I’ve learned a lot about copper and tin in the course of using and cleaning my vintage pots and pans and I hope my experiences can help you use and care for yours. (If you’re looking for advice on buying vintage French copper, please check out my Buyer’s Guide.)
Common-sense care of vintage copper
I love cooking with tin-lined copper, and as with any other cookware, there are some common-sense best practices to get the most out of it.
- Rather than tell you what to do, how I use my vintage copper cookware describes the habits I’ve picked up.
- Cooking on tin-lined copper means understanding tin’s thermal properties — I smear pans so you don’t have to.
- I noticed my tin-lined skillets accumulating some seasoning, and it prompted me to think about the wisdom of leaving it in place.
Cleaning vintage copper
Vintage French copper pots and pans will last for centuries with some basic care. Here are the products I like and the techniques I use.
- I use Bistro copper cleaner to remove tarnish from the exterior of my pans.
- I also tested homemade copper cleaners — salt, lemon, and ketchup.
- When I actually want to polish copper to protect it from tarnish, I use Simichrome.
- To protect the cast iron handles from rust, I use Renaissance wax.
- I don’t like scrubbing my tin-lined pans hard, so when they get carbonized food residue on the inside, I have a technique to soften the residue so it can be scrubbed away more gently.
- I tackled polymerized oil — residue on the exterior copper that heated up into a hard plastic-like substance and is pretty impossible to remove with just soap and water.
Owning and using tinned copper means you might have to retin a piece now and then.
- I wrote To retin or not to retin? for the process of buying a piece online, but I think it might also be helpful for evaluating tin in general.
- Picking a good tinner is about just that — questions you should ask when deciding whether to send your copper to a particular shop. (It’s an excerpt from Bad tin below.)
- Bad tin is a cautionary tale of my experience working with a less-than-professional retinner.
- A tale of character loved and lost is another cautionary tale about an over-exuberant polishing job.
I’m a curious person and I’ve poked around a bit in the physics and chemistry of copper and tin to understand why copper pots behave the way they do.
- Tarnish, Part 1: The beginning is about tarnish itself — what it is and what I think the different colors mean.
- Tarnish, Part 2: The end is about how tarnish removers work.
- Funny colors is about a particular pot that became gloriously, beautifully tarnished, and how I cleaned it.
- The zig-zags discusses patterns that form in tin when it’s exposed to heat and acid.
- Doing bad things to copper is an experiment applying bleach, muriatic acid, and hydrogen peroxide to copper to see what happens.
- How to tell a silver lining from tin goes through a few home methods to tell a silver-lined pan from a tinned one, and might come in handy if you are considering buying a silvered pan or have one you suspect might be silver.
Full list of Advice posts
Here’s a list of all the Advice posts in alphabetical order.
- A little science about copper and tin
- A tale of character loved and lost
- Bad tin
- Can you spot the replaced rivets?
- Cleaning carbonized gunk
- Cookware advice from 19th century England
- Doing bad things to copper
- Funny colors
- Guest post: Electroplated tin repair
- How I use my vintage copper cookware
- How to tell a silver lining from tin
- I smear pans so you don’t have to.
- Reader profile: Martin
- Removing polymerized oils
- Rondeau, stewpot, soup pot, stockpot… how to tell the difference