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Scrap Metal: How to Clean Copper Wire (and Use It to Make Money)

Nell's husband has worked at a scrapyard for many years and knows all the ins and outs of making money out of scrap copper and other metals.

How to clean copper wire

How to clean copper wire

Money for Old Wire

Did you know that you could make money from a thorough house and garage clean-out? That's right: if you have any scrap metal on hand, you could use it to make money. Bike frames, skateboards, old car engines, and so on... all of this is scrap metal. But how can you tell the types of metal apart, and which kinds of metal are valuable?

Copper is one of those metals that you don't really notice that often. Most people throw it away without thinking about it. What items in your house are made from copper? You can probably think of one or two things, like a kettle, or a few jugs or vases. But you're probably overlooking a major part of any household.


How many wires have you got laying around the house? That old extension wire that was used in the spare room, curled up in a corner. Old computer plugs and wires thrown in a drawer. You get the picture. So, how do you go about changing that wire into something that will make you some money? Here's an easy step-by-step guide that will show you just how easy it is to turn scrap metal into cash.

Pennies are made from copper!

Pennies are made from copper!



Learning the Gypsy Way

Now I have not lived for years with a Gypsy without picking up some of the scrap metal habits. I have come home quite a few times to find my kitchen taken over with copper wire tied to the door handles. And piles of shiny copper strips laying across the floor. Obviously, most people will clean and scrap metal outside, but the thing with copper is that if you are only cleaning the copper from wire, it can be done inside your house. But what do you need?

1. A very sharp knife

2. A magnet

3. Very strong garden gloves, as you don't want to get any wire in your fingers. Nasty.

4. A screwdriver, hammer, Stanley knife, or scraper. And of course wire strippers

5. A lighter.

And of course, if you are doing it inside, you need copious amounts of newspaper on the floor as your spouse may feel the urge to murder you! Fact!

Why do we need a magnet?

Copper wire

Copper wire

Double Check Your Metals

Scrap metal dealers always use a magnet to make sure that all the metal is separated into the right piles. Copper is not magnetized. When you hold the magnet to it, it will just fall off. Some metals will be magnetized. There is nothing worse for a scrap metal dealer to see someone who has no idea what the hell they are doing, come into the scrap yard with a big bag and a grin saying, 'Here you go mate, I got you some metal'! The dealer will definitely not be happy. And more importantly, you will only get a tiny amount of money doing it this way.

For two reasons. One, it will automatically be regarded as second-grade metal, which means it is not pure. And two, the poor dealer has to sort it out himself.

You are not doing yourself any favors by trying to make the weight of the metal heavier, by letting other bits of metal stay on the copper. Brass for instance or iron. The weight of the metal is the thing that will give you your money. More weight, more money. But only if it is pure. Mixing the metals will make the grade go down. So don't do it.

Clean and Tidy

Copper piping is pretty easy to recognize. We all know how shiny and red looking it is, if it is mixed with brass or anything else the color will be dull. Don't forget the magnet. Remember? So if you have copper piping, just cut it into strips and make sure everything else, like plastic taps or cogs, are taken off.

Copper wire can be stripped in a number of ways. You can use a vice to hold one end, and then get a pair of wire strippers and grip the wire with one hand and pull sharply. This can take a while but it is one of the best ways to do it. We have always wrapped it around a door handle, or I hold the wire while it is being stripped at the other end. It's best to keep it at the long length whilst doing it as if you cut it into strips it gets very fiddly and you are likely to lose half of the copper.

We always use a Stanley knife or just a sharp knife. It's quicker but more dangerous to do it this way. One slip and you can lose a finger, so be careful! When the wire is stripped, wrap it around into a small ball. The tighter the better. Tighter equals weight!

You can of course burn off the plastic covering of wire, this way is much quicker as it leaves the copper nearly cleaned of plastic but black. The only trouble with this is, if it gets damaged in the flames, it will be regarded as grade 2. Less Money.

Scrap Copper Prices

At this moment in time, September 2010. Copper is marked as:

$3.47 per pound. = £2,24 per pound. English and U.S.

So, you can see how much money you can make if you do it right!

Get Scrapping!

Now you know that that rubbish in your garage may not be rubbish after all. It may be a little gold mine (or, copper mine)!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: I have, no2, a domestic appliance, that has gone green over time, is it a good idea to clean it, to get a higher price, or should I not bother?

Answer: If it's broken up into small pieces then no you don't have to clean it. the scrap yard weighs it to see what it is. If its green then it's obvious its copper.

© 2010 Nell Rose


Nell Rose (author) from England on June 19, 2019:

Copper wire usually goes black if its been in contact with salt water. And it should be changed if you are using it for practical purposes such as plugs etc. If you are going to scrap it then its fine to either roll it into a ball after stripping or if you want to see the red colour then you can use sandpaper to bring back the colour before taking it for scrap.

Mary on June 18, 2019:

Hi my son has recently got into this.....he's just stripped some wire & the freshly exposed copper inside is black! What does this mean? What should we do? Can we scrap it as it is or do we have to "clean" it? Also if we do have to clean it -how do we go about it? Thank you so very much for your insight.

Nell Rose (author) from England on June 07, 2019:

Hi, I am glad you found my article helpful. I am afraid that I cannot help you more. This is how it's done in Britain, I am sure it's different in Africa. But good luck.

Favour Enyia on June 07, 2019:

This content is really informative, i am doing some diggings on how to explore corper.

Africans are going about it the wrong way by burning corper and as i have learnt from this article you only have 2nd graded corper when you do that, This burning of corper here in Africa is also done in a way that it pollutes the environment.

So i am doing a lot of reading to know how I can extract large chunks of corper from plastic wire without burning it.

I want to start my corper extraction company here in Nigeria and also buy corper being extracted by me.

Please i need advise.

Nell Rose (author) from England on September 29, 2018:

Good luck with it Jamy. I just watched your video, you did a good job! :)

Jammin Jamy on September 28, 2018:

Thanks for the article Mrs. Rose... very cool.

I haven't got into copper wire yet but plan to collect some and do it soon. I just did scrap some old copper as my first scrapping project! I made this video here of me doing it. Hope it helps any of your readers trying to do the same:

Thanks again!


Nell Rose (author) from England on February 12, 2014:

Wow! Thanks SpaceShanty, well who would have guessed? lol! my husband is the scrap merchant so I have the answers straight out of the horses mouth so to speak!

Just asked for clarification from hubby! bright wire whatever the thickness will always be worth more money purely because its 'clean' whereas burning wire makes it 'second class' wire. Hope that helps, and thanks!

SpaceShanty from United Kingdom on February 12, 2014:

Hi Nell Rose,

Firstly I want to congratulate you on creating a Hub with excellent Google search placement, I think it was in position No. 5 when I was seaching for info. on trading scrap copper wire.

Secondly I have a quick question. I am thinking about making some cash from dealing copper wire. I am thinking about buying it with the PVC covering and stripping it for more money. I just want to ask what thickness of wire is considered 'Bright copper wire' and commands top dollar, is it just the type used in houses to bring power to the outlets or is any stripped wire, including power cables from electrical appliances regarded as bright copper wire?

Many Thanks in advance.

Nell Rose (author) from England on October 10, 2013:

Thanks oneuponatime, glad you liked it, nell

Jackie Paulson from USA IL on October 10, 2013:

I did tweet this one. Copper is such a great topic.

Nell Rose (author) from England on October 10, 2013:

Sorry niko, I just write about it, maybe you should look a bit more locally?

Niko on October 10, 2013:

is there is any copper scrap seller ?? i need big quantity. if yours price is well :)

Nell Rose (author) from England on January 31, 2013:

Thanks Les!

Les on January 29, 2013:

Just wanted to suggest hand tools for stripping copper wire are the Scavenger Series copper wire recycler tools, found on youtube, check them out

Nell Rose (author) from England on July 27, 2012:

Hi monica, lol! you send that over to me? thanks!

monicamelendez from Salt Lake City on July 25, 2012:

I kid you not I have a massive bin in my garage that's completely full of wires!

Nell Rose (author) from England on June 26, 2012:

Thanks alocsin, always nice to see you, thanks!

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on June 25, 2012:

What a great idea. I'm going to tool around the house right now and see if I can find any scrap. Voting this Up and Useful.

Nell Rose (author) from England on June 03, 2012:

Thanks claude, glad you liked it, cheers nell

Nell Rose (author) from England on May 09, 2012:

Thanks Steve for reading, I have no idea but it sounds like a lot of fun! lol!

Steve C. on May 09, 2012:

I wonder were you can bring in copper or steel by the bucket fulls and sell it that way in Syracuse New York? That would be a great help. If I had a large amount I would worry about it but I only have bucket fulls.

Nell Rose (author) from England on May 03, 2012:

Hi cable, thanks for reading, cheers nell

Nell Rose (author) from England on April 08, 2012:

Hi, Aussie, I refer to the burning of the copper only if it is taken to the scrap yard to do. Not many people use that method anymore, and as I mentioned above, it makes it grade 2 copper anyway if you burn it. But you do have good points there, so much appreciated for your reading and leaving good advice, thanks!

Aussie Scrapper on April 07, 2012:

Do NOT burn the copper to strip it.

A- It is bad for the environment and your health (as it releases the chlorine content of the insulation)

B- It is illegal in many of the US states, and from what I know here in Australia it also is.

C- Many scrap yards these days will not buy any copper wiring that shows signs of being burnt.

Some might say "well scrap yards will still buy it anyway" but many of them won't these days, this is dependent on their contracts with the refineries in which they sell to, as a lot of the refineries will not deal with burnt copper.

Nell Rose (author) from England on March 08, 2012:

Hi, Tim, give your local scrap dealer a ring, I am sure they will be able to tell you each and every type of copper, good luck and thanks for reading, cheers nell

Tim on March 08, 2012:

Luke, density is basically wieght(mass) per a specified area ( poor word choice i know.) While it does not make the metal itself wiegh more, it will allow you to fit more wiegh into a specified area ie: a 5-gal bucket filled to the brim of tighly wound wire, will wiegh more than the same bucket filled with loosely coiled wires. does anyone else take 26D( Satin Chromium ) coated brass hardware components to a wire whell or am i wasting my time? is bare bright a classification specific to copper?

Nell Rose (author) from England on March 05, 2012:

Thanks Luke, I understand thanks, its just easier to scrunch them up, its still going to be the same weight, what I actually meant to say is that if its loose you are more likely to lose some, sorry if I didn't make that clear, thanks for reading cheers nell

Luke on March 05, 2012:

wadding the copper into balls will not make it weigh more, just more dense

Nell Rose (author) from England on February 05, 2012:

Hi, Jackie, yes you are right there! lol! it seems we all did things when we were little, but now I know how to get money out of it, thank goodness! thanks as always, nell

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on February 04, 2012:

I remember my little brothers and I gathering scrap metal as kids, just don't remember the benefits, lol. Guess this has always been sort of a heaped up world of junk, huh?

Nell Rose (author) from England on December 28, 2011:

Hi, Kyle, I wasn't sure, so I asked my friend at the scrapyard if there was a difference, from what I gather the reddish one has added aluminium, so it would make it slightly less money, or second grade, okay? hope that helps, nell

Kyle on December 27, 2011:

what is a reddish color copper? i know the bronze color but i have come acrossed some red color copper? is that the same as the bronze color?

Nell Rose (author) from England on December 08, 2011:

Hi, Jonathan, yes we have been doing scrap for a long time, its not something that I would have thought of years ago, but it certainly comes in helpful if you are broke, or just need to clear out the garage, thanks for reading, cheers nell

Jonathan Grimes from Devon on December 08, 2011:

Great hub an never thought of wrap, copper in that way.

Thanks for sharing

Nell Rose (author) from England on November 18, 2011:

Hi, weezy, not the TV! oh no! lol its amazing what you can find to scrap, just hit the garage! lol thanks again, nell

Lisa from Central USA on November 18, 2011:

Nice to know Nell! I'm thinking of everything now that I can take apart. LOL

Nell Rose (author) from England on October 13, 2011:

Hi, dewie, ha ha thanks for the laugh!

Nell Rose (author) from England on September 29, 2011:

Hi, Kyle, thanks for commenting, the best way to do it, I just asked my ex who works in the scrap yard, he says its best to make smaller balls out of the wire, not because of the fact that something may be hidden, but purely because if you make smaller ones you will be able to scrunch them up better than a big one, therefore making them weigh more, and its the weight that brings in the money, okay? good luck!

Kyle white on September 29, 2011:

I have tons of copper wire from my job being an electrician, im s tripping it all down taking the sheathing off, but when its all said and done il have about 100 pounds of just pure copper, should i turn it into a giant ball? or make smaller balls so the scrapyard doesn't think im trying to hide other metal inside of it?

Nell Rose (author) from England on September 28, 2011:

By the way, Jolinaroxas, I did answer your comment above? its just underneath your comment, Okay?

Nell Rose (author) from England on September 28, 2011:

Hi, Jolinaroxas, I came over but you haven't written any hubs yet, let me know when you do, and I will come over and read, okay? thanks!

Nell Rose (author) from England on September 28, 2011:

Hi, Jama, Its the same over here, so that's great advice, we always scrap old wire, i.e. tv ariels etc, but I think the scrap yards are getting wise to the situation, thanks for the info, we will keep an eye out too, cheers nell

Hi, Jolinaroxas, I am a bit behind today, but I did see your other comment yesterday, thanks for that, I will be over shortly okay? cheers nell

Jolinaroxas13 from New York on September 28, 2011:

Thanks Nell Rose. By the way i have also posted comments on your other pages but you doesn't approve my that comments.

Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on September 27, 2011:

Nell, on this side of the Pond, since the economy tanked there's been an epidemic of copper theft. Vandalizing air conditioner units, since they're outside, is one method. Many businesses and SCHOOLS have had to not only replace the damaged units but also go to the expense of securing them in theft-proof enclosures. Construction sites are also a favorite target.

Once the copper is stripped and cleaned, there's NO way to identify where it came from. It all looks the same in a scrap yard.

Meaning unless the perps are caught in the act, or an associate rats on them, they get off scot free.

So PLEASE, if you're a copper scrapper, only do so with copper you've come by LEGALLY, i.e. in old fridges or the wiring from cast-off electronics.

Nell Rose (author) from England on September 27, 2011:

Hi, Jolinaroxas, thanks for reading, I will go take a look, cheers nell

Jolinaroxas13 from New York on September 27, 2011:

Great and interesting hub. I'm sure it'll come in handy one day. Nice iformation

Here i have unique methed that How I Make $1000 A Week on CPAlead??

Nell Rose (author) from England on September 12, 2011:

Hi, Jlava thanks for reading! cheers nell

Jennifer Vasconcelos from Cyberspace and My Own World on September 11, 2011:

Awesome Nell!

Nell Rose (author) from England on July 15, 2011:

Very amusing Scrap Metal!

Scrap Metals on July 15, 2011:

This is amazing. we can actually earn dollars out of the scrap metals? wow, i used to put give it to my neighbor. now i have an idea what to do in my scraps. thanks for sharing this info.

Nell Rose (author) from England on July 03, 2011:

Hi, sassy thanks so much! glad it was helpful, cheers nell

Hi, once, thanks for reading, cheers nell

Jackie Paulson from USA IL on July 01, 2011:

Thanks for the info, I always wondered how to clean my pennies.

Karen Anne Harris from Jacksonville, FL on June 30, 2011:

Great hub :) My hubby does the scrap metal. You are so right an excellent way to earn extra money. Vote up! Very useful hub!

Nell Rose (author) from England on April 25, 2011:

Hi, The Jet, thanks, glad you liked it, nell

The Jet from The Bay on April 25, 2011:

Great and interesting hub. I'm sure it'll come in handy one day.

Nell Rose (author) from England on November 16, 2010:

Hi, Theirrationalist, thanks for stopping by, I wondered what silver plate was made of, thanks for the info, I will certainly come over and take a look at your site, thanks so much nell

TheIrrationalist on November 15, 2010:

I really appreciate this one Hub. One thing I like to look out for is cupronickel. That is the stuff they make silver plated stuff out of... It actually has 70% copper and 30% nickel. and because nickel is 3 times as expensive at copper, it really adds up!! I wrote about it on my website.

Nell Rose (author) from England on September 15, 2010:

Hi, E Welch, it is a good idea isn't it? anything that will help the purse strings! lol thanks again nell

E.Welch on September 14, 2010:

Nell, my husband loved this hub. He and my Son have been doing this. Great tips.

Nell Rose (author) from England on September 12, 2010:

Hi, Granny's House, it would be great wouldn't it? I have just sent you an e-mail, sorry it took so long, okay? hope to hear from you soon, nell

Granny's House from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time on September 11, 2010:

Hi Nell. wish I could meet you

Nell Rose (author) from England on September 10, 2010:

Hi, Granny's House, thanks for reading it, and I hope it does help, it certainly helped us when we were broke! I may do another one yet about other metals, we will see, thanks nell

Granny's House from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time on September 10, 2010:

Nell,love ya! In times like these this will be a great help to a lot of people.

One thing about it is there are some bad people that will go in abandoned houses and rip all the copper out. Bad stuff.

Nell Rose (author) from England on September 09, 2010:

Hi,jasper420, thanks I am glad you like it, we have been doing it for years and as you say at least it helps pay the bills! thank goodness! lol cheers nell

jasper420 on September 08, 2010:

very usefull i had to scrap when my ex and I were living in Austin we made a lot of money doing so it put food on the table and helped with the bills your hub is very usefull well thought out i wish i would have thought of this great work thanks for the tip ill show your hub to my ex he still scraps

Nell Rose (author) from England on September 06, 2010:

Hi, Steve, you would be surprised at the amount of money that people throw away in their garages, copper aluminium brass, every thing is worth something to a scrap dealer, that's why there are always signs up in shops etc saying, 'I will take away your rubbish for nothing'! crafty eh? lol thanks nell

SteveoMc from Pacific NorthWest on September 05, 2010:

OMG over $3 a pound? I am going to search for some copper right now.

Nell Rose (author) from England on September 04, 2010:

Hi, Audrey, we have always done this for years, sometimes my house looks like a scrap yard! lol I did this as I thought it might be a good idea as it does make money, but I think I did two hubs too quickly and it seems to have been missed, or maybe it's just too boring! ha ha thanks as always nell

Audrey Kirchner from Washington on September 04, 2010:

That's kinda neat - recycling at its best - and making some dough....I'll have to tell Bob about it!

Nell Rose (author) from England on September 03, 2010:

Hi, Hello Hello, thanks for reading it, I was going to do this ages ago, but thought it might be boring, but it can be useful when we haven't got any money. There has been many a time that we have lived on what we have got from the scrap money, thanks as always nell

Hello, hello, from London, UK on September 03, 2010:

Thank you for your wonderful help.