How to Clean Old Coins Found Metal Detecting

Finding coins while metal detecting using good metal detectors can be exciting and rewarding especially when you find older coins. Depending on the condition they are in and the rarity of the coin, you may fetch a better price if you are to sell them if they're legible. Before you start cleaning your coins, it’s important for you to know how to do it right without damaging them.

What You Should Know Before Cleaning Coins

You may really need to consider whether or not cleaning a coin will benefit its value and appearance before doing so. What matters most is the ability to see the date, words or details on the coin. Once you have cleaned a coin, there is no going back.

Often coin collectors will prefer the original patina on a coin compared to a completely clean coin. On especially ancient coins, you should never clean them with chemicals or the needed patina will be removed. eBay suggests to avoid cleaning your coins at all if you can.

First Cleaning Your Coins After A Dig

You’ve dug your plug after getting a strong signal and immediately begin to sift through the dirt. As soon as you know it, the sun refracts light off of something shiny and your heart begins beings to race. Your first reaction may be to pull it out and clean it by hand.

Coins that sit in the dirt for a long time will have impacted dirt in the crevices and will not be easy to clean right away. Since dirt will usually have sand deposits in it, scrubbing the dirt off may result in damaging the coin and leaving scratches on the surface.

To clean dirt off of coins, you should first leave as much dirt on them as possible. Bring them under a rinse of plain water at a faucet so the dirt loosens off the surface. Any additional residual dirt may need to be spot cleaned using more advanced methods.

Different Methods For Deep Cleaning & Polishing Coins

Many metal detecting enthusiasts have different methods they use to further clean their coins of dirt. With most methods, you are always trying to avoid damaging the patina or creating scratches on the surface so overdoing the cleaning process with chemicals can be a no-no.

This video may help you see some of the various methods used below and their effects on copper coins. This way you can decide which method is best to use when you clean your own.

1. Toothpick and Petroleum Jelly

After drying your coin out from the initial rinsing, you can proceed to use this method to remove dirt from crevices. It can take while to do it, but you won’t ruin the patina on your coin as much as you would using chemicals. Coat the coin in petroleum jelly and use your toothpick to remove dirt.

2. Hydrogen Peroxide

This method works great to remove any dirt that is caked into crevices on both clad or copper coins. You may choose to heat the peroxide up before dropping in your coin in. After about 15 minutes your coin should show many details

3. Baking Soda and Water

A lot of veteran metal detecting hobbyists have used and still do use baking soda and water to clean residual dirt from coins. This method often leaves a shine on detailed points of the coins. Simply mix a little baking soda and water together and slide the coin between your fingers.

4. Vinegar and Salt Soaking

Since vinegar is made of acids, you will only want to use this method on clad coins. The acid will remove the patina on copper and will usually turn your coin a shade of pink, which will eliminate its value. Try to avoid this method if possible.

Preservation Of Coins After Cleaning

If you had used any type of chemicals on your coins, you should always rinse them with water thoroughly or residual chemical could corrode the surface. According to U.S. Coin Guide, you should store your valuable coins in a plastic coin holder.


As long as you avoid over cleaning your coins, they should remain valuable. If anything, the details in your coins will be completely legible and features will stand out better when they’re all cleaned up. We wish you luck in your metal detecting ventures and hope you find some great coins, or even gold!

  • Updated October 30, 2019
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