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When I first receive my coins, I examine them individually to eye up their potential and just for the fun of it. Then they go into a Gladware container with some warm water with Dawn dish soap. I let them stew overnight, or longer, if I run short of time. Often times, after this initial soak and some scrubbing , some of the coins may come clean enough to suit my taste. These I rinse off in the sink using a six inch strainer and then I put them into a distilled water soak for a week or so, just to make sure all the soap is gone. The rest of the coins go into a long term distilled water soak. I know many people prefer to use olive oil, but remember, I suffer from a lack of patience, and a short attention span. The olive oil is just too messy for my taste, and doesn't lend it self to the constant handling I subject my coins to. The distilled water works well for me, and my wife doesn't get angry with me when I spill some of it in her kitchen.
I leave the long term coins soaking, changing the water every couple of weeks, or when I notice the water becoming cloudy. When I change the water I also scrub the coins with a brass brush, or a toothbrush, depending how dirty the coin is. If its showing patina, I use the gentler toothbrush, if its still "crusty" I hit it with the brass brush. I'm not so much expecting them to come clean,(although some do) I'm working under the assumption that I'm abrading the surface exposing new grunge to the distilled water. Never use a brass brush on a silver, or silver plated coin. The brass is much harder than the silver and will damage the coin. Then back into the water they go until next time. Some coins respond in a few weeks, some in a few months, and some are still soaking after over a year. Some coins are so encrusted that no amount of soaking will ever clean them. These I clean using electrolysis. I am still learning the fine points of electrolysis, and will go into greater detail at some point in the future. For now I refer you to Tom Ross' site. Everything I know about "zapping" I learned from his site and the yahoo group Coinzappers. Please check them out to learn more.
The most important thing is to have patience. If the coin needs to soak a year i order to loosen the crud for safe removal, so be it. At any one time i have several hundred coins soaking, so there is always something to work on. If the process is rushed, you run the risk of damaging a coin. Let the water do the work!!