diy project: dull & shiny planter

Though I don’t have a green thumb, I am always looking to enliven a room by incorporating plants. One challenge that comes with this attempt is finding vessels to hold my plants; there are only so many ways to paint or recover a terracotta pot. Nearly every time I go to the flea market or an antique store, I come across spittoons for under $5. Most are made of copper, brass or porcelain and have not been used for their intended purpose in decades. Their wide bases make them ideal for rooms where you’d want to prevent accidents. Though I find them both tarnished and polished, I’m drawn to the combination of the old and new together.

There are numerous ways to polish brass and copper that do not involve harsh chemicals. This is one of the simpler ways, using two items that most of us already have on hand: a lemon and coarse salt. This could be one of the easiest DIY projects ever — a simple and subtle change to create a planter that is both interesting and functional. — AshleyAnn

See the full how-to after the jump . . .


  • tarnished spittoon
  • 1 lemon
  • about 5 tablespoons of coarse salt
  • plant and potting supplies (I used a “Ponytail” Palm)


1. Cut your lemon in half and pour a small pile of salt on a cutting board or countertop. Firmly press the cut side of the lemon into the salt, covering it.

2. Rub the salt-covered lemon all over the tarnished copper. Keep rubbing until the copper shines. You will need to reapply salt and re-cut the edge of the lemon as it wears down. Be careful not to let any lemon juice drip onto the areas that you want to remain tarnished.

3. Once you are finished, wash the spittoon with soap and water. When adding your plant, consider including some pea gravel in the bottom for drainage. Fill it with potting soil, leaving just enough room to add your plant. Follow any specific planting instructions that came with your plant.

Sarah G

Hey, I actually have a tarnished spittoon! I think I’ll attempt this. I love the look of tarnished brass but the contrast of the two is cool too.

Chelsea S

I have a too-shiny brass lamp, so how do I reverse the process??


I LOVE Brass, and the Shiny vs Dull look is sooo beautiful. Thank-you for posting it. Inspiration abound!


LOVE, LOVE seeing the vintage Oklahoma map in the edge of your photo….would like that hanging on my wall in in OK!


Very pretty. I like how you did the rim, too.

I would have just dropped the plant in there in it’s original pot and laid some moss around the top to hide it. I usually cheat like that because (in my house) the poor plant will be dead in a matter of weeks, and it makes it so much easier to replace.


Most plants need drainage. You can drill a hole in the copper planter, or go with Michelle’s idea to keep it in the plastic pot and take it out and water it on its own. That could be a good way to keep the plant ALIVE!

Karen from Ten Green Balloons

Whoa – wish I could find planters like this in Melbourne (Australia) and if so can’t imagine them being so wonderfully cheap…. I do have a copper wall hanging however that could really do with a good shine and clean – so looking forward to using a lemon and sea salt – thanks for the fab tip

Ilana Graf

Who knew that lemons and salt could be used to shine up copper? What a great tip and the planter looks fabulous!


I use old ice buckets, they are the right size and water proof and endless styles available. I have hammered aluminum, silver plate, mid century teak etc I usually find them between $1 and $5 at yard sales and thrifts.. I put crumpled plastic grocery bags in them for height and drainage. I take them out to water them. Just an idea !!

Amy Scgweers

such an imaginative idea! I’ve had a spittoon in my closet for 32 years and never thought of putting a plant in it. I have a project for the day!