Caring for Your Silver
By Jen Brestel
Indeed, properly polished silver is a tradition in many Southern homes, and it would be considered gauche to use tarnished silver. And many of us are fearful to use our wedding gifts or family heirlooms because of the dreaded upkeep. However, this is a common misconception; with proper care, your
silver will sparkle and shine with very little upkeep. In fact, the more often silver pieces are used, the better they’ll look.
Proper Silver Care
For day-to-day cleaning of your silver, the Society of American Silversmiths recommends using a non-lemon scented phosphate-free detergent, and hand-drying with a cotton cloth immediately.
If these steps are taken, you should have
very little polishing in your future.
However, when your sterling or silver
plate acquires yellow or black tarnish
spots, you’ll need to clean the silver with
either a silver polish (such as Wright’s
Silver Cream, Twinkle Silver Polish or
3-M’s Tarni-Shield Silver Polish—all found in local hardware stores) or by concocting a homemade cleaner using baking soda and hot water. To determine the best method to clean your silver, first answer these questions:
Does it have hollow areas (beaded rims, handles)?
Are there intricate designs that would look better with a patina?
Does the item have a porous attachment (ivory, wood, felt or a finial) that needs to be protected
during the cleaning process?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you should use a commercial silver polish, a white cotton or Selvyt (100 percent lint-free cotton) cloth, cotton balls and a dry horsehair brush (to remove any dirt or grime). You do not want to submerge your item in hot water or any type of solution that may cause damage. Also take care to protect the porous attachment during the
Silver Polish Tips
The first step, when polishing with a cream, is to rinse and/or brush the item to remove any dirt or grime. Apply cream sparingly with a damp sponge or cloth, using a back-and-forth motion (not
circular). Frequently rinse your sponge until the tarnish and polish are removed; only reapply more polish if necessary. Rinse and dry immediately with a cotton cloth.
Although using silver polish is the preferred cleaning method due to its non-abrasive nature, in a pinch you might consider one of these methods:
Aluminum Method: Line the bottom of a baking pan with aluminum or use a disposablealuminum roasting pan. Place your items on the bottom of the pan, making certain that no two items
are touching and that all pieces are touching the aluminum. Liberally sprinkle fresh baking soda (about one cup, but you can use more) and a small amount of salt (one teaspoon over the articles, then slowly add boiled water. Enjoy your science experiment by observing the tarnish vanish as the solution bubbles. When the water cools and the bubbling has ceased (about 30 minutes), remove
items and wipe dry.
Baking Soda Paste Method: Make a paste of baking soda and water. Place paste on a clean, soft cellulose sponge and rub the cream into the item. If there is a lot of tarnish, leave the paste on for an hour; otherwise, immediately rinse with hot water and dry.
If your item has heavy black tarnish or has been through a flood, take it to a silver restorer for a chemical dip, as this method will be the most effective in achieving the article’s original finish. Do not try a dip at home; leave it to the professionals!
Words of Caution
Do not use rubber gloves under any circumstances; rubber reacts with silver and will leave marks. To protect your hands while cleaning, wear cotton or nitrile gloves.
Although you will find online resources touting the ease and cleaning power of toothpaste, it should never be used as a cleaner. The chemicals in the paste can be too abrasive for your sterling or silver plate. Some people recommend using your dishwasher to clean your finery. However, be warned that the dishwasher is not recommended by the Society of American Silversmiths. The heat and detergents can damage the silver over time; hollow handles will loosen, patina will be lost, and the silver will eventually “whiten.” If you choose this method, do not mix stainless silver and sterling silver in the basket; if these two touch, there may be permanent damage to the ware.
Certain substances are inherently harmful to silver: table salt, eggs, vinegar, mayonnaise, onions, fruit and flower juices, wool, rubber bands, latex, and felt. If any of these substances touches your
silver, clean it immediately. Avoid the urge to use steel wool or scouring pads to scrub away a tarnish spot; these items are too scratchy for the delicate nature of silver. If a spot is so severe, take it to the silver restorer.
Storing your Gleaming Goods
Moisture can cause tarnish, so it is important to keep your silver stored properly after your hard work. Wrap your cutlery or other items in flannel cloths, tarnish paper or acid-free paper. Avoid using newspaper, cling wrap or even rubber bands as they too can cause discoloration and tarnishing.
After wrapping the pieces, place them in an airtight plastic bag with an anti tarnish strip, which will absorb tarnish producing pollutants for up to a year. A canister of silica gel will also keep your
Nothing is prettier than shiny, gleaming silver that sparkles in the light. If you take the time to clean your silver until it twinkles, food will look more appealing and the table more beautiful. You will
delight in knowing that you are using family heirlooms and wonderful gifts to entertain family, friends and loved ones at showers, graduation parties, Mother’s Dayor even every night!