How to Clean Silver Naturally
Part of the fun of shopping at thrift stores and estate sales is that I almost always find a beautiful piece of vintage silverware that is black with tarnish but just waiting for a little cleaning to reveal the diamond in the rough underneath! From vintage silver platters and bowls to candlesticks, coasters, and coffeepots, there are so many heirloom silver items out there waiting to be discovered. But how do you restore silver items to their former shining glory? (See also: Tips for Shopping at Estate Sales)
Commercial silver cleaners are cheap, but they tend to be filled with harsh chemicals that I prefer not to use around the house. Fortunately there is a way to safely clean silver using common household products that you have in your pantry right now.
Cleaning Silver With Aluminum Foil and Baking Soda
Hurray for baking soda! It is such a heavyweight when it comes to uses around the home. This method of cleaning silver works wonders even for heavily tarnished pieces as long as they can stand up to a little heat.
- First, bring a large pot of water to the boil on the stovetop. Make sure that the pot is large enough to fit all of your tarnished silver items. Don’t overfill the pot (leave at least two inches of space at the top).
- When the water boils, remove the pot from the heat. Place a piece of aluminum foil into the bottom of your pot, and place your silver items on top, immersed in the boiling water. Start shaking baking soda into the pot. It will foam and bubble, and you’ll notice a sulfuric smell, like rotten eggs.
- The chemical reaction will (almost magically) remove the tarnish from your silver, as the tarnish will become attracted to the aluminum foil instead of your silver piece. Keep sprinkling in more baking soda until your silver is shiny and clean or until the liquid no longer foams.
The water has to be really hot for this to be effective, but if you do it correctly, it works like a charm on tarnished silver. I’ve actually found this to be the best method for removing tarnish from vintage silver, as it is more effective than many silver polishes I have used. It even gets into the nooks and crannies where you wouldn’t be able to hand-polish the tarnish away.
Once the tarnish is gone, wash the silver with gentle soap and water to remove the rest of the baking soda. If there are a few spots of tarnish left, they should wash off when rubbed gently with a soft cloth.
If you have silver jewelry set with gemstones, I would hesitate to use this method, as it may cause damage to some gemstones. You might want to take your jewelry to a professional jeweler to have it cleaned. However, this method works well for silver platters, flatware, bowls, chains, serveware, and many other silver or silver-plated items.
Be Wary of Abrasive Methods
Many articles on the Internet recommend scrubbing your silver pieces with toothpaste, table salt, or baking soda. The reason toothpaste, salt, and baking soda work is because they are abrasives, but while they may scrub away the tarnish, they are also rubbing scratches into your silver, and in the case of silver-plated items, they may start to wear away the silver finish entirely, exposing the base metal.
Nevertheless, I have been guilty of using a baking soda/water paste to clean a few inexpensive pieces of silver jewelry. While professional silversmiths might be horrified, I find that it is worth it to me to have a clean piece of jewelry that I will actually wear rather than a tarnished-but-undamaged piece that sits in my drawer for years.
Antique silver plate and good-quality silver jewelry may lose much of its value if cleaned improperly. If you have a valuable silver piece and you are in doubt as to how to clean it, it may be best to bring it to a professional.
How do you usually clean your silver? Which method is the most effective?