Since ancient times, silver has been a valuable precious metal that has been, and continues to be, used in several applications, including dining utensils and jewelry. It is beautiful, strong and relatively lightweight. However, its beauty does not last forever except under extremely sterile conditions, so it’s important to know how to clean silver to keep it sparkling like new.
When it comes into contact with oxygen, silver goes through a chemical reaction that produces silver sulfide, making the metal tarnish over time. Nowadays, special cleaners are available for purchase in which silver can be dipped to strip it of its tarnish, but these cleaners contain harsh and harmful chemicals that are not always listed on the packaging. One aspect of these chemical cleaners, however, is that the manufacturers want you to wear gloves while using them, and sometimes even masks are required.
Using chemical silver cleaners can be both expensive and dangerous, but fortunately, there are alternatives. People didn’t just let their silver tarnish in the past before chemical cleaners were invented. There were several great methods of cleaning silver that can still be used today.
How to Clean Silver With Soap & Water
Sometimes, the simplest methods concerning how to clean silver work the best, so it is always recommended to first try the old standby: soap and warm water. Even if you are planning on using one of the other methods listed below, always wash your silver pieces before starting. This will remove any dirt and grime that could get in the way of a good polish. For the top results, look for a dishwashing soap or detergent that includes neither phosphates nor ammonia.
Mix the soap with warm water until suds form. Then, lightly dampen a soft cloth that can be wiped over the silver without scratching it. Because scratches can be nearly impossible to get out without professional help, never use a scratch pad or other rough cloth. The softer it is, the better. After wiping, rinse the piece in warm water to remove any soap residue, and set it somewhere to air dry.
If soap and water work adequately – congratulations. You have done everything you need to do for a simple cleaning without chemicals. If there is still some tarnish on your silverware or jewelry, then it is time to take the next step by using one of the following methods.
Some silver owners swear by using toothpaste and a soft toothbrush to clean their tarnished items. This method is not always recommended for fine silverware and expensive jewelry because many types of toothpaste contain abrasives that can scratch the silver. To reduce the danger, try using a gel rather than a paste, and make sure that you are using a toothbrush with very soft bristles. To help reduce damage, it is also necessary to use a toothpaste that does not contain any additional whiteners, tartar control agents or baking soda.
Apply the gel toothpaste directly to the piece of silver you would like to clean. Then, gently rub the toothpaste into the metal with the toothbrush until a foam forms. Let the piece sit for a minute or two before rinsing it under warm, running water. Finally, pat the jewelry or silverware dry with a paper towel. As an additional warning, do not try this method unless none other is available to you. The risk of scratching is high, but it does work. In addition, do not reuse the toothbrush on your teeth. Set it aside for the sole purpose of cleaning silver.
Beer may not be the best method for cleaning silver, but it works for mildly tarnished pieces. Pour the beer into a bowl, and use it to dampen a soft cloth. Rub the cloth over the silver several times before rinsing it with another cloth that has been dampened with warm water. The silver can then be air dried or dried with a paper towel.
In a pinch, ordinary, culinary ketchup can be employed to clean silver. The vinegar and the acids in the ketchup will dissolve tarnish after only a couple of minutes. All you have to do is put a generous amount of this condiment into a dish. Then, submerge the piece in the ketchup. You can use a soft-bristled toothbrush to help get the ketchup into any nooks or crannies. Do not let the silver sit in the ketchup for more than two or three minutes because excessive soaking can cause some minor damage. After the time has elapsed, simply remove the silver, and rinse it under water until it is completely clean. Dry it off with a paper towel or soft cloth.
One of the easiest and mildest ways to clean silver, after soap and water, is to use plain, old soda water. With this method, just pour a cup full of club soda, insert the silver into the cup and let it sit overnight. While it doesn’t work for tough tarnishes, it will help clean lightly tarnished silver. It will also safely clean precious gemstones, including emeralds, sapphires, rubies and diamonds.
How to Clean Silver With Ammonia
Ammonia is a household product used for many purposes, but one purpose few people know about is cleaning silver. Straight ammonia is too strong for cleaning silver, so you will want to mix half a cup of white vinegar with one cup of warm water. Soak your silver in the solution for about 10 minutes and no longer. Then, wipe clean with a soft cloth. It is important to note that, unlike club soda, ammonia cannot be used with gemstones or pearls. It could dull the surfaces, requiring expensive restoring efforts to get them back to their original luster.
Alka-Seltzer is the popular name brand of an effervescent antacid drink. It most commonly comes in the form of tablets that dissolve in tap water to create a fizzy liquid. With this method, place the silver in a glass. Be sure it is made of actual glass. Pour the recommended amount of water over the silver in the glass. Then, add two tablets of original Alka-Seltzer. Wait until the tablets stop fizzing to remove the piece of silver. If it is not yet clean, it can go back into the glass for two minutes.
Lemon Juice and Olive Oil
Another quick method for cleaning silver is to use a combination of lemon juice and olive oil. Take a half cup of lemon juice, and add one teaspoon of olive oil. Mix the solution well, and dip a soft cloth into it. Wring out the cloth until it no longer drips. Then, use it to wipe the silver clean. Rinse the oil off the silver in warm running water, and polish it with a dry cloth.
How To Clean Silver With Baking Soda
Baking soda is a great product for cleaning silver. All that is required is a tablespoon of baking soda made into a paste with a small amount of warm water. Keep it thick enough to hold its form and prevent the solution from dripping. Put a pea-sized dollop of the paste onto a soft-bristled toothbrush, and rub it into the silver. After a little scrubbing, rinse the paste away in warm, running water before setting it out to dry.
Rubbing alcohol works well for cleaning tarnished silver, but it is too strong on its own. Mix one part rubbing alcohol into four parts water. Insert the silver into the alcohol solution, and let it sit for two minutes. Alternatively, you can use a soft cloth dipped in the solution to wipe clean the piece of jewelry or silverware. Rinse the piece in warm water to remove the alcohol solution before letting it dry.
This is the most complex method for cleaning silver without nasty chemicals, but it is also the most effective because it uses a simple chemical reaction to transfer the tarnish from the silver onto a sheet of aluminum foil. For this method, you will need the following ingredients:
- A 1-foot-square sheet of clean aluminum foil
- 1 tablespoon of baking soda
- 1 tablespoon of sea salt
- ½ cup of white vinegar
- 1 cup of boiling water
You will want to start this method by boiling a pot of water. While you wait for it to boil, line a shallow bowl with the aluminum foil so that the shiny side is facing upwards. Next, shake the salt and baking soda over the aluminum foil. Then, slowly add the vinegar. The baking soda will react with the vinegar and begin to vigorously fizz.
As the mixture is fizzing, mix it with a fork or whisk until the dry ingredients are fully dissolved. This will prevent the baking soda and salt from scratching your silver. Add the boiling water. Then, carefully place your silver in the bowl so that it is touching the foil. Let it sit for ten minutes. After ten minutes, using salad tongs, flip over the silver, and let it sit another ten minutes. Finally, remove the silver with the tongs, and gently polish it with a soft cloth. Microfiber works best.
Keep Your Silver Clean
Once you have learned how to clean silver by applying one of the methods above, you will want to ensure it stays clean and free of tarnish. There are several methods available for doing this, but that’s for another time.
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