Wine + Penny = Problem Solved! Chemistry Hack Saves Old Wine

A woman stares at a glass of wine.
(Image credit: Adam Gregor/

Good news, wine lovers: You can revive a stale bottle of your favorite vintage with a simple chemistry experiment. More good news: It'll only cost you a penny.

A new video from the American Chemical Society (ACS) explains how to do this supercheap, wine-saving "life hack" at home. Simply pour a glass of spoiled wine (you'll know it's spoiled if it has a funky, sulfuric smell, akin to burnt rubber or rotten eggs) and drop in a clean copper penny. Be sure to give the penny a good scrub before you toss it in with the wine to clean off any grime. Stir the penny around in the glass; then remove it, and take a sip. If all goes as it should, your penny-infused wine will have lost its rotten-egg tinge.

There's a scientific explanation for how this simple trick works. The copper in the penny interacts with thiols, or stinky sulfur compounds, in your glass of wine. The wine has thiols as a result of a common part of the grape-fermentation process known as reduction, in which fermenting grape-juice sugars are kept from interacting with oxygen, the ACS said. Reduction is a complimentary process to oxidation, which involves exposing these same fermenting sugars to oxygen. [Raise Your Glass: 10 Intoxicating Beer Facts]

Sometimes the reduction process can go into "overdrive," and that's when stinky thiols are produced. Not sure what a thiol smells like? Well, ethyl mercaptan is one thiol that might be present in your wine bottle. It smells like burnt rubber. The thiol hydrogen sulfide smells like rotten eggs. And another thiol, methyl mercaptan, smells a whole lot like a burnt match.

But when these compounds interact with copper, the reaction produces an odorless compound known as copper sulfide. The same copper sulfide crystals will be produced if you dip a silver spoon into your glass of wine, the ACS said. Replacing smelly thiols with copper sulfides is a clever (and inexpensive) way to revamp your spoiled wine.

The ACS' video is part of a YouTube series called "Chemistry Life Hacks," in which viewers can learn other useful, science-inspired fixes to everyday problems. Among their other clever hacks, ACS chemists tackle how to sharpen a cutting knife using just a porcelain plate and how to check if your oven is reaching the correct temperature.

Follow Elizabeth Palermo @techEpalermo. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth is a former Live Science associate editor and current director of audience development at the Chamber of Commerce. She graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from George Washington University. Elizabeth has traveled throughout the Americas, studying political systems and indigenous cultures and teaching English to students of all ages.