Bar Keeper’s Friend, Historic Cleaner Since 1882

Original version in 2008.

INDIANAPOLIS – There are many who swear by Bar Keeper’s Friend. It’s a safe type of abrasive, based on plants.

Bar Keeper’s Friend is great for cleaning copper-bottomed kitchen pans. Its main ingredient is oxalic acid; its distinctive scent just smells like cleanliness. Its mild abrasives clean everything from fiberglass to chrome.

Invented by George William Hoffman, it was later owned by the Walter W. Miller Co., and then Gisler Polish. The product is currently made by Servaas Laboratories, which sells a whole array of Bar Keepers Friend products.

The trademark was filed in 1956, citing an 1887 date as the first time used in commerce. The original product was hyphenated, with an apostrophe, as in Bar-Keeper’s Friend. The product website describes it thus:

In 1882, a chemist by the name of George William Hoffman took a break from his scholarly endeavors to cook up a pan of that sour-but-hardy vegetable, which was common in the gardens of yore. After plating his recipe, the man found that his formerly tarnished pot fairly sparkled. Being a chemist, he quickly ruled out magic and set out to discover the property that made rhubarb such a superior cleaning agent. The secret? Oxalic acid.

Found naturally in rhubarb and other vegetables like spinach, oxalic acid attacks stubborn rust, tarnish, and lime stains at the molecular level, breaking the bonds that hold them together.

Using that active ingredient, our chemist formulated an oxalic acid-based cleaning powder that he sold to taverns for use as a brass rail polish. Thrilled at the results, tavern owners dubbed the product, “Bar Keepers Friend.”

Bar Keepers Friend is used in many settings, including chrome on boats, industrial cleaning, and regular household tasks. It is part of an array of powder and pumice-type cleaners that have been remarkably consistent sellers over the decades. For instance, feldspar-based Bon Ami, developed in 1886 by the J. T. Robertson Soap Company, is still a popular product. Other scouring cleaners include Brillo’s Cameo, Colgate-Palmolive’s Ajax, and Comet, formerly a Procter & Gamble product, now made by Kik Custom Products.


  • Garland Pollard

    J. Garland Pollard IV is editor/publisher of BrandlandUSA. Since 2006, the website has chronicled the history and business of America’s great brands.

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