How to Clean Silver
Silver is a beautiful, versatile metal, and its soft luster adds a touch of elegance dishes, flatware, and jewelry. Unfortunately, silver is also pretty fragile compared to many more commonly-used metals and it can quickly develop tarnish, stains or scratches. It can also be a bit scary to try to clean silver pieces, because they are often special to us and we don't want to damage them. You don't have to be a silversmith to clean silver though. Here are some tips to help you keep your silver shining.
Short Video: How to Clean Silver
To clean silver, start by applying some silver polish to a cotton ball or Q-tip. Then, rub the silver with the polish, using a straight, back-and-forth motion. Once you've gone over all of the silver, rinse it off with water and then dry it with a soft, clean cloth. In addition to polishing your silver, remember to wash it promptly after each use so it doesn't tarnish. To wash your silver, wipe it down with warm water and phosphate-free detergent.For advice on how to remove tarnish from silver with baking soda, scroll down!
Daily Care and Maintenance
Wash your silver often and promptly after use.Silver that is frequently used rarely has tarnish problems. When tarnish is not yet present, or when it's just beginning to develop, simply wash your silver in warm water with a gentle, phosphate-free detergent. Make sure to use a non-lemon based detergent, as lemon-based products can spot the silver.
- It's a good idea to wash silver separately from your other dishes because metal sinks and utensils can scratch silver, and stainless steel can damage the finish if it comes into contact with your silver.
- Avoid using rubber gloves when washing silver, as rubber corrodes silver. Use a soft cloth to gently rub the silver clean and dry promptly with a soft towel. Gently buff the shine into dull silver with a soft cotton cloth.
- Use nitrile gloves – they contain no sulfur that will promote the formation of tarnish. Cotton gloves are also acceptable.
Don't use the dishwasher to clean silver.The high temperatures and rough washing can change the color of silver and cause damage, especially to pieces that are porous. Do all of your silver cleaning by hand.
Polish your silver when light tarnish develops.Tarnish is a thin layer of corrosion that naturally develops on the outermost layer of silver and other metals. When you see the dark tinge of tarnish on your silver, simple hand washing may not suffice to remove it. Specially formulated silver polishes are your safest option for polishing silver, especially if you are dealing with an antique or a piece that has intricate designs etched into it. Follow the manufacturer's directions carefully.
- It's best to use a cellulose sponge for polishing, because it won't scratch like the sponges that come supplied with some polishes. You could also try cotton balls and use flattened Q-tips between fork tines.
- Moisten a soft, silver-polishing cloth or the sponge included with the silver polish.
- Rub the silver only in straight-line, back-and-forth motions (not in circles). Avoid scrubbing and simply let the polish do the job.
- Rinse the silver under running water.
- Dry the silver completely with a soft, clean cloth.
Avoid scratching your silver.Using a silver platter as a cutting board is never a good idea. Avoid storing sharp objects in a silver container, and if you stack silver, make sure each piece is padded. Don't throw silver utensils in the sink, as they may get scratched by each other or other dishes.
Store your silver correctly.Beyond prompt and frequent cleaning, the best way to preserve your silver is to store it correctly. Make sure each piece is completely dry before storing it. Wrap each piece in acid-free tissue paper or anti-tarnish paper. You can also wrap pieces in flannel (special flannels are made just for this purpose). Seal the wrapped silver pieces in an airtight plastic bag. A canister of silica gel placed nearby can help reduce humidity and ward off tarnish.
- Never store silver where it can contact rubber, stainless steel, or paint.
- For sterling flatware, the best way to keep it beautiful is use it on a regular basis and gently wash/dry it with gentle dish soap and water. If it's not in storage for a long time, it doesn't have a chance to tarnish deeply.
- Many stores and catalogs that sell silver will also sell anti-tarnish silver chests lined with treated felt, or just the anti-tarnish cloth itself. These cloths lengthen the amount of time needed between polishings, but you still need to do it. They are also great for storage, as they keep the pieces from being banged around too much. If your silver chest doesn't have a drawer for serving pieces, you can just wrap them in a piece of anti-tarnish cloth or stripsand put that in a regular box.
Alternate Tarnish Removal Methods
Beware of using toothpaste as a silver polish.Some toothpastes contain baking soda or other ingredients which are much too abrasive; even trace amounts can cause serious damage. Use polishes that are specifically formulated to remove tarnish from silver.
- Some sources do recommend toothpaste if you for some reason can't get your hands on silver polish. However, this method should certainly never be used to clean valuable pieces of silver, since it can cause damage. Select a plain white toothpaste (not a gel) without the special whitening options. Take a soft, dampened cloth (old t-shirt scraps work just fine) or a damp sponge and put some toothpaste on it. Gently rub over the silver in straight, back-and-forth motions. Alternatively, you can wet the silver piece and gently apply toothpaste directly to the surface, which you can then wet again and proceed to polish. Do this gently. If you notice scratching at any point, stop and rinse the toothpaste off.
- As the cloth or sponge becomes dark with tarnish, add more toothpaste to a clean part of the dampened cloth/sponge and continue gently polishing.
- Rinse thoroughly with warm water and dry with a soft towel.
- Some toothpastes contain baking soda or other ingredients which are much too abrasive. Even trace amounts can cause serious damage.
Use Baking soda.Baking soda may remove stubborn tarnish, but don't use it unless you don't mind the risk of damaging the silver. It takes off a layer of silver along with the tarnish.
- Make a paste of baking soda and warm water.
- Gently polish following the directions for toothpaste above.
Put silver goods in 7-Up soda.The acid kills the dirt and helps it shine without damaging the silver.
Use a silver dip for heavily tarnished pieces.Commercial silver "dips" are available which can dissolve stains without rubbing the silver. Chemical dips work by dissolving the tarnish on an object at an accelerated rate. Dips are used by silver restorers when heavy black tarnish cannot be removed with liquid or paste polishes.Silver dips contain an ingredient called thiourea that reverses the tarnishing process. This can be extremely damaging to your silver if you aren't careful, so use dips sparingly. To use a dip, pour the liquid into a plastic container. Place the piece in the container and cover it with a lid, then let it soak for the time specified on the dip packaging. Rinse the piece well when you remove it, since traces of dip can eat away at the silver and cause pitting.
- Contrary to what the word "dip" implies, professionals rarely actually soak silver in these products, or at least not for long. Chemical dips are wiped over the object with a cellulose sponge or cotton ball, as submerging the piece for long periods will remove factory-applied patinas and cause pitting of the object's surface. These surface defects will act like a sponge and more readily absorb tarnish-producing gases and moisture. The object may then require professional polishing to restore the original finish.Dips can potentially damage your silver and they will remove desirable patina. Dips also contain chemicals that are harmful to your health, so use this method sparingly or hire a professional to do it.
- Chemical dips are made up of an acid and a complexing agent. Acids are corrosive and will damage niello, bronze, stainless steel knife blades, and organic materials such as wood and ivory. The ingredients can also be harmful to the user, which is why silver restorers wear nitrile gloves and work in a well-ventilated area. Chemical dips should never be used on objects that have sealed components, such as candlesticks and trophies with hollow feet, or teapots with hollow handles. Once the dip leaks into the cavity through small holes or imperfections in the joints, it becomes virtually impossible to wash the chemical out. For all the above reasons, this cleaning technique should only be used by qualified restorers.
Try an electrochemical method.This is done by heating up an appropriately sized container of water and dissolving a large amount of table salt into the water. Use enough salt such that it takes at least a minute to dissolve in the hot water with constant stirring. Baking soda works as well. Shape a liner for the container from aluminum foil and place the foil in the container of hot water. Place silver that has been previously cleaned with soap into the bath (inside of the foil) for several minutes. The tarnish should dissolve away. Rinse the piece well when you're finished.
- Be sure that the silver touches the aluminum, or else it won't work. The silver and aluminum, with the salt water between them form a battery, and when you touch the silver to the aluminum, it shorts the battery and a small current flows, allowing the chemical reaction to happen. This method is quick and better than a corrosive dip, but probably not as gentle as silver cleaning paste.
QuestionCan I use rubbing alcohol to clean silver?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes. As with toothpaste, baking soda, white vinegar, and aluminum foil, rubbing alcohol is a common household item that may be used to clean silver. Alcohol works well on both silver jewelry and silver flatware.Thanks!
QuestionCan I use vinegar or 7-Up up to clean my silver earrings?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes, I tried it for mine and it worked great. Vinegar works best, but 7-up should also work.Thanks!
QuestionWhat is the best recommended silver polish?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerGoddard's Silver Foam has a sponge that you use to clean. After cleaning with the sponge, rinse under lukewarm water and dry with soft absorbing cloth. It works beautifully, leaving silver shiny.Thanks!
Is vinegar too harsh for cleaning silver?
Why is my silver losing it's luster after two months? Is it the heat that makes it a bit yellowish?
How do I get rid of the dark spots left on silver after polishing?
What foods stain silver?
- Tarnish is easily removed when first noticed (usually as a yellowish tint), and will become increasingly difficult to deal with as it turns to light brown and eventually black. If you start to see very light tarnish that can sometimes only be detected when the object is viewed against a piece of glossy white paper, use Windex with vinegar or Purell to remove the tarnish. Use a large cotton ball and rotate it regularly to expose unused surfaces, as elements in the tarnish itself can be very abrasive. Dry the piece with a Selvyt cloth or cotton dish towel. Try this technique first, as it is the least abrasive of all silver cleaning methods.
- To polish silver with intricate etchings and deep crevices, use a wet horsehair or white natural boar bristle brush. On the other hand, you may wish to leave a bit of tarnish in the crevices to bring out the design. Don't use a toothbrush, as the plastic bristles could scratch the silver.
- Avoid wearing silver jewelry in swimming pools. The chlorine can damage the silver in a short time.
- For silver items on display, try using Turtle Wax (yes, the stuff that you use on your car) or non-lemon based furniture polish to seal the surface and prolong the life of your shine between polishings!
- Always thoroughly remove salt and pepper from shakers to prevent pitting and corrosion while in storage.
- Wipe the Silverware with a fine microfiber cloth to prevent scratching and to remove newly tarnished layers.
- Try a vacuum sealer to vacuum pack pieces of cleaned silver. Foodsavers work well.
- Remove built-up candle wax from silver candlesticks by running them under hot water or melting the wax with a hair dryer.
- Use lemon juice and Crest Complete toothpaste.
- Silver polishes and dips may contain harmful chemicals. Follow instructions and heed the manufacturer's warnings.
- Do not use Brillo pads, steel wool, or other abrasive materials that will scratch silver surfaces. Even tissue paper can scratch newly plated or polished silver if handled improperly.
- Although it may seem quicker than polishing, using dips will generally set you back years in both patina (as mentioned above) and actual silver loss. Be very careful if you decide to dip. The after-cost is far more costly than your time to polish.
- Even though it's metal, silver plate can be rubbed right off if you're too diligent with your silver polish. Be sure the dark smear is actually tarnish and not the base metal beginning to show through.
- The aluminum-foil method sounds mild and harmless, but can result in pitting that gives your silver an orange-peel texture overall. Go by stages, and use a soft clean cotton cloth to rub away the damp aluminum sulfate that collects on the surface of the silver, before you decide it's not working.
- Research cleaning silver coins (or any coins for that matter) before doing so, as it can greatly reduce their value.
- For silver with an oxidized or French gray finish, or for any valuable piece, you're better off sticking to gentle hand washing and commercial silver polishes. It's safest to have truly special pieces professionally cleaned.
- Do not use fine silver to serve food containing eggs or mayonnaise. Since such foods can tarnish silver, use glass bowls, or liners that may have accompanied such silver pieces.
- Never store unwrapped silver in plastic bags or wrap and make sure that rubber bands do not come in contact with the silver. Since these are petroleum based products, they break down over time and will stain the silver. In fact, rubber bands can leave black imprints almost immediately.
Sources and Citations
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Video: How To Clean Silver Jewellery FAST!
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