Silver plated wares and decorative sterling silver pieces can add distinct beauty and elegance to every day. However, taking care of your pretty candlesticks, sterling silver jewelry, and chafing dishes can be a real challenge if you don’t know how to clean silver.
Unfortunately, with regular use, silver starts to lose its luster and will eventually accumulate dirt and tarnish. Traces of sulfur in the air cause a chemical reaction with the surface of the silver, resulting in the production of silver sulfide, or tarnish.
Whether you’ve inherited your silver items from your family, or received them for your wedding, the intricately decorated silver piece was meant for regular use. With proper maintenance, most silver household items and silver jewelry will remain beautiful for years. So, don’t pack away your tarnished silver pieces; instead, learn how to clean silver and enjoy all your silver for years to come.
How to Clean Tarnished Silver
When your decorative silver pieces turn black with tarnish, your instinct might be to reach for commercial silver cleaners and silver polishes. However, the synthetic cleaners that you purchase at the store contain harsh abrasives that remove a thin layer of the silver in the process of removing the tarnish.
The silver polish that you buy that the store might also contain toxic ingredients and corrosives that make disposing of the product dangerous to your health and the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency refers to products that contain toxic ingredients as household hazardous waste.
These kinds of dangerous products must not be poured down the drain or thrown in the trash. To remain compliant with the law, make a DIY sterling silver cleaner that will not only remove tarnish but will keep your silver looking beautiful.
Clean Tarnished Silver with Baking Soda and Aluminum Foil
When it comes to the home, baking soda has gotten the reputation for being a heavyweight ingredient in many DIY cleaning recipes. Even if your silver pieces are heavily tarnished, get them looking like new again with a cleaning method that uses some baking soda and aluminum foil, as long as the pieces can stand up to a bit of heat.
Add the water to a large pot and bring it to a boil on the stove. Ensure the pan is big enough to fit all of your serving pieces. There should be at least two inches of space between the water and the top of the pot.
Remove the boiling water from the stovetop and place a piece of aluminum foil at the bottom. Place the silver that you want to clean on top of the aluminum foil, making sure that all the parts are immersed in the boiling water.
Shake some baking soda into the pot. The baking soda will bubble and foam, and you will smell rotten eggs.
The chemical reaction that takes place when you add the baking soda to the water removes the tarnish from the silver because the tarnish is attracted to the aluminum foil instead. Keep sprinkling more baking soda into the pot until your silver becomes clean and shiny, or until the water no longer foams.
For this cleaning method to be effective, you must have incredibly hot water. However, when done correctly, it works like a charm on your tarnished silver. Once you’ve removed all of the tarnish, wash the pieces with gentle dish soap and warm water to remove any baking soda residue.
If you notice a few spots of tarnish after the process, it should wash off when gently cleaned with a soft polishing cloth. This cleaning method is also how you can clean silver coins without damaging them to bring your coin collection back to its original brilliance.
How to Clean Silver with Vinegar
Cleaning a silver plate with vinegar is a lot like the process of cleaning it with baking soda. Cleaning silver with vinegar helps to speed the process along so that even the most tarnished silver pieces in your collection come out sparkling clean in no time. The combination of baking soda, white vinegar, and aluminum foil works quickly and can even tackle your most heavily tarnished pieces easily.
Pour the water into a pot and let it boil on the stove. While the water is heating to a boil, line the glass dish with aluminum foil, making sure to place it shiny side up. Add the salt and baking soda to the dish.
Once the water boils, slowly add the vinegar and water to your bowl. The vinegar and baking soda create a reaction, so pour carefully.
Place the silver in the dish. It is vital to make sure that each piece of silver is touching the surface of the aluminum.
Leave the silver in the solution for about 30 seconds. If the silver tarnish is especially tricky, allow the silver to soak for a few minutes longer. Use tongs to take the silver out of the dish and clean it with a soft cloth to remove any residual tarnish.
Clean Silver with Laundry Detergent
You can make your jewelry and decorative silver pieces with a little bit of powdered laundry detergent. Line a medium-sized bowl with a bit of aluminum foil and fill it with hot water. Add one tablespoon of powdered laundry detergent.
Place your silver pieces in the bowl and allow to soak for no more than one minute. Remove the pieces from the bowl, rinse with clean, cold water, and allow to air-dry.
Clean Tarnished Silver with Ketchup
I bet you never thought to use ketchup to clean your tarnished silver. However, in a pinch, it works just as well to remove tarnish as a silver polish from the store.
To use this favorite condiment to polish your silver pieces, squirt a small amount of ketchup onto a paper towel, and gently rub it over the tarnished areas on your silver. Let the ketchup sit on your silver for 15 minutes, buff it with a soft cloth, and rinse with warm water.
Use Cornstarch to Clean Your Silver
Make a paste from cornstarch and water that will leave your silver looking like new once more. Use a damp cloth to apply the paste to your silver and allow it to dry.
Use cheesecloth or a rough towel to rub the dried paste off gently. If you don’t have any cornstarch on hand, you can substitute it with cream of tartar for the same effect.
How to Clean Sterling Silver Jewelry
A staple of every jewelry box is sterling silver. Unfortunately, many people neglect their sterling silver pieces, which can make them become tarnished over time.
If you want to continue to enjoy your sterling silver jewelry and make sure that it continues to look as good as new, continue to maintain your piece correctly. Taking regular care of your sterling silver pieces helps prevent tarnish.
A great way to spruce up your sterling silver jewelry is to polish it regularly. Use a special silver polishing cloth if you want to polish silver.
Never use a tissue or paper towel to clean sterling silver because they can scratch your silver. The best method for polishing silver is to use a back and forth motion that runs along the grain of the silver.
Sometimes polishing your sterling silver jewelry isn’t enough, especially if it has become tarnished. Luckily there are several silver cleaning methods that you can use to clean your sterling silver pieces at home. Plus, the following methods use common ingredients that you probably already have.
Soap and Water
A classic cleaning method for silver jewelry pieces uses nothing more than soap and warm water. Cleaning sterling silver with warm soapy water will breathe new life into your jewelry.
Combine some warm water with phosphate-free dish soap and place your jewelry pieces in the solution. All them to soak for a few minutes then remove and dry with a soft cloth.
Water and Baking Soda
If the soap doesn’t get your silver jewelry clean, combine water and some baking soda to make a paste. Add a pea-sized amount of the paste to a damp cloth to polish the silver.
If your jewelry is etched, stamped, or detailed, add a bit more water to make the paste thinner and use a soft-bristled toothbrush to help you clean the crevices. After you’ve rubbed the paste into the silver, run the items under warm water, and dry them with a clean, soft cloth.
Lemon Juice and Olive Oil
Did you know that lemon juice is known for its incredible cleaning properties and that it makes a great silver cleaner along with olive oil? You need a ½ a cup of lemon juice and a teaspoon of olive oil to make a jewelry cleaner that will get all your silver jewelry looking like new.
Add the two ingredients to a large bowl and dip a small microfiber cloth into the solution. Wring out the fabric and use it to gently polish your silver jewelry. Rinse the pieces under warm water and wipe dry with a clean, soft cloth.
White Vinegar and Baking Soda
If you try cleaning your silver with baking soda and water but are less than thrilled with the results, you can always use vinegar as an alternative to the water. White vinegar is a gentle way to remove heavy tarnish from your silver without scratching the surface.
Add the white distilled vinegar and baking soda to a large bowl. Place your heavily tarnished silver jewelry in the container. Allow the pieces to soak for three hours.
Remove the jewelry from the solution and rinse under warm water. Put the jewelry on a paper towel and let air dry, or gently dry with a microfiber cloth.
How to Properly Store Your Silver
There are several ways that you can store your silver to help prevent it from becoming heavily tarnished and damaged. Make sure that you store your silver between uses so that you don’t need to do anything more than run a quick polishing cloth over the pieces when you’re ready to use them.
Since silver is such a soft metal, it gets dented and scratched easily if not stored properly. Keep your silver in an area with low humidity and keep it away from heat, since both lead to tarnishing.
Don’t store silver in a damp basement or hot attic. A china cabinet is a great place to store your silver because it isn’t too hot or humid and is conveniently located for easy access when needed.
Before you throw your silver in the china cabinet, place the pieces in a chest lined with treated flannel cloths or flannel bags. Flannel bags and other storage products are treated with silver nitrate and other chemicals that help stop tarnishing.
Flannel storage containers are available at jewelry stores or online. If you can’t find these flannel anti-tarnish bags to store your silver, wrap your silver in acid-free archival quality tissue paper and place it in an acid-free box. Make sure you don’t use acidic paper or newspaper because the ink and acids can damage, destroy, and pit your silver pieces.
Caring for Your Pewter Pieces
Among your many silver pieces, you may discover that you also have some pewter pieces. Pewter is an incredibly malleable metal alloy that is commonly used to make kitchen utensils, serving pieces, and even caskets. If you have a few pewter pieces, you may be wondering, does pewter tarnish like silver?
While pewter won’t tarnish like your silver pieces, it will eventually oxidize, which results in a dull look. The combination of tin and other complementary metals that makes up pewter succumb to tarnish; however, if it contains any lead, it will turn black. If this happens, then you’ll need to learn how to clean your pewter to remove the blackened areas safely.
A versatile and beautiful metal, silver’s soft luster can add a touch of elegance to everyday life. Unfortunately, whether you are dealing with silver dishes, flatware, or jewelry, it can be an incredibly fragile metal, especially when compared to some of the more commonly-used metals.
Without proper care and maintenance, it quickly develops stains, scratches, and tarnish, making your silver pieces less than appealing. Fortunately, with the above-mentioned cleaning methods, you don’t have to be a silversmith when it comes to cleaning sterling silver.
We’ve provided you with several cleaning methods on how to clean tarnished silver. If you like the tips in this article for cleaning your silver, please share these polishing methods on Facebook and Pinterest.