Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Cleaning Silver

Put down that bottle of silver polish.  Back away from it slowly.  It is bad

I didn't know any better.  Those pretty silver-plated things we received as wedding gifts?  When they tarnished, I used silver polish.  I have ruined them.

Watching Downton Abbey, I saw servants polishing silver.  In centuries past, people didn't have high-powered chemicals with noxious smells, liquids for which you need rubber gloves and a mask when you open the bottle.  There had to be another way to clean silver.  And those secrets are what the internet is good for!

A large pot made of non-reactive metal
(or even the kitchen sink).
A piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil.
Hot water.
Salt and/or baking soda.

Fill the pot or sink with enough hot water to cover the vase or tray or spoons.   Place the foil (shiny side up) on the bottom of the pot.  Add several tablespoons of salt or baking soda (or both) and dissolve it.  Place the silver into the water, making contact with the foil.  Wait for a minute or two (or five) as the tarnish dissolves away.  It is okay for the water to simmer gently on the stove. 

When you take the silver out of the water, polish it up a bit to dry it well.  Use a touch of olive oil on a soft cotton cloth or cotton ball to rub onto the silver to keep it from tarnishing too fast again.

If you have a piece of cheap silver that's in cruddy horrible awful shape, simply leaving it in the water longer won't be enough to clean it.  After 10 minutes or so, take it out of the water, and use some elbow grease and a rag to rub it well.  When you've gotten off as much blackness as possible, get fresh water, fresh foil, and fresh salt, and do it again.  If you've already used traditional hardware-store chemical silver polish on your silver gazillions of times, the silver may be damaged enough that it can't be cleaned nicely.  But you sure can make it better this way.  And it sure does seem to me that it takes longer for the tarnish to return when the silver is cleaned this simple, non-toxic way.


  1. The reaction is actually converting the tarnish back into silver, rather than removing it. It's also a great chemistry lesson for the kids!

  2. Cool! So when I've got a piece in horrible shape, and I have to wipe the black off, does that mean it's too much tarnish to be convertible?

    That also sounds like an explanation for why the chemical polish makes the silver look worse and worse the more you use it: it just keeps removing layers of silver instead of keeping it there.

  3. I've been doing our silver this way for a couple of years. We've had to deal with less tarnished silver every time, so I think it lasts longer.