Dig Colonial or Go Home 


I'll be at B.O.N.E 2018 Giving classes and displaying finds. See you there.

Cleaning Tips

Below are some of my cleaning tips and also some great methods from
G.M. Doc Watson, Don Hartman and Dave Wise.

Most of my methods started with a great book.

Cleaning And Preservation Of Coins And Medals   By DURST

If you can find this book it is a fantastic reference.

Here's the standard blurp.... Never clean any coin or relic that you think may be valuable.

OK now that you have been told I'll continue.

I'll start with Copper coins.

I have always been a less is more guy with my coins I really do very little to them. I most often will start with a bath in Olive Oil for a few days its a very mild way to loosen the crud on a copper coin. Then some gentle rubbing with fingers or a very soft old tooth brush. This should be done with extreme caution as you can lose all detail from a coin in a heart beat. The oil sort of rehydrates the coin and seems to bring them back to life (a little).

If you have dirt and debris down in the letters and other things on the coin then after soaking a little work s l o w l y with a wooden tooth pick this will help remove the now softened crud. Need a sharper point? Sharpen the tooth pick or get a thorn from a locus or rose bush.Lastly I use a product that you can get at coin shops called Dellers Darkener this darkens the coin back up and coats the coin.

Good luck each person sooner or later developes their own tricks and gets it done.

Simple Electrolysis G. M. Doc Watson

Using an electrolysis set-up to clean and preserve iron relics is not difficult and can be done just using stuff you probably already have, as it’s all fairly simple. A current flows from one object to another, running through a solution. This process of flow causes particles to travel from one object to another; the current going from the rusted iron to a piece of stainless steel, and in the process breaking the bond between the corrosion and iron. Material deposits on the sacrifice piece, in this case scrap stainless steel, and heavier chunks of rust fall away. The solution is just tap water with something added to make it conduct electricity, I use baking soda.

Materials needed: Plastic container, power source, alligator clips, water, baking soda

I use small transformers with a rating of 300 - 800 MA (milliamps), the power supply from most phones and electronics. Coupled with a plastic container of water/solution and a piece of scrap stainless steel, this apparatus will easily clean small sized iron pieces, i.e., padlocks, buckles, horse shoes, and artillery shell fragments. 

To clean a larger piece, such as an artillery shell or a rifle, resize the container to fit the piece; a rifle could bedone in a long trough of plastic pipe. Some use battery chargers, but there’s more risk ofshock. 

Also, with a higher amperage battery charger, you could damage the artifact ifyou use too high a setting. I can let the milliampere transformers go for days without worry that it will damage the artifact, remember that I am only using electrolysis on iron objects. If you did this with a silver or copper coin you could fry it in a matter of minutes.

Prepared the transformer by removing the plug from the end of the wire and attaching alligator clips to the two ends. One of these clips will be attached to a piece of stainless steel, the other to the iron piece to be cleaned. By clipping both ends it is easy to swap your connections should you find that you have current flowing the wrong direction. Iuse cut pieces of stainless from a thin sheet of scrap, though old stainless-steel kitchen utensils will work in a pinch. 

Eventually the stainless steel will get eaten up by the process and will need to be replaced.

With one pole of the transformer attached to the stainless, the other clip must attach to the iron object to be cleaned. As the rust makes a very poor connector, you will need to file or chip away a small spot on the iron so that the clip connects directly to the metal. A heavily rusted horse shoe could take several days to clean, and checking and reattaching the electrical clip to get a better connection is part of the process. 

Fill the container with water enough to cover the piece being cleaned. My container holds about a gallon of water, to which I add about a quarter cup of baking soda. Both clips will show bubbling.You should be able to tell in a few hours if you are set up correctly, as bubbles forming on the rusted object will cause the rust to loosen and drop off. 

If you have a good connection but nothing happens try reversing the connections. With such low voltage, it usually takes two or three days to clean an object. I leave mine running round the clock, checking it a couple times a day. It is remarkable how, after a certain amount of time, the thick rust layer will suddenly seem to crumble and drop off when you pick the piece up. If it doesn’t appear to be working after 24 hours, check your polarity as mentioned above, and recheck your connection to the iron piece.

When most of the rust has dropped off, I will remove the piece from electrolysis and, in clear running water, rinse off the loose black powder covering the object, and wire brushoff any remaining scaling. It is important to clean the electrolysis solution from the piece or it will recrystallize in the pores of the iron. The iron should still appear black at this point, and once thoroughly cleaned, should be dried. Once the piece is free of moisture and cooled, it can be sealed to prevent further rusting. 

Some collectors use a microcrystalline wax to coat the object. I use a simple spray on coating developed to preserve iron called Rust Treatment that I can purchase from the local NAPA store. It has been around for years, and was originally sold under the name Extend. With the iron object now free of corrosion, cleaned and sealed, it will last a very long time. And it will look great there in your relic collection, right along with the non-iron pieces.


Here's Don Hartman's "AKA" Don in SJ . Hydrogen Peroxide cleaning method. Posted here with his permission.


For almost 20 years we have been using olive oil for soaking, cleaning, preserving our buttons and coppers. I was never totally happy with the results. Copper always appeared darker after soaking and sometimes the object would be permeated with the oil and ruin your coin holder with the leaching of the oil. When a Rick from Mich posted the use of Peroxide I decided to give it a try. I loved the results on most of the coins and now use it exclusively. 

Directions for the Cleaning of Artifacts/Coins using Hydrogen Peroxide Required items: 1 - Disposable plastic bowl – I use an empty margarine container (any microwaveable container, I actually like using empty TUCKS containers, they fit perfectly onto the coffee cup warming plate)

  • 1 - Bottle of Hydrogen Peroxide 

  • 1 - Heat Source – I have a gooseneck lamp with a halogen bulb in it. ( I now use one of those coffee cup warmers) (UPDATE: been using microwave for heat initial heat source, approx. 1 minute, with NO metal in the container! 

  • Box of Cotton Swabs 

Make sure the artifact/coin is free of any oil coating like olive oil if you previous had soaked this object. The oil coating prevents the Hydrogen Peroxide from working on the dirt. Put object to be cleaned in disposable plastic bowl and then pour Hydrogen Peroxide on top until it is at least a half an inch above the object to be cleaned. 

Using the lamp as a heater, I position the lamp to within 2-4 inches of the bowl. This heats up the solution. Be careful not to cause anything to melt from too much heat, use common sense for this part. A Heat Source is NOT necessary, but it does speed up the cleaning significantly... 

If the solution is hot enough the boiling of the Peroxide should be very evident to you and should remind you of a geyser. Once it is cooking it sprays the bubbles and smokes a little also. Periodically remove the object if you want to check on the progress. I usually then lay it on a napkin and take a cotton swab and start to gently rub and see how much crud is coming off the object. 

It might take one; two or three hours to get real clean. You might even have to repeat the entire process if the object has a lot of stubborn crud on it. When the bubbling of the Peroxide stops the cleaning is done. If it needs more cleaning start over again with fresh fluid. Keep your cotton swabs wet with the Peroxide while gently rubbing, this will prevent scratches. When done with your cleaning, rinse the object well with water. Then dry thoroughly.

The first coin I did with this method did not require any rubbing whatsoever. I believe each artifact/coin is unique in how it is cleaned. Some did not clean up hardly at all. If it is a corroded object, like a pitted, green Indian Head, I don’t think anything you do will help that. My best advice is to experiment on non-valuable objects first and then move on to your better finds once you build confidence in what you are doing. 

The objects will appear dried out after cleaning, if you want you can coat with a very light amount of olive oil, but I personally am looking for something better, haven’t found anything yet, but I am sure there is something out there to “coat” the object with. I now coat the coin if needed with meltedbees wax, wipe off excess, then buff out with a clean dry toothbrush or any plastic bristled brush.. If too much wax remains, I believe rubbing alcohol might work to remove excess.

Don Hartman


Dave Wise from Connecticut (aka HeavyMetalNut on forums) shared some of his results and techniques to clean some old coins and buttons. He wrote:


I'd like to give you some info on cleaning colonial copper coins and US large cents.
First of all every coin dug is different and the soil conditions it sat in for the past 150-250 years can either be kind to your coin or wreak havoc on its surface.

You do not want to use electrolysis unless you know what amount of current to send into a coin. I personally have fried a few Indian heads using this method but have seen some good results from Frank Lopergolo of "Detect America". I'm not comfortable with doing it, so I don't!

Most coppers I dry brush with a soft toothbrush when I get home from a hunt. This gives me some idea of how the surface is and how to approach the coin. If it has a dry thin flaky crust I will pop most of it off using my thumb nail and use a wet Q-tip with water afterwards to get the residue off.

Let dry, then add a thin coat of vaseline for a photo.

Some coins I have hot peroxided like Don Hartman touched on and that works well in some cases. My hunting buddy Todd Hiltz came up with a method which I love and that's soaking the copper in cold peroxide overnight and use a Q-tip dipped in cold peroxide to get into the legends and date areas. Again let dry and apply  a thin coat of petroleum.
I find the petroleum takes that dry look away for a nice photo of the coin.

Some coppers I just wet with water, a dab of liquid dish soap and gently scrub with a soft toothbrush. The way I look at it is... it is what it is under the dirt. If your surface is stable then your gonna have good results in identifying your coin. If the surface is pittted (which is usually the case) then your gonna have a tough time trying to ID that coin.

Next is the stubborn green verdigris or corrosion that sometimes attaches to copper like a leach. It is a cancer that is eating into the surface of your copper coin and should be removed in my opinion.

I will tell you how I restored a couple coins which I thought were hopeless.

I wet the coin with water, crammed a jewelers loop in my eye socket and used a dull vintage nut pick. I methodically pop off the green verdigris one tiny  crystal at  a time. Some coins take  a few hours each with breaks in between. I always keep the coins surface wet and rinse it often. I was very pleased with the final result and thank God i had no slips using a metal pick.

I actually had a guy on Facebook give me a lecture saying you should never clean your coins. "You devalued that LC with the green all over it!".  Really? You be the judge. If I posted this coin on e-bay before cleaning and after side by side 2 different auctions, which would you purchase? I don't sell my finds but I posed that question to him and he never responded back.

Moral of the story is ... copper coins don't hold up well in underground conditions. I get lucky every once in awhile and get some in nice shape. But,more importantly I love colonial history and enjoy saving these coins and relics from the subterranean elements where they have been for 100's of years. Granted most look like pitted discs but the ones i have cleaned and somewhat restored to their  former glory for me is a rewarding task.

Below are some before and after photo's of coins I have cleaned. I guess they say a picture is worth a 1,000 words.

Have fun out there,be safe and don't clean your coins if you are not comfortable doing so. I'm not in this hobby for the money and I don't sell my finds.

Dave Wise 

Below are a series of photos for 3 different items, using 3 different cleaning techniques.


1846 Large Cent before the 
cleaning process.

Reverse side before the 
cleaning process.

1846 Large Cent during the 
cleaning process.

I used this metal picking tool that 
was found while out detecting.

1846 Large Cent after a light 
metal picking.

1846 Large Cent final result.

This next coin is a 1842 LC had some stubborn dirt crust that I had to scrub using a soft toothbrush with dish soap and water. It took a hour but she came out nice! Before and after photos:


Front before.

Back before.

Front after.

Back after.

Next is a colonial connecticut copper using the cold peroxide method my hunting buddy Todd Hiltz came up with as I mentioned in article above. Some metal picking involved as well.

During the process...

The final result.