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!
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