While very beautiful, household silver will tarnish over time. It’s better to be safe than sorry when brushing up on your silver cleaning and polishing skills, and whether you’re working with tableware, vases, or jewelry, you should polish them every so often to get rid of any dullness and bring back a nice shine.
You want to be careful when it comes to maintaining your silver, as using a heavy hand or storing it incorrectly can damage the finish. With the help of cleaning experts Beth Walker and Zeynep Mehmetoglu, we’ve put together a complete guide to help you clean and polish silver.
Meet the Expert
- Beth Walker is the president of Oexning Silversmiths, specializing in cleaning, repairing, and refinishing silverware.
- Zeynep Mehmetoglu is the co-owner of Maid Bright.
How to Clean Silver-Plated or Sterling Silver
- Warm water
- Non-citrus liquid soap
- 100% cotton flour sack cloth
- Silver polish
- Natural bristle brush
Step 1: Wash Silver in Warm Water
Using warm water and a non-citrus-based liquid soap, wash your silver to remove any debris. “Keep in mind that some silver items, like vanity sets, pieces with mirrors, and weighted items, should not be immersed in water,” Walker says.
Step 2: Dry the Silver
With a 100% cotton flour sack cloth, dry your silver but try to avoid terry cloth, as the loops in the fiber can leave excess moisture on the silver, according to Walker.
Step 3: Use a Quality Silver Polish
Next, use quality silver polish to coat the item. Once dry, use a cloth to buff and polish the silver.
Step 4: Remove the Polish
Use a natural bristle brush to remove any leftover polish that may be in the crevices of your silver. “I do not recommend a toothbrush, as the nylon bristles can scratch the silver,” Walker says.
Step 5: Spot Clean
If there are any stubborn spots left, try using a multi-metal polish, like Simichrome All Metal Polish, Walker recommends.
Try not to polish silver-plated items too aggressively, as they may get damaged.
How to Clean Silver with Baking Soda
- Aluminum pan
- Baking soda
- Boiling water
- Polishing cloth
Step 1: Put Silver in an Aluminum Pan
Use a deep aluminum pan that can fit all the silver pieces you need to clean. “If you don’t have an aluminum baking pan, use a deep container and line it with aluminum foil,” Mehmetoglu says.
Step 2: Create Mixture with Boiling Water and Baking Soda
Boil a gallon of water, then add one cup of baking soda to the container along with the boiling water. A reaction will occur and the mixture will start to fizz.
Step 3: Add Silver and Let It Soak
Add your silver and let it sit for five to ten minutes. Turn over the items with tongs every few minutes, allowing each to come in contact with the aluminum.
Step 4: Dry and Polish Silver
After sitting in the solution, you should be able to remove the tarnish easily. “If the pieces are still tarnished, you can polish them with a Scotch-Brite scouring pad or polishing cloth,” Mehmetoglu notes.
Cleaning Silver with Other Home Remedies
For a quick, at-home solution to polishing silver, there are a few items you can use that you most likely already own. You can use plain, solid-colored toothpaste and a microfiber cloth to polish your silver. You can also use corn starch to polish silver by mixing it with water to create a paste. Use a cloth to add the paste to tarnished spots, let it dry, then clean off with a cloth.
If you want to use toothpaste or corn starch to polish silver, spot test before using it on the entire item to make sure it’s not too abrasive and that it doesn’t scratch the silver.
How to Prevent Silver from Getting Tarnished
When it comes to cutlery, the best way to keep silver from tarnishing is to use it, according to Walker. When your silver isn’t in use, store it in anti-tarnish cloth bags or individually in clean tissue paper away from direct sunlight. Mehmetoglu suggests not using velvet, wool, or cotton felt bags to store your silver, as they may tarnish your items.
For silver décor, you may have to polish more frequently. If it is stored in a display cabinet, you can add activated carbon paper or camphor blocks to your shelves to help preserve the shine, according to Mehmetoglu.
“One other option is to have the pieces lacquered, but we only recommend that for items like light fixtures or pieces that will not be used with foods, liquids, or heat,” Walker says. “Once an item is clear coated, it should remain shiny and tarnish-free for years, but the lacquer renders it non-usable, so it should be used for decorative items only.”
Try to avoid storing silver with plastic wrap, as it may stain the silver as it breaks down over time.