How to Clean Silver

Whether in the form of jewelry, cutlery or dishware, silver adds a touch of elegance. Over time, it also develops a dull gray or black coating called tarnish. Tarnish is caused by a chemical reaction between the silver and sulfur and can ruin the beauty of your silver. There are two basic methods to remove tarnish from silver and if used regularly, either one will keep your silver looking its best.

How to Polish Silver Clean

What You Will Need:

  • Dish soap
  • Warm water
  • Large Bowl
  • Sponge
  • Clean, absorbent towel
  • Two polishing clothes
  • Silver polish*

*Silver polish can be purchased at most department stores or jewelry stores, or online.

The Cleaning Process:

 

  1. Fill your bowl with warm water, adding a few drops of liquid dish soap.
  2. Add your silver item(s) to the sudsy water and wash thoroughly with the sponge.
  3. Rinse your item in clean, warm water, and dry thoroughly using the absorbent towel.
  4. Place a small amount of polish on one polishing cloth and rub onto the item thoroughly as per the directions on the polish (there are many different types of polish available for silver and each one may have different directions for use. Make sure you follow the directions on your particular polish).
  5. With the clean polishing cloth, remove the polish from the item using a brisk, buffing motion (again, always follow the specific directions for your particular polish).
  6. There is usually no need to rinse your items once the polishing is done (unless otherwise directed by the product directions for the polish you are using), and your item should be tarnish-free. If not, you may want to repeat the procedure.

How to Boil Silver Clean

What You Will Need:

  • Dish soap
  • Water
  • Large bowl
  • Sponge
  • Clean, absorbent towel
  • Cooking pot (size depends on the size and number of silver items you need to clean)
  • Aluminum foil
  • Polishing cloth
  • Baking soda

The Cleaning Process:

  1. Fill your bowl with warm water, adding a few drops of liquid dish soap.
  2. Add your silver item(s) to the sudsy water and wash thoroughly with the sponge.
  3. Rinse your item in clean, warm water, and dry thoroughly using the absorbent towel.
  4. Line your cooking pan with aluminum foil.
  5. Add enough water to completely cover the tarnished item(s). (DO NOT add items yet!)
  6. Stir in a couple of tablespoons of baking soda for small items in a small pan, or as much as a cup or two for large items in a gallon or more of water, turn the burner on underneath the pan and bring the water/baking soda solution to a boil, allowing it to boil until all the baking soda is dissolved. Make sure the baking soda is dissolved before adding your items, as the baking soda may be too abrasive for some silver items.
  7. Once the water is boiling, place tarnished item(s) into the boiling water, making sure they are in contact with the aluminum foil, and remove pot from heat.
  8. Allow the item(s) to soak in the pot for several minutes (at least 10), stirring occasionally and gently. The hot solution of baking soda and water will separate the sulfur from the silver, transferring it to the aluminum. You will see black or gray flakes in the water, and the aluminum will start to turn black.
  9. After several minutes, when the tarnish has faded, remove the item, and buff it dry with a clean towel (be aware that some additional tarnish may come off onto the towel).
  10. For heavily tarnished items, it may be necessary to repeat steps 4 through 9.

Additional Tips and Advice

  • Contact with the oils from your skin helps prevent tarnish from forming, so handle your silver items and wear your silver jewelry regularly.
  • Keep your silver away from materials such as felt, wool, and rubber (including the rubber drying mats often used for dishes) as these materials tend to accelerate the formation of tarnish.
  • Avoid exposing silver to foods such as mayonnaise, eggs and mustard, as these foods are high in sulfur content and will hasten the buildup of tarnish.
  • If you are using silver polish, ALWAYS read and follow directions carefully as some types of polish are toxic in nature and can be harmful if not handled correctly. Many companies offer non-toxic alternatives to traditional silver polish.
  • When choosing a silver polish, choose polishes that are non-abrasive, such as Tarni-Shield, Twinkle and Blitz and opt for gels and liquid instead of sprays.
  • If cleaning an item that is silver-plated, be very gentle in cleaning since the silver plating can be easily scratched or damaged.
  • If, after attempting to remove tarnish from silver (not silver-plated) items, a purplish stain remains, it may not be tarnish, but a “fire stain” found on many early silver pieces. Continued attempts at removal may damage your piece. When in doubt, contact a professional silversmith or company specialized in silver restoration.
  • If you are going to store silver for an extended period of time, consider using a tarnish-retardant prior to storing. Many polishes have tarnish-retardant properties built in. Make sure to check the label.
  • If you are ever in doubt about the cleaning or restoration of your fine silver, don’t hesitate to contact a silversmith or silver restoration company. Most are more than happy to advise you as to the best way to protect and preserve your fine silver. For more information, or to find a silversmith in your area, visit the website for The Society of American Silversmiths.

 

Comments

  1. Vivian says:

    This may sound silly, but there is a simpler way to clean silver. We tried this with my brother’s necklace. It was darkening and so we put it in a bowl of soy sauce and left it there for a couple of days. Took it out and it was clean silver!

  2. Lindsay says:

    Toothpaste is a gem for cleaning silver!

  3. Pat says:

    Toothpaste is okay, BUT it Scratches the silver; not my favorite. I like to buy the solution sold at department stores; it’s safe and quick.

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