Whether it’s that sterling silver tea set you inherited from your grandmother or silverware you use on special occasions, knowing how to clean silver properly will protect your treasures. Even if you store your silver safely, platters, jewelry, and utensils will eventually tarnish.
Silver cleaning and polishing may not be on your monthly cleaning checklist, but you must know how to clean tarnished silver to use or display the items. Silver jewelry, serveware, and other frequently used pieces may only need a quick polish with a microfiber cloth to bring back their shine. But fine silver on display or stored inside a jewelry or cutlery box may need more work.
Why Does Silver Tarnish?
When silver comes into contact with sulfur gasses in the air, it can discolor, darken, and form a layer of tarnish. Moisture can speed up the tarnishing, so humid environments can cause your silver to tarnish quickly. Acids and even oxygen can also cause and accelerate tarnishing or break down the finish of silver. Because even sterling silver contains copper, oxygen can cause red oxide on the surface. Knowing how to clean silver will help keep these dangers at bay.
How to Clean Tarnished Silver
Tarnish can be tough to remove, so understanding how to polish silver safely is important. Because silver is a soft metal and tarnish is a chemical reaction, getting rid of heavy tarnish takes muscle—and a delicate hand! That’s because you remove some silver every time you clean or polish silver. Cleaning or polishing silver too hard can damage or destroy the thin silver plating.
Before jumping in, you should understand that freshly polished silver will tarnish faster than silver already tarnished. Even though that tarnish can be less than appealing, leaving it on can protect silver from tarnishing further. If you’re not eating with it, wearing it, or displaying it, you may be better off leaving your silver tarnished. Just because you know how to remove tarnish from silver doesn’t mean you should—you can always shine it up when needed.
All you need to clean and polish silver are microfiber cloths, paper towels, and silver cleaner. A microfiber cloth is safe for jewelry, candlesticks, plates, and other silver. Use a dry cloth to lightly dust your silver before you clean it, as dust can scratch the finish and the soft metal if you rub it too hard.
- Grab your silver cleaner or polish and put a small amount on a dampened microfiber cloth.
- Gently rub the silver with the polish using an up-and-down motion because cleaning in a circular motion can make scratches more visible.
- Turn your cleaning cloth often so you can work with a clean section of the cloth.
- Rinse your silver with warm water and dry it off.
- Once it’s dry, buff your silver to a nice shine with a clean, dry microfiber cloth.
We recommend cleaning tarnished silver about three or four times a year. Remember—you remove more of the plating when you clean silver, so don’t overdo it.
Home Remedies for Cleaning Silver
While plenty of commercial silver cleaning and polishing products are available, you can save a few bucks and skip the potentially toxic chemicals by making your own. From cleaning silver with baking soda and vinegar to polishing it with toothpaste, we’ve got you covered. Here’s how to clean silver with ingredients you probably already have around the house.
Lemon-Lime Carbonated Soda
It’s best to start light when learning how to clean silver at home. The blend of carbonated water and citric acid is ideal for a quick cleanup. Fill a plastic bowl with a couple of cans of lemon-lime soda and soak your silver for an hour. Remove the silver and rinse it with water, then dry it. For extra shine, buff the silver with a clean microfiber cloth. Don’t forget to save a can for yourself after your hard work!
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When you’ve got to get that tarnish off a piece of silver right away, reach for your hand sanitizer. Which, in today’s day in age, should be readily available. The alcohol in the sanitizer will break down the tarnish and leave a decent shine to boot. Squirt some hand sanitizer on a non-abrasive cloth and rub the tarnish away. Use a dry part of the cloth to buff the silver to a shine.
Ketchup is an ideal solution for quickly cleaning one or two silver items. The acids in the condiment break down the tarnish without damaging the silver plating. Put a few drops of ketchup on a paper towel and rub the silver to remove the tarnish. If the silver is heavily tarnished, pour ketchup onto the buildup and let it work on the tarnish for 20 minutes. Rinse the silver, then dry and buff it with a microfiber cloth.
The abrasive particles in toothpaste remove tarnish from silver, but you’ll want to use a light touch to prevent damage. Reserve this method for polishing satin or matte silver. Squeeze a dab of toothpaste onto a damp microfiber cloth and lightly polish your silver. Rinse the silver with warm water, then dry and polish it to a shine with a microfiber towel.
The ammonia in many window cleaners breaks down buildup and leaves a clean finish. Ammonia can be harsh, but for a quick cleaning job, the chemical is perfectly safe for everyday silver. Dampen a soft cloth with window cleaner and clean the tarnished areas. Use an old toothbrush to get into crevices, and then rinse the silver with water. Dry and shine the silver with a clean microfiber cloth.
Vinegar and Baking Soda
Vinegar is a natural cleaner, disinfectant, and deodorizer that is tough on tarnish. Here’s how to polish silver and get back that sparkling shine with vinegar and baking soda. Soak the silver in a glass bowl with 1/2 cup of distilled white vinegar and 2 tablespoons of baking soda. Let the silver soak for three hours, then rinse, dry, and polish it with a microfiber cloth.
Baking Soda and Aluminum Foil
You can use your own chemical reaction to get rid of tarnish on silver using baking soda, water, and aluminum foil. Boil water (4 cups) with a tablespoon of baking soda and a palm-sized piece of aluminum foil. Toss in your silver items and let them boil for about 10 seconds. Remove your items with kitchen tongs, rinse them, and leave them on a towel to dry. Buff the silver to a brilliant shine with a clean, dry microfiber cloth.
Lemon Juice and Salt
Even heavily tarnished silver jewelry will brighten up using this silver cleaner. Mix 1 1/2 cups of water, ½ a cup of powdered milk, and a tablespoon of lemon juice in a container and drop your silver in. Let it sit overnight, then rinse, dry, and polish. For more tarnish-removing firepower, use undiluted lemon juice. Pour it over your tarnished items and immediately begin polishing. Dry the silver and then buff it to a shine with a dry microfiber cloth.
Not just used as a thickening agent, you can make a paste of cornstarch and water and wipe it onto the silver with a damp microfiber cloth. Let the paste dry and polish it off with a clean, dry microfiber cloth. Think of the process as similar to waxing a car. When you lightly buff away the “wax,” tarnish and dirt lift away, leaving a beautiful shine.
Regardless of the DIY silver cleaning method used, a word of precaution. Heavily tarnished areas that still show discoloration after cleaning may have lost the plating. When the silver finish wears away, the base metal can show, appearing dark or discolored. Silver items that have lost their finish require professional replating. Because of the potential toxicity of base metals, silver in this condition shouldn’t be used.
How to Store Silver and Protect It From Tarnish
How you store your silver has a lot to do with how quickly it tarnishes. According to Southern Living, “Silver should always be stored in a drawer or chest lined with tarnish-resistant flannel or individually wrapped in acid-free tissue paper, silver cloth, or unbleached cotton muslin and placed in a zip-top plastic bag.” That’s excellent advice, but if you can’t provide the ultimate storage for your silver, you can still keep it safe and shiny longer with some alternative solutions.
Whether you store your silverware in a drawer or a cabinet, the key is to protect it from moisture, light, and dust. To fight moisture, a few pieces of chalk in your silver storage will absorb tarnish-causing moisture. You can also use small containers of desiccated silica gel or bags with activated charcoal to minimize moisture.
If you’re storing silver away for a while, use archival tissue paper to wrap the pieces and keep them in an acid-free box. Skip the newspaper; the acid in the paper and chemicals in the ink can corrode silver. For fine silver jewelry, invest in anti-tarnish bags for each piece and keep them stored in a cool, dry place.
You can also add an extra barrier against corrosion. Car wax is an excellent way to protect silver that will be out of use for a while. Don’t forget to remove the wax before you use the silver next time! Apply the car wax to the silver and allow it to dry to a light haze. Buff the wax off with a microfiber cloth and get ready for a brilliant shine.
You can pack away the silver and relax because it will be safe, sound, and shiny for up to a year, with dusting now and then. When it’s time to dine, clean the wax off with 70 percent rubbing alcohol and a microfiber cloth. Wash the silver by hand, then rinse, dry, and dine.
Silver Maintenance: Keeping Your Silver in Top Condition
Avoid the dishwasher at all costs! If you want to clean your silverware and other dining silver clean before storage, hand wash them. After using silver utensils, platters, or other serveware, immediately wash the pieces by hand with dish soap. If you have a stainless steel sink, wash your silver in a plastic container to avoid scratching. Dry the silver with a clean microfiber cloth and let it air dry for an hour before storing it.
Another way to keep your silver shining and tarnish-free is to use it! Silver-plated utensils and serveware tarnish less when used daily and properly cleaned. That’s good news for those who save our silver for only special occasions and holidays. Who knew? So use that silver daily if you like, and you might never have to clean tarnish again.
Now that you know how to clean silver and make it shine, what’s next? Check out our extensive library of housekeeping guides you can use all over the house. Whether it’s through our professional how-tos or by using one of our popular residential cleaning services, The Maids wants you and your family to have a cleaner, healthier home. Find out more when you get your free estimate today.