How to: Make an old copper pot safe to cook in

Q. I have a copper pot that my great-grandmother brought over from the old country. The metal lining is pretty scratched up and worn away in a few places, and I’m not sure if the outside is even all copper. Some of it has flaked away to show yellow patches on the side and silvery gray patches on the bottom. The pot itself is quite heavy. How do I determine if it’s food-safe? If I need to refinish it, how?

Silver Spring

(Reader Photo/READER PHOTO) - A reader wonders whether this copper pot from the mother country is safe for preparing food.

A. If the corrosion isn’t too deep, Hammersmith Copper Cookware in New York can strip the existing lining and replace it with a new tin lining, which will make your pot food-safe. According to the Copper Development Association, a trade group, this is the only U.S. company left that makes copper pots.

An intact lining is important because many foods are acidic. Acid corrodes copper, producing toxic byproducts. Your pot, like others made before World War II, was probably lined in tin. Newer ones sometimes have a nickel lining. Hammersmith can strip either type, but the new lining it installs is always tin, says the company’s owner, Mac Kohler.

Exterior problems on a pot are usually corrosion resulting from exposing the pot to an acid or storing it around damaging chemicals. Kohler has seen copper pans that were packed away for years in copper polish because someone thought the polish would protect the metal from corrosion while in storage. Left in place too long, the polish instead ate the metal.

Hammersmith offers one free retinning to people who buy its pots. For people who own pots made by other companies, Kohler suggests e-mailing pictures before spending money on shipping. Pots with deep corrosion can’t be retinned. “Retinning is an ungentle process,” Kohler says. It requires putting the pot into acid baths and exposing the metal to high heat.

If a pot made by someone else can be retinned, the cost depends on the size, measured in linear inches down one wall, across the diameter (or long axis in the case of ovals or rectangles) and back up the other wall, multiplied by $6. For example, a 7-by-3-inch saucepan would measure out to 13 inches and retinning would cost $84.

We have a summer house built six years ago with a screened porch that faces the woods. A few inches of the screening has come loose, allowing bugs in. I called the company that installed the screens, and because our five-year warranty just ran out, the person I talked to told me they would charge $75 to just come out. I asked whether someone could tell me how to fix it and they said to take the screen to a hardware store and have new spline installed. But the screen panel is huge and I can’t remove it by myself. I’d need to be on a ladder. Is there a cheaper, easier fix, even if it would not be as perfect?

Chevy Chase

There is no way to make the screen look like new without having access to the side where the spline (a plastic cord) is wedged into a groove to hold the screen in place. Because that’s on the outside, you’d need to be on a ladder to attempt even the simplest possible fix: using a flat-head screwdriver to poke the spline back into place. But there’s a good chance that repair won’t work, because the spline is likely to have stretched a bit. So you will probably need to take down the screen and have a hardware store or a window shop install a new screen and spline. (Reusing the old screen doesn’t usually work because it’s likely to have stretched, too.) Handy homeowners can replace screens and splines themselves, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. So, especially because your letter implies you’re not comfortable working on a ladder, your best bet might be to get a few bids from people who do home repair and from a shop that specializes in screen repairs.

Is there a quick-and-dirty solution if you’re willing to have the screen look patched? Duct tape would probably work, except there’s no way to press it firmly against the screen if the screen is still in place. So try this: Stick one edge of a length of duct tape to a scrap of window screen and the other edge to the frame, so that the scrap overlaps the loose area. Then, using a curved needle and thread, stitch the overlapped screen sections together. Duct tape isn’t always gray, so you can probably match the frame color.

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to localliving@washpost.com . Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.

The Checklist Read Jeanne Huber’s roundup of home-improvement tasks you should tackle in November, such as insulating pipes.

 
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