Those lucky enough to own a copper sink know firsthand the inherent beauty and character of this long-utilized metal. But in this era of soft scrubs, bleaches, disinfectants and other harsh chemical solutions, copper sinks are under constant threat. What's safe and what isn't? How do you keep your copper bright and "perfect"? How do you ensure a dark, elegant patina? What's a patina? Let's find out.
Copper sinks come in a few basic varieties: "raw" copper sinks that are unlacquered and unfinished; sinks that are lacquered to protect bright or decorated surfaces; and finished sinks with a "pre-installed" patina. The cleaning and care routine for a copper sink depends on the kind you have, and the look you want.
Unlacquered, unfinished copper sinks are usually bought with the intention of letting their patina develop naturally. What could initially be a bright, reddish golden-brown will slowly darken, developing unique patterns over the years, and maybe even some of the green "verdigris" patina. When you hear about a "living finish", these are the sinks being referred to. The patina will be irregular, lending the sink a character all its own. Scratches will reveal the brighter surface underneath, but blend out of view soon after as new patina develops over the exposed area.
Raw copper sinks are the easiest to clean and take care of. Because the goal is to let a patina develop naturally, the surface of the sink is left unprotected, which means you don't need to worry about applying or re-applying anything. When the sink's dirty, all that's needed is some dish soap, water, and a soft cloth or nylon brush - really, that's it! Anything more is not only unnecessary, but potentially harmful to a graceful patination.
You may have heard that copper is anti-microbial or biostatic. This is true: many microorganisms do not survive for more than a few hours on a copper surface. But this is only on raw, untreated surfaces that are kept that way. If you have a raw sink and want to reap its full benefits, don't wax it.
Other copper sinks are lacquered, usually to protect a bright, polished finish from patination. While the anti-microbial properties of the metal are negated by this, the result is a dazzling sink - if you're going for that look. Others prefer a patina (some lighter, some darker), but don't want to wait years for it to develop, which is why manufacturers use proprietary chemical treatments to create "designer" patinas. A lacquer may be applied to stall further development of the patina, or it may be left to you.
With either type of sink, follow the familiar refrain: mild dish soap and water for cleaning. To keep a patina from developing or drastically changing, apply a coating of wax regularly, replacing it whenever water stops beading inside the sink. Carnauba wax and specialized copper waxes are your best bet.
Yes, it's all pretty simple: if you have a copper sink, use only mild soap and water for regular cleaning. In a perfect world, this is all the advice you would ever need. So... we'll keep going.
Avoid abrasive materials and cleaners: no steel wool or Comet! Bleach is only safe with raw copper, but should not be necessary with regular cleaning (recall the anti-microbial nature of those sinks). For stubborn stains, apply a paste of baking soda and water and scrub with your sponge or brush. The baking soda is abrasive enough to help work out stains, but mild enough to not cause damage.
If you want to maintain the bright look of polished copper, things change. Lacquers will eventually start to wear away, often unevenly, and patina never stops forming. When you start seeing discoloration or stains, using a copper cleaner and/or polish will help get the sink to its original look. Wax afterward and regularly to preserve the brilliance.
Acidic foods will eat away at patina and lacquer, potentially giving the sink a splotchy or messy appearance. When dealing with them, be sure nothing sits in the sink too long, and rinse thoroughly immediately afterwards.
Most scuffs and scratches from pots and pans on unlacquered sinks are actually a reaction between the metals in the sink and the cookware. The darker spots created should eventually blend out as the patina continues to form. If they're stubborn, or you really can't stand them, try gently working at the area with a scrub sponge. There will be a bright spot for a short while, but it should fade out of view fairly quickly. Consider using a sink grid or mat to prevent direct contact when washing dishes.
Despite the fact that copper belongs to that most humble of families, the base metals, there's no denying that copper has an allure all its own - and copper sinks are the perfect showcase. "Living finish" is a misnomer only literally; copper sinks are dynamic, engaging and unique. To keep them that way, just remember: the softer the hand that cleans them, the greater the beauty.
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