A Guide To Properly Cleaning Challenge Coins

A Complete Guide To Properly Cleaning Challenge Coins

Jesse Daugherty

Jesse Daugherty

A Complete Guide To Properly Cleaning Challenge Coins
Photo by: Clay Banks @ Unsplash

Challenge coins are valued tokens that are given out as a form of recognition. They are typically used in the military, though they have expanded into Police and Fire Departments across the globe, while even businesses, brands, and organizations have adopted them as well. They have even become collector's items for folks all around the world. But how does one keep these highly sought-after challenge coins clean and looking their best? 

Keeping challenge coins clear and polished may seem like an easy task, but there are a handful of tricks that will yield the best results. Today we examine the best ways to clean your challenge coins without damaging them. Among coin collectors and enthusiasts, there are several different ways to polish metal coins. There are several useful methods to keep them polished and looking their best, and we are here to help. Before we go any further, keep in mind that you can combine most of the techniques mentioned below to keep your coins pristine. 

The most obvious and common way to clean a challenge coin is by washing it. However, be aware, there are many wrong ways to wash your challenge coins. To wash them properly, it's important to assess how dirty they are. If your coin has considerable dirt build-up, simply hold them under warm running water for about thirty seconds on each side and then dry them on a towel. Do not rub them needlessly, as the dirt may scratch the surface of the coin. However, washing your coin under running water will only get you so far. 

If there is a persistent build-up of gunk and debris, your coins will need a bit extra work. After washing your coins, dip them in distilled water or a soap solution. Distilled water is a gentle way to remove most build-up without affecting the surface or color of your coin. Simply soak your challenge coin for a full day in the distilled water. Dip each coin separately so that they are not touching one another. The next day, remove the coin and scrub it with a soft toothbrush. Dip it again and repeat the process if extra attention is needed. 

For greasy coins, create a soapy solution with dish soap and warm water. Dip each coin individually and rub them inside the water with an old toothbrush. Be gentle and watch as the gunk and debris slowly comes off of the coin. You can also soak the challenge coin within the soapy solution. But remember, if you do, be sure you are using soft soap with no acidity. This will ensure that your coins remain unharmed and undamaged. Almost any coin will become sparkling and clean after a single dip with a regular dish soap solution. However, if your coin is particularly dirty, rinse and repeat as needed. 

Ancient coins are popular among collectors, and they are often made from very soft metals. For these coins, utilize olive oil to cleanse away any build-up. We know what you're thinking. And, yes, use olive oil. Olive oil will loosen accumulated dirt, making it easier to remove the debris without damaging the coin underneath. The process is slow and only suitable for the dirtiest coins in your collection. Allow your coins to soak in olive oil for a week or more. During that time, change the oil as it becomes discolored, as this is a sign that it has been saturated with dirt. Some ancient coins require six months or longer in oil before becoming properly cleaned. Your military coin will be fine after just a few days, though. After soaking, take the coin out and gently rinse it with dish soap and water to return its original luster. 

Sometimes your coins may get sticky from glue, cement, or some other adhesive material. While this is bad news, it's not irreversible. To remove such grime, you will need to physically pry it off your coin with a toothbrush. While it's a risky move, it's sometimes unavoidable. Before resorting to prying and pulling, try soaking the coin in olive oil to soften up the build-up. This will make the material much easier to remove without damaging the coin itself. While dipping your coins in water and soap will remove grease, you may need something a bit stronger for other substances. 

Isopropyl alcohol is a universal acidic solvent that can help. It will dissolve built-up dirt in low concentration and help bring your coin back to its original state. To make an isopropyl alcohol bath, simply mix equal parts with water. Let your coin soak within the solution for at least two hours. Upon removal, use plenty of water to remove any leftover Isopropyl alcohol. Sometimes, you need something a bit abrasive for coins that are home to tough, dirty, and heavier build-up. 

Adding a bit of salt to your Isopropyl alcohol will provide an abrasive enough solution to remove extremely tough build-up. Place your coins in the mix and let them soak for a few hours before removing them. Rub them with a soft toothbrush, like you would with the soap and water method. The added salt will create friction and help you easily peel off any gunk and debris. 

Keep in mind that if you leave your challenge coins submerged in water for too long, they will accumulate salts and minerals on the surface. You cannot remove salts with soap, and an abrasive solution might remove color. Using dishwasher products like Calgon to create a "soft" water solution allows for easy removal of salt and minerals. Keep in mind that you should dip your coin in the solution for just a couple of minutes. Anything longer may result in damage to your coin's outer layer. 

If you have a particular coin that is rather valuable, consider consulting a professional. A coin expert will be more qualified to clean your coin and prevent damage to your challenge coin. There are a number of chemical-based methods that are both complicated or dangerous for a novice to attempt. No matter how dirty your coin is, an expert should be able to perform them on your coins. 

Now that you know how to wash and protect your challenge coins for the future, why not get started on an order of your own? We can help! Simply call us toll-free at 1 (855) 272-8451 or email us. We'd be happy to assist!