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Why does vinegar clean a penny?

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Ordinary white vinegar is a dilute form of acetic acid. Because it's acidic, it reacts with the oxidized copper that forms on the coin's surface.

Of course, if you have a coin that's worth a premium as a collectible, you should NEVER try to clean it at home because anything you have - vinegar, soda, Tarn-X, whatever- will damage the coin's surface and reduce its value.
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