Silver is a beautiful, versatile metal, and its soft luster adds a touch of elegance to 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.
Clean your silver often, and clean it 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 (not hot) water with a gentle, phosphate-free detergent.
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• 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. (Unlike the pictures you will see here, where rubber gloves were worn) 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.
Polish your silver. When tarnish develops on 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.
• Moisten a soft silver-polishing cloth or the sponge included with the silver polish and take a little bit of polish.
• Rub the silver only in straight-line, back-and-forth motions (not in circles). Avoid scrubbing; rather, let the polish do the job.
• Rinse the silver under running water.
• Dry the silver completely with a soft, clean cloth.
Consider using common household products for less rare or less valuable pieces. They will usually work, but may cause damage. Try them at your own risk.
• Toothpaste: 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. In any case, be very gentle, and if you notice scratching at any point, stop and rinse the toothpaste off.
WARNING from silver conservation specialist Jeff Herman: Toothpaste should NEVER be used 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.
• 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 (not hot) water and dry with a soft towel.
• Baking soda. Baking soda may remove stubborn tarnish, but don't use it unless you don't mind the risk of damaging the silver. Baking soda is generally considered too abrasive for use on silver.
• Make a paste of baking soda and warm water.
• Gently polish following the directions for toothpaste above.
Give your silver a bath. Commercial silver "dips" are available which can dissolve stains without rubbing the silver. Contrary to what the word "dip" implies, professionals rarely actually soak silver in these products, at least not for long. Dips are generally harsh, potentially dangerous chemicals (both to the silver and to yourself), so follow the directions carefully and consult a professional when in doubt. You can, however, make a gentle homemade silver bath that gets rid of stains and tarnish by an electrochemical reaction. Be aware that both dipping and electrochemical baths can potentially damage your silver, and they will remove desirable patina, so they're not recommended for silver with an oxidized or French gray finish.
• Heat up an appropriately sized container of water and dissolve 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. Washing Soda (such as Arm and Hammer) works as well.
• Shape a liner for the container from aluminum foil and place the foil in the container of hot water (danger--do not touch the hot water!).
• Place silver that has been previously cleaned with soap into the bath (inside of the foil) for several minutes. Tarnish should dissolve away.
• For stubborn spots, remove and clean with soap and a damp rag before reimmersing in the bath.
• Warning: This will remove any tarnish, even the antique-y ones. Dispose of salt water down the drain after cooling. This is a simple reaction between the aluminum metal and the silver sulfide (tarnish). The table salt acts as an electrolyte to allow the reaction to happen.
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. For silverware, 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. Whether you put away your silver in a bag or you put it in a display case, 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.
The best method i have found for cleaning silver, is to soak it in a cup of either 7up or coca cola, but for the best result use 7up the acid in it kills the dirt and leaves it shining beautiful, without damaging the silver!
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• Don't put silver in the dishwasher! Yes, it's possible to put silver in the dishwasher without any ill effects, but only if you do everything just right and you're lucky. Just don't chance it. It's also worth considering that the desirable patina that can develop on silver is encouraged by gentle friction, which hand washing will provide but which the dishwasher will not.
• Avoid wearing silver jewelry in swimming pools. The chlorine can damage the silver in a short time.
• To polish silver with intricate etchings and deep crevices, you may use a soft-bristled toothbrush. Wet the b