Lexi’s Lessons: 6 Patina Prep Tips, Plus an Easy Household Patina Recipe

Do you sometimes get tired of shiny sterling silver and the liver of sulfur (LOS) patina variations? Does the color of copper really excite you, but unfortunately you feel, like me, that copper just doesn’t get the respect it deserves? I love copper and the way it responds to patina and texturing. It’s just fun!

The results, when you experiment with a patina, are often surprising and delightful. Most of the time. But remember, you can have more consistent results if you start off right. I remember when I first started playing with patinas. Here are six things I didn’t know about creating patinas on metal that I now share with you:

1.   Patinas work best if there is some “tooth” to the metal. Patina won’t hold well on a highly polished surface, so it’s best to sand or texture metal before applying patina. Oh, how I once struggled to get a consistent green patina on a highly polished copper collar! I never got anything close to what I imagined in my mind. One lesson learned.

clean metal before applying patina

2.   The surface of the metal must be squeaky clean. This means that all finger oils, oxidation, tape, price stickers, dirt, etc. must be removed. You can use wet or dry sandpaper, such as 30-micron 3M Finishing Film, but I like to use a fine green kitchen scrubby or a 3M sanding sponge and Dawn detergent. Scrub the metal for several minutes and rinse with cool water. Water must sheet off the metal before you can apply patina successfully; if it doesn’t, keep scrubbing until it does. You may also use a good brass brush and pumice, and finish off with the Dawn and brass brush.

3.   Handle the metal only by the edges, and you may blot it dry with a paper towel. If the piece is awkward to handle, wear nitril gloves when handling the piece. Also, it’s OK to use a hair dryer or heat gun to lightly dry the hard-to-get-to spots on cast pieces.

4.   If you prepare the metal but must leave it for several hours or overnight, I like to leave mine submerged in a clean bowl of distilled water. I find it to be untarnished and always just as I left it.

5.   THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT! Before you use any chemicals or mix any patina, read the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for it, usually included or available online. Also, it is always advisable to wear a respirator (preferably one with replaceable cartridges) when using ammonia and other chemicals. Don’t forget to wear the nitril gloves and a pair of full goggles. No face mask is needed, just full, clear, safety goggles. (Sure, glam them up with some red Swarovski crystals just for fun. HeeHee!)

Note: Have a first aid kit handy, too, just in case. Sometimes you must use heat, and heat plus metal plus chemicals can create unexpected situations. Always be aware of everything that is happening. It doesn’t hurt to have a fire extinguisher handy, and don’t wait until you need it to read the directions. Learn to use it before you ever step into a metal studio where fire and chemicals are being used.

6.   Did you know that you may use tape to mask off sections that you wish to stay patina free? The tape will act as a resist. You can get some unique and interesting results and highlights this way.

hinge, coin,and horse tack artifacts with natural green patina on copper and brass

This hinge, coin, and horse tack ring feature natural blue-green patina that Lexi loves. These were purchased on a trip to the UK.

Easy Copper Patina Recipe for Beginners

Now let’s start with a very easy and popular patina. You probably have all the ingredients at home. This patina recipe will give a dark blue-green color with some black specks. Start with a 3×3 sample piece of copper just to check out the results. It’s kind of like mixing science with art. This will be your “control” tile.

Drill a hole in the tile and hang it in your studio to show what the Blue-Green Speckled Patina looks like. I’d advise you to keep a notebook of your patina experiments, with the exact proportions and results. As we go along with different patinas, these tiles will come in handy.

Blue-Green Speckled Patina for Copper

You will need an airtight container, sea salt, enough carrier material to cover the piece, and a spray bottle of regular ammonia (not lemon or soapy). Carrier materials include rice, wood shavings, dried grasses, sawdust, crumpled dried leaves, Pet’s Pick Pine Bedding, cotton balls, netting, etc. Each of these will give a different result. This patina solution does not keep well, so after two days, discard and make a fresh batch next time.

1.   Prepare the copper as suggested in steps 1-3 above and prepare yourself as described in step 5.

2.   Mix 2 tbsp salt and 1 cup ammonia. Mix until the salt is thoroughly dissolved.

3.   Dampen the carrier material in the container with the ammonia/salt solution.

4.   Spray the metal with the patina solution and submerge it in the carrier material. Ensure the carrier is completely covering the piece.

5.   Cover tightly and place the container in sunlight or somewhere it will stay warm.

6.   Don’t open for 24 to 36 hours. If you’re not satisfied with results after that time, re-dampen the carrier with the ammonia solution and seal the container. Let it stay a few days longer. Remember: it’s the ammonia solution, not the carrier, that is essential to the patina results. You can re-patina as many times as you like without removing the previous patina.

natural green patina on horse tack rings

Natural blue and green patina formed over time on horse tack rings Lexi got on vacation in the UK.

Experiment with different carriers, and just enjoy the thrill of opening the container! Don’t be disappointed if the results are less than you expected. Some carriers will produce the results you like, others won’t. Just go for it and you will soon discover how to have fairly consistent results and unique patterns. It’s all part of the journey.

Have fun, and have a very colorful week.


If you love patina, and we mean really love it like Lexi does, get HUNDREDS of colorful recipes for copper, brass, silver, steel, and more in the best-selling five-star-rated book, Patina, by Matthew Runfola. You can learn to create another patina on copper and make a gingko leaf pendant with Lexi, too.


Learn more with Lexi from her top-rated videos and check out the best-selling, 5-star-rated Patina book!


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