residue. That negates one of the major benefits of metal polish in the first place.
I reserve the Simichrome treatment for display pieces that I want to look beautiful but that I know I won’t touch for a while. The look of tarnish doesn’t bother me but if I want to take tarnish off I use a copper cleaner like Bistro or Copperbrill. Polishing copper with Simichrome is more involved process that gives a deeper and longer-lasting shine but that takes more time and physical effort that a nice quick cleaning with Bistro.
I recently cleaned and then polished a piece of copper and took some before and after photos. This is the business end of a small sugar pan — a thin unlined vessel intended for confectionary use, to caramelize sugar and melt copper and whatnot. I fell in love with it at first sight, but as I’m not a confectionary maker, I probably won’t use this for the foreseeable future, so it’s a great candidate for “polish it and forget it.” I cleaned it up with Bistro and it’s ready for a polish. (Yes, there is also some dark stuff on there, but I didn’t feel like attacking it. This is an antique piece and I can live with the marks.)
Polishing with Simichrome took just about 15 minutes, so the light is the same in the photos and I hope you can get an idea of what Simichrome does. Note that I am also polishing the interior — metal polishes like Simichrome are not food safe, so if and when I decide to use this, I will need to give it a good soapy wash with warm water to get that protective layer off. You don’t need to use Simichrome on a tin, stainless steel, or nickel lining, so it’s only unlined confectionary tools like this where that could be an issue.
The Simichrome makes the copper shinier and gives it a deeper tone and will help keep it from tarnishing. For a little display piece like this, 15 minutes of effort is totally worth it.
I’m considering putting some Simichrome on one or two of my really big pieces and I’ll take photos of that if and when I do.