How Much Is Stripped Copper-Insulated PVC Wire Worth?
Copper is one of the most valuable metals at the moment, due to demand for it in electronic devices and major infrastructure projects. Scrap metals have always been traded, but only recently has copper become worth trading for anyone who is not already involved in the business.
Why It's Important to Strip the Wire
All scrap metal is sold by weight. If scrap copper wire is sold to a scrap metal dealer with the PVC insulation on, because of the extra weight of the insulation, the scrap metal dealer will only give you a fraction of the value of pure or "bright" copper. The same weight of stripped wire without the PVC insulation is worth three times as much.
Stripping the wire makes it worth more by weight, but since you lose some of the weight by stripping it, you will want to know if you will actually get more money for the wire in its stripped state. For example, if one kilo of PVC-covered copper wire is worth £1.20 ($2.00), and one kilo of stripped copper wire is worth £3.60 ($6.00), the copper content must be above 33% to actually make a given batch of wire worth more when stripped.
The amount of PVC insulation varies for different types of wire. Listed below is the percent of copper content in each type of wire.
Copper Content of Types of Wire
Type of Wire
Stripping (If Any)
Copper Content (Percent)
Two-strand phone wire
Outer insulation removed
Four-strand phone wire
Outer insulation removed
Ethernet (Cat 5) cable
Outer insulation only stripped
Not stripped; copper-core wire
Electrical appliance cables
31% (for British cables; American may be less)
Cable for home wiring of power outlets and lights
Cable: twin and earth
Heavy-duty cable: twin and earth
Double-insulated heavy-duty home wiring
Heavy-duty industrial cable
Two-Strand Phone Wire
Two-strand phone wire is usually used between the phone and its handset, or between the socket and an Internet router. As with nearly all wire, each individual wire is insulated and then outer insulation is added to give the wire strength.
Once the outer insulation has been removed, the wire is very thin, and it's almost impossible to remove the remaining insulation. I did not attempt to remove the insulation for each inner wire.
With only the outer insulation removed, copper only represented 11% of the total weight; without any insulation removed, I would expect it to make up less than 5% of the total weight.
It is not worth removing any insulation from two-strand phone wire.
It is best just to sell it with the insulation left on.
Four-Strand Telephone Wire
This cable is used between the phone socket and the telephone. It contains four insulated wires plus an outer insulation. As with the two-strand wire, once the outer insulation is removed, the remaining wire is very thin and the insulation covering each wire very difficult to remove. Again, I did not attempt to remove the insulation for each inner wire.
With the outer insulation removed, copper represents just 59% of the total weight. I conclude it's not worth stripping any insulation; it is best just to sell it with the insulation left on.
Ethernet / Cat 5 Cable
This wire is used for computer networking. If your computer is connected to your router with a cable, it will be Cat 5 or Ethernet cable. There are eight inner wires in an Ethernet cable.
As with telephone wire, the inner wires are very thin and it is very difficult to remove the insulation from them.
I did not attempt to remove the insulation for each inner wire. With the inner insulation on, the actual wire represents 65% of the total weight. I concluded that it is not worth stripping any of the insulation and it is best to just to sell it with the insulation left on.
Coaxial cable is used in AV equipment, TV aerial cable and for cable and satellite TV services. It is formed of a single solid copper core with an outer 'mesh' which is usually made of copper; however, in the coaxial cable I checked, only the center core was copper.
If only the center core of the cable is copper, this wire is 16% copper.
Electrical Appliance Cables
These cables are used for almost any appliance which plugs into a wall socket, from lamps to computers to kitchen appliances. Due to the different power consumption of each appliance, the thickness varies, so I stripped three to get an average.
Note: I tested British power cables which have three internal wires–live, neutral and earth–as we use a 240-volt system where most items must be earthed (grounded). In the USA a 115-volt system is used, and not all plugs have a third earth wire, so the average power cable might contain less copper.
Average copper content: 31%
Cable like this is used in home wiring for power outlets and light fittings. There are three insulated wires and one uninsulated wire.
Copper content: 40%.
Twin-and-Earth Electrical Cable
This cable is used in home wiring for power outlets and light fittings. There are two insulated wires and one uninsulated wire.
Copper content: 55%
Heavy-Duty Electrical Cable (Twin and Earth)
This heavy-duty cable is used in home wiring for power outlets and light fittings. There are two insulated wires and one uninsulated wire. Each wire consists of a twisted strand of single-core wires.
Copper content: 56%.
Double-Insulated Heavy-Duty Home Wiring
This cable is, I believe, used to carry power to the main breaker switch before it is distributed to the power outlets and light sockets. It is double-insulated and contains multiple solid cord strands.
Copper content: 66%
Heavy-Duty Industrial Cable
Due to the increase in voltage and amperage in these applications, it would be safe to assume that heavy-duty copper cabling used in power distribution, factories, electric railways and trams would contain a considerably higher copper content than the different grades of wire listed on this page. I do not have access to any cable of this type, but considering the number of people who die here in the UK attempting to steal live copper cable from the railways, it would be safe to assume it has a considerably high copper content!
- BBC News - Police target £770m worth of metal cable thefts
The British Transport Police tells BBC Radio 5 live that it has set up a task force to target the £770m worth of metal cable thefts
So as you can see from this experiment, at the prices at this writing it is only worth stripping thick, heavy-duty cable used in home or commercial wiring, or any thicker grade of wire, assuming you have legal access to it!
One kilo of heavy duty-wire will be worth $2.00 with its PVC insulation on.
Once it has been stripped (56% copper content) to make 'bright bare copper' wire it will be worth $3.36.
You could even buy copper wire at the going rate, strip it and make a decent profit!
But any other thinner copper wire, without the insulation, once stripped will actually be worth less.
Live Copper Prices
- Copper Prices
Click on the link to view live, real-time copper prices.
How to Strip Copper Wire
Time is money, and if you're stripping wire to make money, you need to do it quickly. There are three basic methods, well, four including burning, but we're not going to do that, are we?
- Pliers and a Knife: So method number one is using just a pair of pliers and a sharp knife like a Stanly knife and a lot of energy. This method is acceptable if you only have a small amount of wire to strip but it is slow.
- Manual Wire Stripper: The second and best method is to use a manual wire stripper, this device basically just holds a blade and the wire is pulled by hand through the device to slice the insulation so the copper can be removed.
- Electric Power Drill: The third method, if you have a large amount of wire to strip, is basically the same as the method above but you use an electric power drill to do all the hard work. It is very quick and you can get through a large amount of wire very quickly.
Power-Drill Wire Stripper
Do NOT Burn Wire!
One method of removing the PVC insulation from copper wire is to burn it off, but this is the worst thing you can do. It creates toxic smoke that is extremely harmful if inhaled, and is very bad for the environment. It is illegal too.
And if copper wire is burnt, the copper will be black when presented for sale, and no longer graded as "bright bare copper," which will reduce its value.
Stripping Copper Wire
Have You Ever Stripped Copper Wire?
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.
© 2014 SpaceShanty