Most likely, you've heard that you should never clean coins. This is true if you're a collector of old, circulated coins, such as Indian head nickels or Mercury dimes. If you clean these types of vintage coins, you wash away the natural patina, which decreases their value.
But this doesn't apply to your military coin collection. You can clean these collectibles, keeping them shiny and looking new. The key thing to remember when you're coin cleaning is never to use abrasive solutions or materials.
Do you have military coins you'd like to clean without damaging them? Read this guide on cleaning your military coins using the safest and most effective methods.
Run Under Cold Water
This is the simplest, and safest, way to clean challenge coins. If you're just trying to remove dust, you can run your coins under cold water. This will wash away dust particles. Let them air dry on a soft cloth or gently pat them with the cloth to remove water droplets.
Wash in Warm Soapy Water
If your challenge coins need a little extra cleaning, add a small amount of mild, non-acidic dish soap to a plastic container of warm water. Avoid using a clay or metal container since they can scratch your coins.
Wash one coin at a time in the plastic container, so they don't rub against each other. Shake the container gently back and forth to loosen dirt and grime.
You can rub the coin with your fingers if the dirt isn't washing off your coins.
Soak in Distilled Water
For more persistent gunk stuck on your coins, try dipping them into distilled water. It's a non-abrasive way to remove dirt without harming the color of your coins.
Just place your military coins in a container of distilled water. Add each coin one at a time so they don't touch each other. Let them sit in the distilled water for 24 hours.
When you take them out, use a soft toothbrush to remove any leftover gunk. Do this slowly and gently.
Make a Baking Soda and Water Solution
Cleaning coins with a baking soda solution works best on copper, silver and brass coins. When you mix baking soda and water together for cleaning your coins, you want it to be a liquid solution. The last thing you want is a baking soda paste that you'll have to clean off later.
You can make the solution by placing about two tablespoons of baking soda in an aluminum foil-lined bowl. Add warm water to the bowl. Place your coins in a single layer into the bowl.
Leave the coins soaking until the water cools to room temperature. Remove your coins and rinse them in cold water. You can let them air dry.
Soak in Olive Oil
Your challenge coins are unlikely to need this level of cleaining, but just in case they do, here's how. The olive oil cleaning method is one of the oldest ways to clean old coins. This is the method many numismatists use to clean ancient coins with caked-on dirt.
Olive oil saturates the dirt, which loosens it for easier removal without damaging the coin. You use this method for your dirtiest coins. Some ancient coins have to soak in olive oil for as much as six months before they're clean.
Military coins should only take a few days of soaking. All you have to do is place your coins in olive oil and let them soak. Once the dirt comes loose, remove your coins and rinse them using the warm soapy water method.
Should You Clean Challenge Coins?
If you're wondering whether you should clean your challenge coins, it really is up to you. Old monetary coins are a different matter than challenge coins. Are you collecting old coins to retain their value? If so, don't clean your old coins.
Keep in mind that old circulated coins tarnish, tone and develop patina at different rates. If you clean old coins, you'll get a splotchy, altered coin surface. Circulated coins are likely to lose 90 percent of their value if you clean them. Not only that, it's easy to ruin your coins if you don't clean them properly.
When you try to trade or sell your old coins after cleaning them, the expert numismatists will be able to see the surface scratches and damage to the coins.
The lesson to be learned is that it's almost never a good idea to clean a circulated coin. Once you clean off the original patina, what you're left with is a coin that looks cleaned. For challenge coins, if you want to maintain a pristine finish, the simple cold water rinse occasionally is all your coins are likely to need.
Consider Leaving Coin Cleaning to the Professionals
If your military coins or other coins have an emotional or monetary value for you, consider playing it safe. Take your coins to a professional coin cleaner for safe, damage-free coin cleaning.
Professional cleaners use several ways to clean coins with chemicals such as xylene. These are dangerous and could cause personal harm or damage to your coins if you try to use them yourself. To keep your coins in heirloom condition, take them to a professional for cleaning.
It's Okay to Clean Collectible Military Coins
Although you don't want to clean old, circulated coins, it's perfectly fine to clean your military challenge coins. It's important to preserve your challenge coins in case you want to give them as signs of achievement or to thank first responders and military personnel for their service.
You don't have to be in the military to collect military coins. In fact, if you collect military challenge coins, you might want to participate in coin check games. Always keep your coins clean and in good shape in case someone initiates a coin check when you're in the room.
This coin cleaning guide can help you keep your military coins in tip-top shape.
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