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Caring for Solid Copper Mugs

The Moscow Mule is a wonderfully cool and refreshing cocktail that has earned its place in the pantheon of notable mixed drinks. Let’s face it though, were the venerable mule served in a standard cocktail glass instead of its distinctive and traditional copper Moscow Mule mugs it just wouldn’t be the same. The copper mug provides context, visual appeal, a distinctive anchor to stimulate conversation and has health benefits as well (that we’ll get into some other time). But it’s also copper, meaning you’re going to need to take proper care of it to keep it safe and looking good.

Caring For Your Copper Mule Mugs: A Brief Primer

If left to its own devices copper eventually develops a patina most people recognize from gutters, door knockers or large outdoor planters. Composed mostly of sulfate this highly distinctive patina is corrosion resistant and therefore acts to shield the bulk of the underlying material from further weather-related wear and tear. While most people think the patina is a sign of weakness or a type of ‘rot’ it is in fact integral to the metal’s long term viability.

A patina can take a long time to develop though so you likely won’t be dealing with one in regards to your copper cups, (unless you purchase some antique mugs that have been sitting unattended for years). What you will need to deal with is the tarnish and discoloration (oxidation) that precedes the development of the patina and can make your Moscow Mule mugs look old and unattractive and might even cause guests to hesitate when it comes to drinking out of them.

That said, most people are familiar with the standard dos and don’ts when it comes to caring for copper but, if your mugs are already tarnished, you might want to go the extra mile and actually make your own copper cleaner. You can purchase Barkeeper's Friend to return their shine or you can follow the recipe below. Here’s what you’ll need to get started:

  • 3 cups of lemon juice
  • 1 cup of salt
  • 1 cup of white vinegar
  • A gentle sponge
  • Latex gloves
  • Ammonia (only if the tarnish is severe)
  • Soft clean cloths

Cleaning your copper cups:

  • Mix the salt into the lemon juice and stir vigorously until it’s all dissolved.
  • Apply the mixture to the tarnished cup using the soft sponge.
  • Rub the mixture into the surface well. You should start to see the natural luster come through.
  • If not, add the white vinegar to the mixture and try again.
  • If the mixture with the vinegar still doesn’t produce the golden luster you’re after add the ammonia and try one more time. By now you should see the deep reddish glow.
  • Continue to apply the mixture until the entire mug is shining brightly then rinse and dry it thoroughly and buff it using the soft clean cloth.

Once your tarnished mugs have been thoroughly cleaned keeping them that way will be a relative snap and you shouldn’t need anything more than the salt and lemon juice mixture. If you are a strict traditionalist you’ll want to leave the copper surface exposed. However, many people find it simpler to apply a lacquer to the newly cleaned mugs to save time and effort in the long run.

Some Additional Do’s and Don’ts for Your Copper Mugs

Never Put Your Mugs in the Dishwasher: The dishwasher is kind of like an automated car wash for your dishes. It’s a harsh environment that could actually cause the nickel lining of your copper mugs to crack and chip off. While you don’t technically need the nickel lining you don’t want to be enjoying a nice Moscow Mule and suddenly ingest some nickel chips that broke off due to the mug being damaged in the dishwasher. Also, leaving the mugs to dry in the dishwasher with the other plates and pans is not a great idea, unless you like tarnish.

Keep Your Mugs Dry: While oxidation and a heavy patina may look fine on downspouts, door knockers, and statues you probably aren’t eager to adopt the look for your copper mugs. The good news is that you don’t have to. All you have to do to avoid it is to make sure you dry your mugs thoroughly after washing. Don’t just wipe them down quickly like you might a plate, put some elbow grease into it and make sure they’re bone dry before you store them away.Beautiful copper mugs provide a timeless vessel for enjoying a refreshing Moscow Mule during the big holiday party or family get-together. They’re a great conversation starter and, contrary to stories circulated by some, present no health risk as long as they, like every other plate, bowl, cup and glass you own, are kept clean between uses. Make sure your copper mule mugs always look their best by following the tips provided here.