Silver Cleaning

Getting Holiday Ready – Polishing Silver

Last Christmas we were maintaining our pandemic distance – trying to do the right thing! We had a small Christmas day and dinner with just five of us. It would be lovely to have more this year, but we are learning to take things as they come!

Set of 2 Plain Sterling Candlesticks

When our Covid cases lightened up a little bit here, we were overjoyed to able to meet some of our children’s new “significant others” and even to have a couple over for Canadian Thanksgiving Dinner. Now that I have more time on my hands I am learning to pay attention to the little details – like putting out the good china, linens and silver for special occasions – and even the every day. What is the point of having fancy things if we don’t use them?

Unpacking the Storage Unit

When we recently listed our house for sale, we had our house staged and put lots of things in storage. Then we got a little frustrated with the real estate market and decided to wait for a bit – and so we closed up shop and brought everything back from storage.

Storage Unit
Our storage unit

What did William Morris Say?

Instead of unpacking everything, I am emptying or sorting one box per day. I am currently sorting the silver serving pieces and silverware. I am trying to identify just what I would use for a family dinner or party, or what I really love to look at myself.

Some of my silver collection - gravy boat, Peruvian Silver Vase, Candle Holders, Butter Dish
Some of the selected items – butter dish, gravy boat, a favourite Peruvian vase, and some candleholders

Wait a minute! That sounds familiar……… I realize that I am following that William Morris quotation….”Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”.

William Morris age 53.jpg
William Morris – British Textile Designer, Artist, Poet, Novelist – probably wondering why my silver looks tarnished.

So, since William Morris said so – I’ve whittled my on display collection down to silver candlesticks, gravy boat, butter dish, my favourite vase, trivets, casserole dish holders, cutlery and serving pieces. The rest are back in their boxes – I just can’t purge them, sorry! I don’t think Mr. Morris would approve.

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One of the reasons silver is less popular these days, is that it tarnishes when exposed to air, and requires cleaning. Who wants to do more cleaning? I don’t really mind as long as it’s easy! So I experimented with some products and some “hacks” to see what works on the items that I plan to use in the next few months.

Why does Silver Tarnish?

What causes silver to tarnish? I always thought that tarnish was the result of oxygen mixing with silver to form a rust or sorts. Silver tarnish is actually formed when sulfur containing substances in the air mix with the silver to form silver sulfide – which is – HORRORS – black. Hydrogen sulfide in our households is actually the culprit.

Is there sulfur in my air? Well I guess there must be. Hydrogen sulfide is a gas that has that rotten eggs odor. If there is enough inhaled it is actually toxic, but in small quantities it’s just faintly stinky. It can come from rotting produce and other organic matter, hard boiled eggs, bad breath, and even flatulence! It also can be a result from pollution, smoke, or even worse – volcanoes, leaking sewer gases or leaking natural gas.

I’m going to imagine that my silver tarnishes because I make egg salad alot, and assume it’s nothing to do with flatulence…..

Max
Max’s aura couldn’t be causing my silver to tarnish

Does Purer Silver Tarnish less?

I have Sterling Silver cutlery which is 92.5% silver and some of my grandfather’s Silver Plate cutlery – which seems to be always badly tarnished. I was curious as to whether the lower silver % results in more tarnishing – and apparently the answer is yes! Pure silver apparently doesn’t tarnish – but it’s too soft to use in dishes and cutlery. I do have some old Peruvian silver pieces – which I rarely polish – so that explains it!

Silver Storage

When I packed my silver away in storage – I wrapped many pieces in newspaper – that was a mistake as newspaper contains sulfur! Also, when I store my silver pieces in a cabinet or case – they tarnish less, because there is less air circulation and household “pollution” exposure.

You can buy strips of tarnish preventers – these strips absorb the sulfur when stored with the silver. These ones are by Hagerty, and can be placed in an enclosed case or cabinet with silver to reduce tarnishing for up to 6 months.

Hagerty Silver Protection Strips
Hagerty Silver Protection Strips

Testing Five Silver Polishing at-home Hacks

There are many products available for silver polishing but you can also try these Five DIY methods, with things that you may have at home already. I have tried them all, with varying success!

Coca Cola

Coke Zero and a tarnished silver tray
Coke Zero and a tarnished silver tray

Yes, Coca Cola is one of those methods of cleaning silver that you see on the internet. It does work a little, with any type of Coke, because Coke is a little bit acidic. The acid reacts with the tarnish to remove it somewhat. I tested this on a darkened platter. I poured some Coke Zero on a portion of the platter and let it sit for five minutes, then I polished the area with a soft cloth. I found that this worked “a little bit” with a fair bit of polishing. To me it’s not really worth the time and effort!

I tested a puddle of Coke on a tarnished silver platter
I tested a puddle of Coke on a tarnished silver platter
After the Coke, I polished with a soft cloth – and there is a small improvement – just slightly to the right and below the cloth

Vinegar

Vinegar is also acidic, and I did a puddle test on another area on the same platter. I had a similar result as for the Coca Cola – so I would not bother with this in the future. I use vinegar to clean a lot of household surfaces, but would be concerned that this might “pit” my silver as well.

I tested a puddle of white vinegar on a tarnished platter and found only a small improvement
I tested a puddle of white vinegar on a tarnished platter and found only a small improvement

Toothpaste

If you don’t have any silver polish or if you want to avoid using smelly silver polish chemicals, plain original Colgate or Crest Toothpaste – not the gel, or any of the fancy varieties – will do the trick for a basic tarnish. I can’t say that it works on heavy duty tarnish – but it will work in a pinch. Just apply a little of the paste – spread it and after a few minutes – wipe away the toothpaste with a soft cloth. This works – and was much more successful than the Coke and Vinegar – also my kitchen smelled toothpastey-fresh!

A little dab of toothpaste
A little dab of toothpaste
Rub the paste around – and it does have a silver polishing effect!

Magic Erasers

While not technically for polishing silver, Mr. Clean Magic Erasers can help wipe away tarnish on silver. Just dampen the Magic Eraser (yes those no-name ones work too), and wipe off light tarnish marks. This does work, and is worth a try, if you have them on hand – but for heavy duty tarnish, I stick to the tried and true silver polishes. The Magic Eraser removed tarnish, but with more forceful polishing!

Vinegar puddle to the left, Magic Eraser to the right

In my platter test, the toothpaste and Magic Eraser both worked!

Mixed results - toothpaste at the upper middle, and Magic Eraser bottom left had best results.  Vinegar upper left and Coke upper right weren't as successful but worked a little
Mixed results – toothpaste at the upper middle, and Magic Eraser bottom left had best results. Vinegar upper left and Coke upper right weren’t as successful but worked a little

Aluminum Foil, Hot Water and Baking Soda

My husband is always asking why there is no aluminum foil or baking soda in our house. The secret is that I love to use them for fast silver polishing. In a clean kitchen sink, I lay foil down all around – lay out my silver cutlery on top – sprinkle with baking soda – and then turn on my extremely hot water. (My water heater is turned up a little too high – but it works for us). I let it sit for a few minutes and voila – much of the tarnish is gone. (and then my kitchen smells like sulfur!)

I find that this works best on pieces that are directly touching the aluminum foil. So some parts of the silver pieces lose their tarnish and some don’t. Then I move the pieces around – and sometimes I shape the foil around the silver pieces. I add more foil, more baking soda – and then things come a long a little better. (That’s why there is no foil or baking soda when we need it).

This works well on my lightly tarnished sterling cutlery pieces – I can do the whole set – with a few repeats. I don’t find it works well on my very tarnished, very detailed curvy pieces of silver plate. For these, I resort to polish.

Silver Polishing – A Fun Science Project

This process is fun science though! You are actually reversing the chemical reaction that created the tarnish. The aluminum is more attractive to the sulfur than the silver, so the hot water and baking soda help the sulfur atoms to transfer to the aluminum leaving the silver intact. The silver and the foil have to touch each other for the reaction to take place because there is actually a small electric flow taking place.

I am told the correct method is to use one cup of baking soda to 1 gallon of boiling water, mix it together and then pour over the aluminum and silver. As I said, I just use super hot water, and sprinkle my baking soda liberally over the pieces – and throw in the hot water. It’s OK to use the no-name aluminum foil for this too.

Three Store Bought Silver Polishes

Silver Polish Review
Silver pieces and silver polish

Silvo

I have always used Silvo Silver Polish for my polishing, and it works. It’s a smelly creamy mixture that you apply to the silver, let sit and then polish off with a soft cloth. I am not fond of the liquid texture, that clumps up when it’s been opened a few times. It’s just a little messy for me – but it works well.

Weiman Silver Wipes

I bought these the other day, and I do find them handy for light tarnish cleanup. The solution is already on the wipe, and you can polish 2 to 4 pieces with each wipe, seal the canister up and put it away. I will keep these on hand for a occasional mid-sized cleanup.

Peek Paste

This paste has the consistency of toothpaste – I put a small dab on the silver, wiped it around, let it sit for a minute or two and then polished each piece. I felt that this was the most powerful of all the methods, and I used it to finish up everything! It’s smelly like Silvo, but the paste texture was the easiest to work with.

There are quite a few other silver cleaners on the market including Hagerty and Twinkle. In Canada they are generally available from Walmart, Canadian Tire, Lowes, Home Hardware – and other stores that stock cleaning products, but no one store seems to have all of the products. It’s definitely “hit and miss”, but worth the search.

After polishing all of my pieces I washed them all with some soap and water to clean off the chemicals – and dried and polished them immediately. Then I set them up around my dining room, where they will start to tarnish again!

I’m thinking now that I’ve set my table maybe we should celebrate American Thanksgiving as well! Let’s hope for happier holidays this year!

5 thoughts on “Getting Holiday Ready – Polishing Silver

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