My grandmother told me many years ago that the best way to keep silver shiny is to use it regularly. Turns out she is right, however most of us keep it stored away for special occasions only to pull it out and find it covered in tarnish.
So why does it tarnish in the first place? How do you clean it naturally – without commercial chemical-laden products? And what is the best way to store it to avoid tarnish in the first place?
Why silver tarnishes
- Silver tarnishes because of oxidisation – but it is not caused by oxygen exposure. Tarnish develops due to the presence of hydrogen sulfide in the air or in any materials that come into contact with the silver.¹
- Unlike rust, tarnish is a ‘self-limiting’ patina, affecting only the top few layers and ultimately protecting the metal.² While this is good news overall, it is not particularly pretty. It can cause more damage on silver-plated items that only have a thin layer of silver.
3 ways to clean silver naturally
Give it a spa bath
- What you need: aluminum foil, baking soda (bi-carb), boiling water
- Method: Place a sheet of aluminum foil, shiny side up in a large bowl. Place tarnished silver on foil, pour over boiling water, sprinkle over a good quantity of baking soda – at least a few Tbsp.
- Watch as the tarnish moves from the silver to the foil. Repeat again as necessary.
- Once clean, remove from solution, wash well in warm soapy water and buff dry with a soft cloth.
- Pros: Fancy chemistry magic will thrill the kids. Great for silver with fine filigree or tight corners.
- Cons: Smells like sulfur. Not a good method for jewelry with gemstones, or pieces that should not be exposed to boiling water.
Make it minty fresh
- What you need: natural/organic toothpaste (not gel), soft cloth
- Method: Use your finger to spread a small dab of toothpaste on the tarnished area.
- Rub gently with your finger or a soft cloth. Repeat as necessary.
- Rinse well and buff dry with a soft cloth. The hideously tarnished forks in the above image were cleaned in less than a minute with this method.
- Pros: Quick and easy, even removes tough spots caused by rubber-bands. Great use for those almost empty tubes of toothpaste.
- Cons: The professionals hate this method and warn that it can scratch your silver. How well it works depends on the type of toothpaste you use. Hard to clean fine filigree or tight corners.
- What you need: baking soda (bi-carb), hot water, soft sponge
- Method: Wet sponge with hot water and squeeze out, sprinkle a tsp or two of baking soda onto the sponge.
- Rub tarnished silver gently until clean. Repeat as necessary.
- Wash with warm soapy water and buff dry with a soft cloth
- Pros: Everyone has baking soda in their cupboard.
- Cons: Can be abrasive on your silver. Takes a bit of elbow grease to remove tough stains. Tarnish tends to return rather quickly.
5 ways to protect your silver from tarnish
Keep it dry
- You know those little ‘do not eat’ sachets and capsules that come in everything from shoes to vitamins? Instead of throwing them out toss them in with your silver to absorb moisture. Replace every now and then.
- Chalk also absorbs moisture, a stick or two in with your silver will work wonders.
Acid is bad, sulfur is really bad
- Acid will both tarnish and eat away at your silver – this is especially bad for silver plate.
- Avoid acidic foods like lemon juice and vinegar.
- Avoid foods with sulfur such as eggs, mustard and onions.
- Do not wrap your silver in rubber or latex as these can react badly and even eat away at the metal. Storing a set of silver forks with a rubber-band around them – worst.idea.ever.
- Wool can also cause a chemical reaction. Use soft cotton or felt-lined storage boxes.
- Don’t store your silver with other metals such as stainless steel or aluminum.
- I store the silver plate cutlery that I use for shooiting in tall glass jars with some of those afformentioned moisture absorbing packets dropped into the bottom — works a treat until something is taller than the jar, in which case only the bit poking out tarnishes!
Wash by hand
- A dishwasher is the equivalent of Voldemort to silver and the chemicals in dishwasher detergents can corrode the metal.
- Wash by hand with gentle dish soap and dry with a soft cloth.
Use it or lose it
- Using silver regularly keeps it tarnish free so take it out of the drawer and use it for a Tuesday night dinner or lazy Sunday lunch just because you can.
So there you have it! Simple, natural ways to both clean your silver and protect it, because everything tastes better when eaten from a shiny silver spoon.
Do you have any top tips we’ve missed? Share them in the comments below!
Noted references: ¹Kai Jewels, ²Wikipedia – Tarnish
This post originally appeared on Seasonal Sunday Lunch, however I haven’t updated that site for a while and, as I run both, things are slowly being migrated over here instead. Diversify, consolidate, then do it all again, ha! ~ JJ
Sara (Belly Rumbles) says
Awesome tips, very very useful. Can you guys do on on brass now 🙂
SSL Editor says
Thanks Sara, toothpaste is brilliant for brass too!
Ouch! Ouch! Toothpaste is far too abrasive. If you have silver or silver plate just buy Hagerty’s Silver Foam. It is supplied with a small sponge that simply washes clean in water (as do your hands).
recently picked up some older silver plate at an antique store — the felt lined box had about 20 or so bay leaves – and the silver looked like it had been polished yesterday (based on the rest of the store, it had not)…anybody ever heard of bay leaves protecting against tarnish?
Thanks for posting info, saved hours of boredom & frustration!
Can anyone here advise me if this is true –
Aluminium Baking Soda and Salt in hot water and if we put the silver items in this solution in contact with Aluminium foil, is this good for silver items??? I heard it takes of some silver??
SSL Editor says
Adding salt is a variation on the first method above. As mentioned tarnish actually takes off the top few layers of silver so removing tarnish ultimately removes silver. Best bet is to get it clean as gently as possible and then keep it that way.
It is true. The metal will change in to oxide and you can’t put it back. More you polish it, less metal is left.I heard, that there is on the market oily sabstence, that will slow down the oxidisation proces
Anyone have ideas on how to use silver to store sea salt with minimal damage to container?
SSL Editor says
Hi Eitan – it’s pretty much an impossible task as sea salt will erode the silver pretty badly. Best bet is to line the container with something, either a thick plastic bag or a painted-on layer of sealant (but painting something on will compromise the value of it in the long run!)
I know mixing stainless and silverplate in the same dishwasher basket is bad news, but is it okay for them to touch each other in a kitchen drawer? We just acquired some silverplated grapefruit spoons to add to our stainless ones. Thanks!
SSL Editor says
They shouldn’t really be stored together however if you are using them regularly it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. The bigger issue is that the acid in citrus juice is horrible for silver and will theoretically eat away at the plate over time.
Why are you putting it in dishwasher?? Pretty sure thats a NO NO
Caren Parker says
I have amazing silver rings but I don’t ware them any more because they are covered with tarnish. Thanks for the incredible ideas! Regards!
I just bought a beautiful 40’s set of Rogers silverplate flatware. I want to banish the stainless steel and use the s/p daily. Will I damage it by keeping it in a regular kitchen drawer (wood)? I will only wash it by hand, dry it thoroughly, and keep some tarnish-inhibitor paper and moisture absorber in the drawer with it. It is a small drawer, so the flatware will be stacked. I hope I don’t need to keep a large silverware chest on the counter, but will if the s/p will not fare well in the kitchen drawer. Thanks for your advice and tips and sharing, everyone.
I have silver horse tack, can it be cleaned and then oiled with some type of natural oil to protect it from the air, then wiped off when ready to use?
Hi I am trying the spa bath for my tarnished silver Do you put the silver upside down so it comes into contact with the aluminum foil did not work the first time and no sulfur smell
Your baking soda may have been too old or water not hot enough.
i just tried this method, used a box of b.soda i had in the fridge. it worked great. there wasnt a whole lot of tarnish, but it did remove what was there!
I read that silver can be kept in bags to prevent tarnishing; has anyone stored it in a zip bag w/ an anti-tarnish piece?
Hi Susan, as tarnish is caused by elements in the air keeping it in bags (or even jars) will certainly work. I used chalk or moisture absorption packets as anti-tarnish.
carol eaglin says
does anyone know what in those little anti tarnish bags?? just curious
Hi Carol, I’ve never seen them so can’t be much more help! ~ JJ
tom parnell says
I sprinkle mustard seed in the drawer to keep my 50 year old silverware that i use daily, to keep them tarnish free. I replace the seed every five years or so. The seed absorbs the bad stuff. My silver polish is used very very seldom. My grandmother knew a thing or two!
Many of us find ourselves neglecting all the beautiful silver pieces in our jewelry boxes for one simple, annoying reason: tarnish. I think ‘do not eat’ sachets and capsules idea is the best, keeping it dry will help silver keep it’s polish for longer time.
What about placing your silver inside a felt bag and then putting it is a plastic bag to keep air air out? WIll the plastic hurt it?
1.Wraped by polythene cover, use cellotape then silver would not tarnish for long years.
2. Buy silver purity above 97 % (only available on small towns like Kumbakonam, karaikudi in Tamil nadu)wouldn’t tarnish.
Then they lied about the silver content and it was probably very low. Even.999 silver tarnishes.
The anti tarnish strips with activated carbon or activated carbon is probably your best bet for keeping tarnish away.
Harpreet Singh says
Amazing post. Valuable information.
I use diatomaceous earth, it cleans silver quickly and easily. I buy it online, food grade. Kills ants and bugs also!
I used that in my swimming pool filters too
How do you use the diatomaceous earth to clean silver? I have some that I’m no longer using, so I may as well utilize it.
Instead of plastic bags to seal the cleaned silver, can we use Plastic Wrap?
tammy s says
i was always told to take clear finger nail palish and wipe it on your silver jewerly to keep it from tarnishing
I have a weird question instead of using a sheet of aluminum foil can you use a disposable aluminum pan and baking soda to clean your silver?