With the holidays coming up I wanted to show you a quick and easy way to clean silver.
Over the years I have bought numerous pieces of silver at thrift stores and estate sales. Some are the kind of silverware you eat with, some are pieces I use to decorate my home.
Urns, tea pots, platters, you name it.
The thrifting Gods have been very nice to me when it comes to silver plate items.
BTW, I'm going to use the terms "silver" and "silver plate" interchangeably throughout this piece, because most silver pieces you find will actually be silver plate (meaning they are actually made from copper, brass or nickel and topped with a thin layer of pure silver) rather than solid silver.
Regardless of whether you pull it out once or twice a year to eat with or use it decoratively, it is nice to have a way to EASILY clean your silver. Because we all know keeping silver shiny with silver polish and elbow grease is not always fun. OK, it's never fun.
If you've followed this site for very long you'll remember I went through a "Oh, tarnish gives the piece so much character! The more tarnish the better!" phase and now I'm moving onto the "Give me all the sparkly things!" phase.
Here's a look at some of the pieces BEFORE I cleaned them.
Seriously that big spoon was pretty darn black!
OK, let's get down to the nitty gritty of how to clean your silver quickly and pretty effortlessly!
And with pantry staples you most likely have in your house right now.
How To Clean Silver Naturally
- Glass Baking Dish and Aluminum Foil
- or Aluminum Baking Pan
- 2 Tablespoons Baking Soda*
- 2 Tablespoons Salt (table salt, sea salt, kosher salt, etc)
- 2 Cups Boiling Water
- Soft Microfiber Cloth
*The baking soda will vary with the amount of water used. Use 2 tablespoons for 2 cups water, which equals 1 cup of baking soda per 1 gallon water.
Heat your water to boiling.
Line your glass baking dish with tin foil, shiny side up. Or grab your aluminum baking dish.
Spread your baking soda and salt on the bottom of the pan.
Lay your silverware in the bottom of the pan. Make sure the silverware is firmly touching the aluminum foil and not touching each other.
Add your boiling water to the pan.
Allow silver to soak for 2-3 minutes.
Heavily tarnished pieces may take more time (up to 15 minutes).
Although my pieces did not need it, VERY heavily tarnished pieces you found at the thrift store and have not be cleaned for 55 years can benefit from a 2nd soaking using fresh aluminum foil, baking soda, salt and boiling water.
The water will turn a slightly yellow-ish color as the tarnish moves from the silverware to the aluminum foil.
Use tongs to carefully remove your silverware from the pan.
Wash with warm soapy water, rinse and dry.
Buff with a soft cloth.
Why Does Cleaning Silver With Baking Soda and Aluminum Foil Work?
OK, maybe I should elaborate.
The reason silver tarnishes in the first place is because it combines with sulfur-containing substances in the air to create silver sulfide. Silver sulfide is black.
The baking soda/aluminum/salt/water thing will create a chemical reaction with the silver sulfide (tarnish) and turn it back into silver, pulling the sulfur part away from the silver and on to the aluminum foil instead.
Obviously there’s a more in-depth scientific explanation, discussing salt bridges and electrolytic currents and all sorts of fun stuff, but I really don’t do a very good Bill Nye the Science Guy impersonation.
Why you should use commercially available silver polishes sparingly:
They usually remove the tarnish quite well through abrasion, but since there is a thin layer of silver laid on top of another metal in silver plated items, using silver polishes/cleaners that are abrasive can wear away at that silver covering.
You are basically removing a small bit of silver each time you use one of those cleaners!
Better to use the natural method above and save the heavy duty cleaners for emergencies.
Notes of caution:
- Make sure you do not fill the container too full of boiling hot water, you do not want to burn yourself.
- Do not do this directly in your stainless steel sink as it may discolor it. Now I have seen other people recommending using your sink, but honestly, I don't want anything to go wrong and next thing you have to do is go out and buy a brand new sink just because you wanted shiny silverware.
- There is a VERY SLIGHT sulfur smell to this process. Not like you need to open your windows or do this outside or anything, but just be aware of it if you are sensitive to odors (my husband could not smell it at all even after I brought it up to him).
- I have used this process successfully on family heirloom silverware, thrift store silver plate and "newer" pieces I received as wedding presents. I would not try this on authentic antique pieces that my be worth a lot of money.
Check out the web story version of this article HERE.
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Thank you! I have several pieces that I purchased thrifting. Will definitely not shy away from silver now!!!!
Thank you for sharing this before the holidays. I have read this before, but lost the article that I'd clipped out (it was paper; I'm old).
I do have one question though: I bought some silver(plate) knives that were taped together with masking tape. When I removed the tape it either left residue (that wasn't sticky, it was so old, so Goo-b-Gone didn't work to remove it), or else it discolored it badly. I couldn't clean it off with silver polish. Have you ever run into this problem before, and if so, did your method work for it?
I guess there's no harm in me trying it, but just wanted your thoughts.
Thank you. REALLY enjoy reading your blog and the info you share with us.
Awesome! Looking forward to trying this method. I’m not fond of using those nasty creams. Not sure I want to know what’s in them.
How do you do things like silver teapots? In a pail?
You could put them in a pail. I did a small teapot in a roasting pan last week. It wasn't fully submerged so I turned it over to do the other half after a few minutes.
Hi Pam: You can also use Arm n Hammer Washing Soda, that way you don't have to use salt on your old silver. Just put it in the boiling water with the aluminum foil. Happy Thanksgiving.
Hi Pam: FYI, you can also use Arm and Hammer Washing Soda which is less abrasive that using the salt. You just put in the boiling water with the aluminum foil. As I have big pieces which I put in my kitchen sink I just dump in the washing soda, but I suppose a few tablespoons would work in a small pan. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!
I will try that next time! Thanks for the tip!
Kathy M Cadiou
Hi there, i have a really large tray that is badly tarnished.... would this process ruin my fiberglass laundry tub do ya think?
I don't think I would chance it. I don't "think" it would transfer to the tub, but I know I have some odd "stains" in my fiberglass laundry tub that are next to impossible to get out. For some larger pieces I have just dipped one end in for a bit, then the other end and then each side until I had finally gotten all the areas. And if the tray is extra large you may be able to get enough of the liquid to set on the top of the tray by laying it flat, as long as it has a lip to it.
Wow! I am impressed! Every Christmas my beautiful silverware, as well as many other pieces, needs to be cleaned. At 70+ this is an arduous task. Your 'tip' was spot on and I finished up in record time. Great tip. Thank you so much!
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Would using a ceramic dish or plastic dish work as well as a glass baking dish? I’m assuming one needs to just stay away from anything metal that could get stained.