Which Kinds of Copper Wire are the Most Valuable?

Copper plays a central role in human progress, from simple tools to complex electronics. Because of its capability to be reformed and reused, humans have been recycling copper for as long as we have been developing new ways to use it. 

The rapid pace of technology makes for an interesting copper wire scrap market. A constant stream of new products creates a high need for copper, keeping scrap yard copper prices at top dollar. And the use of copper wire in modern power and communication grids and electronic items creates an abundance of copper wire scrap as these systems and products get updated. 

However, not all copper wire is the same. It’s important to know which types of copper wire scrap you have because copper wires vary in value. Sorting out your most valuable copper wire helps ensure the best scrap yard copper prices. 

Clean Wire

Clean wire generally gets a higher price per pound than insulated wire because its weight consists only of copper. Clean copper wire falls into three categories: bare bright copper wire, #1 copper wire and #2 copper wire.

 Bare Bright Copper Wire

Bare bright copper wire is the most valuable copper wire. As reflected in the name, bare bright copper has a shiny, light-orange hue. To be classed as bare bright copper, the wire must be 99 percent copper and completely free of coating, corrosion or other impurities. Wire must be at least 16 gauge to qualify for this categorization.

#1 Copper Wire

#1 copper wire is bare bright copper wire that is of lower quality, so its scrap yard copper price will be less than wire graded as bare bright copper. This wire is the same color as bare bright and at least 16 gauge, but has some slight corrosion or patches of coating.

#2 Copper Wire

#2 copper wire is the third most valuable clean copper wire. This copper wire is unalloyed, has a minimum of 94 percent pure, and may have a coating or shellac. It is sometimes mistaken for bare bright copper, but it has a darker orange or reddish color. Bare bright copper wire that is less than 16 gauge is also graded as #2 copper wire. If the wire is alloyed with other metals, it will be graded below #2 copper wire.

Insulated Copper Wire

When it comes to insulated copper wire, it truly is the inside that counts. Some people choose to strip insulated copper wire scrap to get the best scrap yard copper prices. However, this step is not always necessary or cost effective, as many metal recyclers will pay for insulated copper wire. Though the price paid comes down to the grade of copper inside, knowing your insulated wire types can help you get the best sort for your load.


THHN, also called spaghetti wire or 10–14 gauge wire, has pure copper wire inside the insulation. If the copper wire inside has the bare bright hue and is 16 gauge or more, this would usually be graded as #1 insulated copper wire.  

Romex® Wire

Romex®wire insulates the copper wire with two coatings, making this wire more work to strip. The double insulation also adds weight, so these wires will generally have a lower scrap yard copper prices than THHN, even if the copper wire has the bare bright hue.

 Telecommunications Wire

Phone and data lines may include insulated copper wire. These lines will usually contain wires less than 16 gauge and be considered #2 insulated copper wire. These wires generally carry a lower price per pound than THHN or Romex®Wire.

Be a Copper Wire Scrap Pro

When you bring your scrap haul to the yard, remember that the price you’re offered will be based on the lowest-value item in your pile. Separating your copper wire will help you get a better offer.

Ready to turn your copper wire scrap into cash? Contact us at Gardner Metals. We’re always happy to provide a quote for your scrap, answer questions about the types of scrap we recycle and share more about our pick-up service.