cleaned silver coin

How to Clean Found Treasure

To clean, or not to clean. That is the question! There are some situations where cleaning your finds just might destroy the value. If there is any doubt in your mind, then you probably should not be cleaning your new piece of treasure. This is especially true with old coins that have a nice natural patina. They are far more valuable in their current state than if you cleaned them. The same could be said of any old relics that you may find.

There will also be times when you will want to clean an item in order to properly display it or sell it. Here are some of the best methods for cleaning some of the great treasures you are going to be finding. Let’s start with coins.

Cleaning Clad Coins

Over a period of time, you will wind up with a lot of clad coins. You may even want to take them all to the bank and deposit them. Cleaning clad is fairly easy because you don’t have to worry about doing any damage to these coins. Their only monetary value is their current face value.

A rock tumbler is an excellent way to give these types of coins a good cleaning. If you don’t have a rock tumbler, then there are a few other great ways to clean the mountain of clad coins you have been finding.

I use an old plastic fruit juice jug. I put some sand, and a mixture of vinegar and water in the juice jug along with all the coins and give it a good shaking. Then I empty all the coins into an old colander and rinse them with fresh water. This is usually good enough for the bank.

Cleaning Valuable Coins

The value of older coins is based on a few things. The amount of like coins that were minted, and the current condition of the coin. If you happen to damage the coin while you attempt to clean it, then you could be making a huge mistake.

If you have an older coin that you want cleaned, then you had better leave this up to the professionals. There are professional coin cleaning and grading services out there. The two most popular are:

Numismatic Conservation Service
Phone: 941.360.3996

PCGS or Professional Coin Grading Service
United States toll free phone number: 800-447-8848
Outside of the United States phone number: 949-833-0600

If you have an older coin that is not extremely valuable and you want to clean it up yourself, there are a few proven methods that work quite well.

The Slow Coin Cleaning Method

If you don’t mind waiting a little while (sometimes 2-3 months), then soak your coin in olive oil. This method has proven to clean even the most stubborn dirty coin with no visible damage. The down side is that this method can take a very long time. If you can wait, stick to this method. If you can’t wait, then try some of these other great cleaning methods.

Faster Coin Cleaning Options

Toothpaste works wonders on old tarnished metals. Work a small dab of toothpaste onto the surface of the coin using your fingers. You can also use a soft bristled toothbrush to help loosen up some of the crud on the coin. Rinse and repeat until the coin looks good.

Another neat trick involves a little bit of science. Rub the old coin with a wet piece of tinfoil. This creates a mild electrolysis effect and cleans the surface of the coin. You can also go the full electrolysis route if you want. I will explain that cleaning method in a little bit.

Some people have also had great results cleaning coins using baking soda, vinegar and lemon juice. They can all be used separately, or in some type of crazy mad scientist concoction. Just be careful if you plan on mixing chemicals. You could be asking for all sorts of problems.

Cleaning Jewelry

A jeweler will always be able to make an old piece of jewelry shine just like new, but there are a few tricks that you can try first. My wife is a pro at using nothing but toothpaste on any old jewelry that I bring home, and she makes it look as good as new.

She just rubs toothpaste into the surface of the jewelry. Sometimes she will use a soft cloth to polish the item in question with the toothpaste. She then rinses and repeats until the jewelry is nice and sparkly.

This works well with pretty much any type of metal that jewelry is made from, except junk jewelry. Junk jewelry gets so tarnished and dirty because it is junk. There is very little you can do to this type of jewelry that will make it look even remotely good.

Cleaning Precious Stones

Precious stones, especially diamonds tend to get a little dirty over time. The oils and greases from our skin stick to the surface of precious stones and cause all sorts of problems that make the stone look less desirable. Cleaning the stones will not only restore their natural luster, but it will also make them more presentable.

There are a few things to consider before you start attacking your precious stones. You are responsible for any damage that you may do. You could also easily knock the stone or stones out of the piece of jewelry. They could fall into the sink and your great piece of treasure is now lost again. If you have any doubts about cleaning jewelry with stones, leave this job to a professional. If you want to tackle this job at home, then here is what you need to do. The first ingredient is warm water. The warm water will help break up any oil or grease that may have accumulated on the surface of the stone, but warm water is not enough to make precious stones glitter and sparkle.

You can use a small amount of Ivory brand dish soap, liquid jewelry cleaner or a drop or two of ammonia mixed in the water. This combination helps remove all the gunk that may have built up on the surface and the underside of your newly acquired precious stones.

I bet you never thought you would become an expert coin cleaner and an expert jewelry cleaner when you thought about metal detecting, did you? It is all part of the greatest hobby in the world.

Cleaning Relics

Determining the best way to clean relics really depends on what the relic is made from. In some cases, you may not want to clean the relic. It may be more valuable in its current state. I know I keep saying this, but it is very important to remember this.

For those of you who are determined to clean up those old rusty relics, then it is time to step into a somewhat dangerous area. First things first. We are going to be talking about electricity and water. These two things don’t play nicely together. One mistake could give you the shock of a lifetime. It could also kill you. I take no liability for the problems you create by using this method to clean coins, jewelry or relics. You have been warned. You are proceeding at your own risk. Let’s talk electrolysis.


Using electrolysis is one of the best ways to clean just about anything made from metal, but not everyone has an electrolysis setup in their garage. If you do happen to have a homemade electrolysis setup in your garage, then you are lucky. You can skip the rest of this article.

The great thing about this method is its simplicity. It is very easy to setup and even easier to use. There are also several different variations to this setup.

There are electrolysis setups that have more power. These setups are excellent at removing rust from larger iron relics. There are also smaller less powerful setups that are great at cleaning coins.

Before we dive into creating an electrolysis setup. Let’s have a closer look at the dangers involved.

Danger # 1 – Water and electricity don’t mix. I have already said this. You can get shocked if
you don’t pay attention to what you are doing.

Danger # 2 – Your electrolysis setup will create toxic waste if you are using stainless steel in your electrolysis setup.

Danger # 3 – The electrolysis process creates gas. The gas that is created is hydrogen. While the amount of hydrogen being produced is very small, it is still extremely flammable. Do not place your electrolysis setup next to any open flames. Pilot lights, lighters or candles. You get the picture. Build your electrolysis unit outside or in a well ventilated area.

Now that you are aware of the dangers, let’s look over the supplies. You will need the following:

  1. Eye protection. You only get one set of eyes. Protect them.
  2. Gloves.
  3. Large non-conductive plastic container. A plastic bucket or a plastic storage container should work just fine.
  4. Automotive battery charger or an AC/DC (rock on!) power supply.
  5. A flat piece of iron or steel. Rebar works great, or an old kitchen pan. Stainless steel will create some toxic waste.
  6. Washing soda, baking soda or salt. Washing soda is not baking soda and it works best. It is made by Arm & Hammer, and it can be found in smaller stores or online.
  7. A measuring spoon of some sort.
  8. Water

That’s it. Let’s build this thing. This diagram explains everything clearly. Look it over first.

Put on your gloves and safety glasses. You need to clean the dirty piece of treasure first. A wire brush and some mild soap and water are perfect for cleaning the item in question before you start the electrolysis process.

Take your plastic container and fill it with enough water to completely submerge the piece of metal you want to clean. The plastic container has to be made from non-conductive material. Now it is time to add the washing soda, baking soda or salt to the water. Remember, washing soda and baking soda are two very different things. Washing soda works the best. Add one tablespoon per gallon of water and stir it up. You now have an electrolyte solution.

Connect the negative lead from your power source to your rusty iron relic and submerge it in the water. Connect the positive lead to your flat piece of steel and submerge it in the solution as well.

Make sure the relic and the anode (flat piece of steel) are not touching. In fact, keep them as far away from each other as possible. Take a look at that image again. See how far away the two items are?

If you are using alligator clips attached to your negative and positive leads, make sure you keep the positive lead out of the water. It will make it last longer. The item that is attached to the positive lead will eventually disintegrate. If you submerge your positive alligator clip, it will disintegrate over a period of time as well.

Once everything is submerged and attached, it is time to plug in your power source and turn it on. You still there? Okay good. You didn’t blow anything up. If everything is working properly, you should see some bubbles coming from your rusty old relic.

How Long Do You Keep It Submerged?

This depends on quite a few things. It depends on the amount of power you have powering your electrolysis setup and the size of the anode. Your best bet is to just keep a close eye on it. If you leave it submerged for too long, you could damage the item being cleaned.

What Happens Next?

The water in your electrolysis setup will start to get dark and dirty. If your item was really rusty, you may even see a thick brown foam forming on the surface of the water. This is good, but don’t go sticking your hands in the water. You must shut down the power first.

Shut off the Power to Your Electrolysis Setup

Once you have unplugged your power source, you are ready to reach in there and see what the electrolysis process has revealed. If everything worked right, your piece of treasure should be pretty good and clean now. The next step is drying your newly cleaned piece of treasure before the rust can take over again.

Drying the Relic

There are a few ways to do this. Be careful not to burn yourself. You could use a hairdryer to dry the iron relic, an infrared heat lamp, or a conventional oven.

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