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Cleaning Coins & Currency

When you have an abundance of coins…cleaning & counting tips

My dad hoarded pennies—not just wheat pennies, but all pennies. There are so many of them in the house that I can’t even approximate a count. Hundreds and hundreds of pounds of the darn things. They are mostly dirty and smelly (some dirty from rotten food, others from mold and mildew, and others from tarnish and goodness-knows-what that coins pick up in their travels); some are corroded or even chipped.

I’ve been cleaning them, about 100 at a time, in a rock tumbler and rolling them to deposit at the bank. 

One can buy small coin sorting and coin counting machines. Brookstone sells one, for example. Go to and search on ‘coin sorting.’ But read the customer reviews; most machines seem to have some drawbacks, including being imprecise about counting the number of coins they put in a stack for wrapping (which defeats the purpose of having such a machine) or running on battery power only. Those machines range in price from about $40 to about $200, from what I can tell.

I did order a tumbler and some of the cleaner and the red and blue stones. They work very well. 😉 Takes about two hours to do a batch of about 100 coins. There’s no scrubbing involved at all, which is a relief. It’s also very quiet, since the tumbler is completely rubber.

They do caution you that you probably shouldn’t use this method to clean collectible coins (I guess it can affect the value of them).

The price of copper isn’t yet high enough to make them worth selling for meltdown purposes, I’m told. And I don’t have the patience to wade through hundreds of pounds of them looking for the one coin that might be worth more than a penny to a collector due to its age and rarity.”

The only thing I could think of was to make a deal with a collector (someone who would know what the rare coins would be and would want to search….) or to bury them all in the dirt (bacteria in the soil are supposed to help clean some things). If that only sort of works, maybe let kids groups or Trick or Treaters have at them?

”For counting, use Coinstar—easily converts spare change into “real money”-found at grocery store check outs, you just dump all your change in the machine and it counts it for you. Just make sure no other debris in bags/jars of coins as machines will reject it.”  

Cleaning currency/Dirty money…

Normal paper—including notebook paper, newspaper, and construction paper — is all made out of cellulose, which comes from trees. The trees are chemically broken down into their individual wood fibers, and the cellulose fibers are chosen and formed into very thin sheets to create paper.Paper money, on the other hand, is made from paper made of rags. Cotton or linen fabric is beaten to create cotton or linen fibers. You have probably heard of ’rag paper’ or ’fine linen writing paper.’ This is where it comes from.

It turns out that rag fibers bond together much more firmly than fibers in regular paper. Rag fibers are basically unaffected by water, whereas cellulose fibers absorb water and come apart when they get wet. So, paper money comes through the washer just fine, while cellulose paper comes unglued.I didn’t have a mesh bag handy, so I put the bills in a pair of old panty hose and tied a knot in the waistband, then ran them through the wash (twice). They came out really clean! I didn’t put them in the dryer; I just took them out, slightly damp, and ironed them individually.”

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