How to Clean an Old Copper Fire Extinguisher

By Will Charpentier

Those copper class A soda-acid fire extinguishers hung in school hallways across the county through the 1950s and 1960s. They have been turned into lamps, tables and decorative accent pieces and today, they have become collectibles. Most of the time, they have a fine green patina resulting from years of oxidation and neglect. The paint might have worn off of their face, perhaps from being touched by generations of school children. Cleaning them up is a simple exercise in kitchen chemistry.

Mix 2 cups of white vinegar with 1 cup of table salt. Stir the mix to form a thin paste of about the same consistency as thin gravy.

Apply the paste to the copper surface with a paint brush. Use long strokes, applied lengthwise on the body of the extinguisher. In the tight areas around the top and bottom of the cylinder, daub the paste on thickly with the brush. Allow the fire extinguisher to stand for 15 minutes.

Use a clean rag to scrub the surface, lightly. As you scrub, you'll see the metal begin to return to its copper color as dirt and tarnish are removed.

Rinse the copper surface with clean water. If you do not rinse the surface, it will tarnish in a matter of hours.

Air dry the copper surface. Do not dry the surface in direct sunlight; this will cause the copper to change colors. If you notice a white powder on the copper surface, rinse and dry again.

Tip

After the surface of the fire extinguisher has be rinsed and dried, the surface may be protected with with clear lacquer or wax.

Warning

Do this outside because the process produces a strong stench. Use kitchen latex gloves to keep your hands from drying out.

About the Author

Will Charpentier is a writer who specializes in boating and maritime subjects. A retired ship captain, Charpentier holds a doctorate in applied ocean science and engineering. He is also a certified marine technician and the author of a popular text on writing local history.