When it comes to silver antiques, you don’t want to overclean them; but for your rings, silverware, and other silver goods, a good silver cleaner will keep things shining.
There’s a good reason silver is a precious metal. It’s beautiful, durable in the hands of an expert silversmith, and can be turned into all sorts of treasures.
Fine jewelry, military and royal medallions and the classiest of tableware have all been made from silver for centuries. Like many beautiful things, it does require a bit of maintenance to keep it looking its best.
One chore associated with silver is the need to clean it. When silver is displayed and exposed to the elements, it will become tarnished over time. Luckily, this is just a surface problem that can be easily remedied with an appropriate silver cleaner and a little elbow grease.
There are many products on the market that you can use for this job. Or, you can make your own. Yes, you probably have the ingredients to make an effective cleaner around the house right now.
The Tarnishing Process
When silver is exposed to the air, it blackens as it undergoes a chemical reaction with gases in the air to form tarnish. Tarnish is also known as silver sulfide.
Unlike rust, tarnish is considered “dry corrosion” and is found only at the surface of some metals, including silver. Over time, tarnish will scar the appearance of silver.
Unfortunately, you can’t just wash tarnish off with soap and water. It is caused by a chemical reaction between your silver and sulfur that is found in the air and also in water, wool, felt and rubber, among other things.
The only effective way to remove tarnish is to polish it away.
Polishing requires some effort and every time a piece of silver tarnishes and is polished, some of the silver is lost. It’s possible to lose completely the thin layer of plating over time on silver-plated objects.
If you have expensive jewelry or heirloom pieces, it’s best to store them properly to prevent tarnish from happening.
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Ways to Prevent Silver from Tarnishing
While tarnish is inevitable if you display your silver or wear your silver jewelry, there are some things you can do to protect your silver from its effects and lengthen the time period between cleanings.
This is desirable because you don’t want to polish your silver too often because you lose a little silver each time and it’s not a lot of fun to do. Ideally, you should clean your silver about every 18 to 24 months at the most.
Things to Avoid
- Showering, swimming and any activity that will expose your silver to prolonged moisture
- Storing silver with wood, rubber, or newspaper as they all will hasten the tarnishing process.
- Scrubbing or cleaning too vigorously
- Using detergents with chloride, bleach, ammonia, or acetone or washing silver pieces in the dishwasher
- Extended periods in direct sunlight or intense heat
- Using “metal polishing” products instead of a designated silver cleaner
- Cleaning with steel wool under any circumstances
Proper Storage of Silver
- Clean and dry your silver thoroughly before storing it.
- The storage container should be airtight. Specially designed containers are available or you can use a household storage bag with all the air removed before sealing it. Do not store in a wooden jewelry box.
- Wrap pieces individually in anti-tarnish paper or cloth (never use newspaper).
- Silver is soft and scratches easily, so separate individual pieces to prevent them from making contact with each other.
- Include silica gel or activated charcoal in the storage container. These can be purchased or found in certain containers of other products such as shoes or purses.
- Store your pieces away from sunlight, excessive heat and high humidity.
Where to Store Your Silver
A good place to store your silver when it’s not in use is in a hutch or china cabinet. Storing it in a basement or attic could expose your silver to more heat and humidity than is ideal.
A china cabinet also makes it more convenient to access your silver when you want to use them for special occasions. This means you’ll get m ore enjoyment out of your investment.
You’ve probably made a sizable investment in your silver so you might want to splurge when it comes to the best way to store it.
Flannel treated bags and cloth aid in slowing the tarnishing process. Flannel bags or chests lined with flannel cloths treated with silver nitrate or other chemicals help retard tarnishing.
Get a storage container that is designed for the type of silver you need to store. For example, slotted silverware chests or bags will keep your items from clanging together and becoming scratched.
Flannel-lined bags for larger items are also available. Go with something that will fit inside your designated storage area to make it more convenient. Mind you, you’ll still have to polish your silver stored this way, but you’ll need to do it far less often.
How Does Silver Cleaner Work?
Effective silver cleaners use acidic or basic chemical ingredients to dissolve built up tarnish. Others are abrasive cleaners that scrub tarnish away. Some cleaners use chemicals and abrasives in combination.
Under normal conditions, these cleaners work quickly and give good results. Generally speaking, with an acidic and a mild abrasive combination cleaner, it only takes a few minutes and a little light polishing to get good results.
How to Clean your Large Silver Items
In most cases, restoring the original luster to your silver is not a difficult task. You can use the same silver cleaner and basic technique on all of your silver, from jewelry to ornamental pieces to tableware.
- Place a small amount of your silver cleaner or polish on a clean, damp cloth.
- Avoid fine scratches and swirls by rubbing your silver item in an up-and-down motion (do not use a circular motion).
- As you clean, turn the cloth frequently so as not to redeposit the tarnish back onto your item.
- If you have intricate, ornate pieces, use a soft-bristle brush to clean tight areas.
- Rinse the item with warm water and buff with a clean, dry cloth (be careful not to submerge items in water that are made of silver in combination with other materials, such as wood).
How to Clean Silver Jewelry and Smaller Items
To clean silverware and jewelry, soaking is a preferred method. This will include the use of any of several possible cleaning solutions.
You simply leave your silver in the solution for a certain time period, depending on the amount of tarnish present, then rinse and dry thoroughly with a soft cloth.
The solution will clean your silver safely, effectively and easily. Use caution if you’re cleaning silver in combination with stones or other materials to be sure they are compatible with your cleaning solution.
How to Make Your Own Silver Cleaner at Home
There are good silver cleaners available from retailers or you can choose to make your own out of common items you probable have around the house. In this section, we’ll go over a few of these recipes and you can choose the one that works best for you.
The Hands-Off Approach
If you’re looking for a way out of polishing your silverware before each use or want an easy way to clean that tarnished jewelry you just picked up at the
antique shop, this is it. Forget the polish and cloth and try this method that doesn’t use any chemicals and doesn’t require any physical effort.
- Aluminum foil
- Table salt
- Baking Soda
- Hot water
- Bucket or pot
- A dry towel
- Place a section of aluminum foil at the bottom of your bucket.
- Fill the bucket with hot water, even boiling water.
- Add two tablespoons of salt and two tablespoons of baking soda.
- Immerse the silver pieces into the water so that when they settle on the bottom, they are not touching.
- Leave the silver to soak for two to three minutes, a little longer for heavily tarnished items.
- Remove your silver items without dragging them across the foil and rinse thoroughly.
- Dry your silver item(s) completely before storing or displaying them.
How this Works
When these ingredients are combined with water, a chemical reaction takes place. During the process, the tarnish is cleaned away and waste is deposited on the aluminum foil.
If your silver was badly tarnished, you might see brown residue on the aluminum foil. This is a fast, easy and effective process for cleaning your silver. One word of caution, in addition to tarnish, this method will also remove any patina on the silver. That may be undesirable in some cases.
Lemon-Lime Soda Method
It’s not just a refreshing drink on a warm day, this is an inexpensive and effective silver cleaner.
- Any brand of lemon-lime soda
- Two drops of mild dish detergent
- A dry towel
- Add two drops of mild dish detergent to a glass of lemon-lime soda.
- Give the mixture a gentle stir.
- Add your silver pieces and let them soak for up to an hour, depending on the amount of tarnish present.
- When the time is up, rinse off the soda solution.
- Thoroughly dry with a towel.
How this Works
The soda solution contains citric acid, which along with the soap and carbonation, actively removes tarnish, dirt and oil buildup to restore a shiny finish.
The Ketchup Method
This is a great silver cleaner even for more heavily tarnished silver and who doesn’t have ketchup in their refrigerator?
- A soft-bristled brush
- A dry cloth
- Apply ketchup to a clean cloth or soft-bristled brush.
- Gently scrub the tarnished area, for heavily tarnished silver leave the ketchup on for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Rinse items under warm water.
- Dry thoroughly with a clean cloth.
How this Works
Similar to the lemon-lime soda method, the acidic chemicals in ketchup works to dissolve the tarnish away from silver. Be sure to rinse and dry thoroughly.
The Baking Soda or White Toothpaste Method
Both of these household items make effective silver cleaners and they are used in about the same way.
- Plain, white toothpaste (no gels) or baking soda made into a paste with a small amount of water
- Two clean, soft cloths
- A soft-bristled brush
- Apply either paste to one of the cloths and use a gentle up-and-down scrubbing technique.
- Apply paste to the brush to clean intricate details or smaller silver pieces.
- Rinse the paste off thoroughly under warm water
- Dry thoroughly with the second clean, dry cloth.
How this Works
These pastes are effective because they are mild abrasives. They simply buff away the tarnish as you rub them into the silver. It’s important to only use these gentle abrasive pastes and a gentle rubbing motion so as to not scratch the surface of your silver.
Other Household Items to Try
The following is a list of several more items most people have at home that can be used as silver cleaners. They will yield varying results, but if you’re in a pinch and one of these is all you have, they are worth a shot as they will at least give you some improvement.
To use any of these, simply apply to a cloth or brush as described previously, gently scrub and rinse with warm water. Dry thoroughly upon completion of the cleaning process.
- Coca Cola
As you can see, there are plenty of household items that can be used as silver cleaners. They are all effective to varying degrees. You should not expect each of these to become your go-to method of cleaning your fine silver tableware and jewelry.
The idea with most of the things listed here is to get you through a crisis when you need to clean your silver items without the time to go buy a commercial silver cleaner.
Having said that, the “hands-off approach” described above has been widely accepted as a safe and highly effective way of cleaning your silver items. It is not recommended that you pre-make the solution.
If you keep the common items used on hand, it takes only minutes to complete the process and you should be very pleased with the results. Hopefully, you never get caught in a situation where you need to clean your silver on short notice, but if you do, you’re now armed with several ways to get it done in a hurry.