How to Clean and Polish Silver

These are a few of the polishes, soaps, cleaners, and waxes I examined. Photo: Michael Sullivan

For cleansing and sharpening

  • Nitrile gloves: Most of the professionals advocate sporting nitrile gloves while you’re cleansing and sharpening silver to stop fingerprints, which might speed up tarnish.
  • Cellulose sponges: These sponges, constituted of 100% plant-based fibers (not plastic), received’t scratch your silver and can be utilized for laundry and sharpening. We like Scotch Brite’s Ocelo Multi-Purpose Sponges.
  • A gentle dish cleaning soap: The professionals advocate utilizing citrus-free and phosphate-free dish soaps like Dawn Dishwashing Liquid.
  • Cotton balls, pads, or swabs: These are finest for making use of hand sanitizer or polish to your silver to take away tarnish.
  • Hand sanitizer: Before sharpening, all the time clear your silver with aloe-free, alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Often it’ll take away a big quantity of tarnish.
  • Silver polish: To keep away from damaging silver, use the least abrasive polish you will get. Herman’s Simply Clean or Blitz Silver Shine Polish are the most effective choices.
  • 100% cotton towels: For drying or buffing silver, we just like the absorbent Williams-Sonoma All Purpose Pantry Towels or these cheap bar mops.
  • Beeswax: You can use Burt’s Bees Beeswax Lip Balm to coat classic carbon-steel dinner-knife blades, to stop them from rusting.
  • Paper towels: These are useful for buffing porous parts (like wooden handles) or classic carbon-steel knife blades with wax (simply don’t use paper towels in your silver as a result of they are going to scratch it).

For storing

  • Sulphur-absorbing flannel rolls, baggage, or cloth: The professionals advocate utilizing Pacific Silvercloth Flatware Rolls for flatware or Zippered Storage Bags for jewellery. If you wish to show your silver, you may line the cabinets of your case with Pacific Silvercloth or Kenized SilverShield fabric.
  • Silica gel or sachets of activated charcoal: To assist take in humidity within the air, place silica gel or sachets of activated charcoal within the cupboard.
  • A conveyable filtration unit (for show instances): If you wish to show your silver in a hutch, you may place the Intercept Complete Portable Filtration Unit within the case to assist inhibit tarnish.
  • Plastic containers (for storing bigger items): We advocate the clear plastic Iris Weathertight Totes. They’re fabricated from polypropylene, a secure plastic to make use of for storing your silver.
  • Clear wax (elective): The professionals advocate utilizing Crystal Clear Paste Wax for coating parts like wooden or ivory handles, that are inclined to water injury.
  • Protective wax (elective): For silver jewellery or giant items, you may apply Renaissance Wax or Meguiar’s Quik Wax (so long as they received’t are available in contact with meals or drink); this provides a protecting layer that helps forestall tarnish.
A tarnished fork (high) and a cleaned and polished fork (backside). Photo: Michael Sullivan

Hand-washing silver flatware after a meal may take 20 to half-hour, however it’ll go quicker for those who enlist a helper who can dry the silver as you wash it. A bit of silver jewellery could take only some minutes to scrub.

The time it takes to shine silver varies relying on the quantity and dimension of the piece(s) and the severity of tarnish. Lightly tarnished items could take only some minutes to shine, however a silver tea set may take an hour or extra if it’s severely tarnished.

Photo: Michael Sullivan

Silver ought to by no means go within the dishwasher, as a result of it could actually trigger pitting or denting. The excessive warmth and harsh chemical compounds in dishwashing detergents can even trigger silver to whiten, a type of injury that requires skilled refinishing. Also keep away from utilizing something abrasive to scrub it, together with paper towels, tough sponges, scouring pads, or metal wool.

Before you begin washing, take away any rings or jewellery that would doubtlessly scratch your silver. Place a plastic container within the sink or line it with a dish towel, which is able to forestall silver from scratching for those who by chance drop it. If you wish to be further meticulous, put on nitrile gloves to guard the silver from fingerprints (pores and skin accommodates tarnish-causing oils and acids).

Wash your silver underneath heat water utilizing a cellulose sponge (which isn’t abrasive) and a gentle dish cleaning soap (one which has a impartial pH and is freed from phosphates), like citrus-free Dawn Dishwashing Liquid. Rinse the silver with water, and dry it totally with a clear cotton towel. Never let it drip-dry.

Photo: Michael Sullivan

Tarnish, or black silver sulfide, is an inevitable facet of proudly owning silver, particularly for those who’re not utilizing it usually or storing correctly. According to Jeffrey Herman, the founding father of the Society of American Silversmiths, “Silver tarnishes primarily due to particulate within the air that has acid or sulfur, which deposits itself onto a chunk.” Luckily, tarnish may be simply eliminated with polish.

Before you start sharpening your silver, lay a clear cotton towel in your work floor. As when cleansing, take away any jewellery out of your palms and, if you wish to be further cautious, put on nitrile gloves to guard the silver from tarnish-causing oils and acids in your pores and skin.

A tarnished spoon (high) and a sophisticated spoon (backside). Photo: Michael Sullivan

Before you attain for the polish, Herman recommends washing your silver with cleaning soap and water.

Next, use a cotton ball or cotton pad to use aloe-free, alcohol-based hand sanitizer to the silver, rubbing it gently over the floor (70% isopropyl alcohol additionally works, however it may be more durable to search out).

Focus on cleansing one space at a time earlier than transferring on to the following, and change to a brand new cotton ball or pad as soon as it’s dirty. You may have to make use of cotton swabs for intricate cleansing, like in between fork tines.

Rinse the silver with heat water, and dry it instantly with a cotton towel. For calmly tarnished items, chances are you’ll discover that is all it’s essential to do (which is preferable because it’s much less abrasive than utilizing polishes). If any tarnish stays, you’ll want to make use of silver polish to take away it.

There’s so much to say with regards to silver polish, however the easy recommendation is to make use of the least abrasive possibility you will get. Herman recommends utilizing both Herman’s Simply Clean (his personal product, which he developed) or Blitz Silver Shine Polish (Blitz sells Herman’s polish on its web site).

Dip a moist cellulose sponge into the polish, and gently rub it throughout the silver (this doesn’t require a lot strain). Focus on one space at a time, and keep away from eradicating the darkish patina within the crevices of ornate patterns as a result of it exhibits the element and craftsmanship of the piece. Herman suggests holding a chunk of white paper subsequent to your silver as you go, since this makes it simpler to see spots you missed.

As the sponge turns into discolored, rinse it with water and squeeze it out fully earlier than persevering with—or change to a brand new sponge as soon as it’s closely dirty. When you’re performed, rinse the silver underneath heat water and buff it dry with a clear cotton fabric (in case your silver has parts that shouldn’t get moist, like wooden or ivory handles, keep away from this and use the “dry” sharpening technique as a substitute).

For bigger silver items, like bowls or teapots, start sharpening on the outer edges and work towards the middle. Herman defined, “It’s like portray the inside of a home. You paint the entire tight areas first after which use a curler to mix every thing in.” If you want a fast tutorial, watch this video of Herman cleansing silver with hand sanitizer and polish.

If your silver will come into contact with meals, wash it after sharpening.

The two silver polishes we advocate and the sharpening strategies described above are additionally secure to make use of on gold. However, in case your silver piece consists of different metals, akin to copper or brass, chances are you’ll wish to seek the advice of an skilled earlier than sharpening.

How to take away extreme tarnish

Applying polish with a cotton ball to badly tarnished silver flatware. Photo: Michael Sullivan

If some hard-to-remove tarnish nonetheless stays after your first go, you may reapply the polish “dry” utilizing a cotton ball or pad as a substitute of a moist sponge. Then, fastidiously take away the polish with a moist sponge and/or buff it off with a clear cotton towel (Herman demonstrates this technique on this video).

You can even use this “dry” technique in case your silver has any parts that shouldn’t get moist, like wooden or ivory handles. Alternatively, Gerri Strickler, an affiliate objects conservator on the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, stated earlier than sharpening your silver, you may cowl these areas with plastic wrap to guard them.

Suzanne Amendolara, a professor of artwork at Edinboro University who has been making jewellery, holloware, and sculpture for practically 35 years, instructed us, “If you’re sporting silver jewellery each day, it stays fairly clear. I don’t suppose it’s essential to do something. I feel the place it’s actually a difficulty is while you’re storing it for durations of time.” She recommends washing jewellery in a lot the identical manner you’ll flatware, with a mix of heat water and Dawn Dishwashing Liquid and gently scrubbing it with a cellulose sponge or horsehair brush. Be cautious to not take away the manufacturing facility patina within the crevices of ornate items, because it helps these particulars stand out. Rinse the silver with water, and dry it with a cotton towel.

Polishing silver jewellery

According to Amendolara, for those who wax your silver jewellery, it’s unlikely that it’s going to tarnish, particularly if it’s saved correctly. In many instances, gentle tarnish may be eliminated with a easy wash.

If you do want to shine your jewellery, you need to use the identical technique you’d use for flatware. However, know that over time silver polishes can take away the patina of silver if it has a satin end. In most instances, common washing and rubbing with hand sanitizer ought to suffice in lieu of polish.

Never retailer silver unfastened in a drawer as a result of it’ll scratch simply and tarnish rapidly. Avoid wrapping it in newspaper or storing it in cardboard containers that aren’t acid-free.

Storing silver flatware or jewellery

Place silver-plated forks in a sulfur-absorbing flannel roll for long-term storage. Photo: Michael Sullivan

All of the specialists I spoke with stated the best possible method to retailer your silver is wrapped in sulfur-absorbing flannel. Herman recommends utilizing Pacific Silvercloth, which has been embedded with silver particles to assist neutralize hydrogen sulfide gases and different pollution within the air that trigger silver to tarnish. You should buy handled flannel rolls for flatware or baggage for jewellery, which final for about 30 years (relying in your local weather) earlier than they should be changed, based on Herman. If you begin to see tarnish in your silver, you realize it’s time to switch the flannel.

For long-term storage, place the flannel rolls or baggage in a plastic zip-top bag, like Ziploc baggage. Remove as a lot air from the bag as attainable earlier than sealing it (however don’t use a vacuum-sealer as a result of the strain may doubtlessly bend delicate items).

If you don’t wish to put money into handled flannel, which may be fairly costly, a less expensive various can be to individually wrap your silver in buffered, acid-free tissue paper and retailer it in a zip-top bag with half an anti-tarnish strip, to assist neutralize the sulfuric gases within the air. Replace the strips yearly.

Regardless of which technique you select for wrapping your silver, you too can add silica gel to the container or drawer to assist take in humidity. Herman likes silica gel that adjustments colour as soon as it’s absolutely saturated with moisture. This silica gel can also be reusable—when the gel turns clear, warmth the container within the oven at 300 °F for 3 hours—and can be utilized indefinitely. Strickler stated a sachet of activated charcoal would additionally assist take in moisture.

Storing giant items

If you wish to show bigger holloware items, like bowls or teapots, in a cupboard or hutch, Herman recommends lining the cabinets of the show case with both Kenized SilverShield fabric (which has been impregnated with a proprietary compound) or Pacific Silvercloth. In addition to attracting the hydrogen sulfide within the air, the material additionally supplies a barrier in opposition to the show case’s cabinets, which emit acids and different gases and due to this fact may additionally speed up tarnishing. Avoid utilizing wool, which may have sulfur in it and tarnish your silver.

For the absolute best protection, Herman recommends inserting Intercept’s Portable Filtration Unit in your cupboard. This battery-operated machine has a copper filter that absorbs and neutralizes tarnish-causing pollution within the air (each the filter and the batteries will should be periodically changed). You can even put silica gel or sachets of activated charcoal in your cupboard to assist take in humidity within the air.

If you’re storing your silver in a show case, you’ll must mud your silver usually. Strickler instructed us, “Dust is hygroscopic and it’ll maintain moisture to the floor. So that can trigger tarnishing and corrosion that you just don’t essentially know is going on over an extended time period.” The specialists we spoke with advocate utilizing a cotton fabric or an air bulb for dusting. Avoid utilizing feather dusters as a result of they’ll’t be cleaned, and damaged feathers can scratch your silver.

If you don’t plan to show your holloware in a case, wrap it in sulfur-absorbing flannel and retailer it in a plastic bin with silica gel.

Dinner-knife blades are usually not fabricated from sterling silver as a result of the steel is simply too tender to make use of for reducing (aside from sure smaller items like butter spreaders or sugar tongs). Most blades right now are fabricated from stainless-steel and don’t require sharpening (although the silver polishes we advocate received’t hurt the metal and can really take away fingerprints).

If you personal dinner knives that have been made earlier than 1924, they’re doubtless fabricated from carbon metal, which might rust. To forestall that, Herman recommends making use of a light-weight layer of Burt’s Bees Beeswax Lip Balm to the carbon metal (after washing and drying) and rubbing it off with a paper towel till there isn’t a residue left behind. If the carbon-steel blades are badly corroded, you may all the time have them changed with new stainless-steel blades.

The again of a worn plated-silver spoon with the bottom steel exhibiting by. Photo: Michael Sullivan

What seems to be like discoloration may very well be the bottom steel beneath the plated silver beginning to present. This injury requires skilled re-plating (yow will discover a good conservator for repairing silver in your space on the American Institute for Conservation web site). Don’t eat with such items or put on worn plated jewellery till it’s re-plated, since sure base metals are poisonous or may flip your pores and skin inexperienced (which is innocent except you’ve a severe allergy).

Don’t attempt to restore scratches or buff them out your self; to keep away from inflicting additional injury, have them repaired by knowledgeable. Refer to Herman’s web site for particular cleansing points, akin to eradicating espresso or tea stains, candle wax, or salt encrustation from silver, or contact him straight.

If you’ve heirloom sterling silver items from the pre-Colonial period by the nineteenth century, you may even see barely blotchy purple areas after sharpening, often known as firestain. Do not try and take away it as a result of you may injury the silver and diminish its worth.

Photo: Michael Sullivan

All silver polishes are abrasive to some extent, even when they declare to be “non-abrasive” on the label, so it’s essential to hunt out the gentlest polishes to increase the lifetime of your silver. Herman recommends utilizing both Herman’s Simply Clean (his personal product, which he developed) or Blitz Silver Shine Polish; he’s each of those to shine practically the entire silver he cleans, together with museum items. Herman’s Simply Clean is made utilizing the best laboratory-grade calcium carbonate, which Strickler instructed us is among the traditional go-tos for conservators. Both merchandise are non-toxic and secure to make use of on silver jewellery or silver items that can are available in contact with meals, akin to flatware or servingware (nevertheless, it is best to nonetheless rinse the silver after sharpening).

If the opposite two choices aren’t obtainable, Herman additionally recommends utilizing Scotchgard 3M Tarni-Shield Silver Polish and Twinkle Silver Polish (simply you’ll want to use a cellulose sponge as a substitute of the froth applicator that it comes with). I examined all 4 manufacturers, and so they all labored properly. The Scotchgard 3M polish had an disagreeable scent, however it was efficient.

Keep your silver away from chemical dips, akin to Tarn-X, which is able to strip it and switch it a whitish-gray (I realized this the onerous manner). Chemical dips may also take off the patina discovered within the crevices of ornate jewellery or flatware patterns, which you don’t wish to take away.

A plated silver spoon cleaned with a gentle polish that has a vibrant luster (high); a uninteresting, grayish-white silver spoon cleaned utilizing Tarn-X (backside). Photo: Michael Sullivan

All of the specialists I spoke with strongly suggested in opposition to utilizing merchandise not particularly meant for sharpening silver, akin to toothpaste, ketchup, and baking soda, or utilizing the aluminum foil method, as a result of these can completely etch or uninteresting silver. Many of those so-called “fast cleansing methods,” which you would possibly see in YouTube demos, can injury your silver, even when it’s not instantly obvious. For extra info, confer with Herman’s intensive listing of cleaners and polishes.

To add an additional layer of tarnish protection to silver, you may calmly coat items with Meguiar’s Quik Wax (so long as they received’t are available in contact with meals or drink—although the outside of a teapot or pitcher can be secure to wax). Spray or rub the wax onto the silver, and buff it off with a dry cotton fabric till it seems to be dry and freed from streaks. According to Herman, it will assist maintain your silver shiny for as much as a yr, so long as you mud it commonly.

To take away previous wax from silver, apply aloe-free, alcohol-based hand sanitizer (70% isopropyl alcohol additionally works) to the silver with cotton balls or pads. Wash and dry the piece totally earlier than making use of a contemporary coat of wax.

This is a wooden deal with after it’s been waxed and buffed. Photo: Michael Sullivan

If your silver has wooden or ivory components, you may wax these to guard them too, however with a distinct wax. Herman recommends Crystal Clear Paste Wax. In a well-ventilated area, apply a small, skinny layer of wax and rub it throughout with a cotton towel, being cautious to keep away from the silver. After a couple of minutes, buff the wax with a cotton or paper towel till it feels onerous to the contact. Repeat with one or two extra coats and permit the wax to remedy for twenty-four hours earlier than utilizing or storing the merchandise.

  1. Jeffrey Herman, a silversmith who has been working with silver for over 40 years and the founding father of the Society of American Silversmiths, telephone interviews, November 4, 12, and 20, December 10, 2020

  2. Suzanne Amendolara, professor of artwork at Edinboro University and a maker of knickknack, holloware, and sculpture for practically 35 years, telephone interview, November 6, 2020

  3. Gerri Strickler, affiliate objects conservator on the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Zoom interview, November 9, 2020

  4. Jeffrey Herman, The Care of Silver,, July 7, 2020

  5. Care of Silver (PDF), Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, March 1, 2018

  6. Cheryl Mendelson, Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House (pp. 554-557), November 4, 1999

  7. American Institute for Conservation, Caring for Your Treasures (PDF)

  8. Lyndsie Selwyn, Silver — Care and Tarnish Removal, Canadian Conservation Institute, Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2007

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