- By Julia Littlewood
- Published 02/20/2012
Silver has long been popular for its lovely soft lustre – whether for beautiful jewellery pieces or dinnerware, this versatile metal is loved by all.
Nevertheless, silver is also rather fragile compared to other commonly used metals – it is prone to developing tarnish, stains or scratches over time.
The following simple guide will give you the top tips to ensure your silver always looks as good as new.
Even if your silver has no visible tarnish, it’s a good idea to maintain its lustre by regularly giving it a wash in warm water with a gentle, phosphate-free detergent. Avoid using rubber gloves, as rubber corrodes silver. The best gloves to use would be those made of nitrile, since it doesn’t contain sulphur (which promotes the formation of tarnish).
It’s also best to wash your silver separately from other dishes because metal sinks and utensils (especially those made from stainless steel) can scratch it. Once washed, use a soft cloth to gently dry it.
Specialised Silver Polishing Materials to Tackle Tarnish
When tarnish starts to develop on silver, a quick wash as described above may not be enough to remove it. The safest bet to polish away tarnish is to use a specialised silver polishing agent, which would include best practise manufacturer’s instructions.
Use a cellulose sponge or cotton balls as these won’t scratch the silver’s surface unlike many other sponges. For polishing intricate curves in the surface design, Q-tips work wonders in getting into those hard to reach places.
When polishing, rub your silver only in a straight line (i.e. back and forth motions instead of circles) to get the best results. Also be careful not to scrub too hard – let the polish do the job. Once done, rinse the silver under running water and dry thoroughly with a soft cloth or towel.
Cleaning Silver with Common Household Products
Certain household products are capable of cleaning your silver effectively and without much fuss. As well as being more eco-friendly, many of these methods are a better solution for those with sensitive skin, since certain specialised silver polishes can cause some skin to react badly. Nevertheless, silversmiths warn people to be cautious as some household chemicals can be abrasive and potentially cause scratches.
Here are two of the easiest methods to make your silver shine using common household products:
Baking Soda, Aluminium Foil and Boiling Water
This method will easily clean your silver in less than 20 minutes. Many jewellers say however that baking soda is too abrasive for silver, so use it sparingly and carefully. Also ensure you rinse your silver thoroughly, since baking soda can leave a powdery residue. These are the simple steps:
1. Place a layer of aluminium foil on the bottom of a glass bowl or other container.
2. Place your silver on top of the foil.
3. Evenly add a fairly large spoonful of baking soda on top of the jewellery and foil.
4. Pour boiling hot water into the bowl until it covers both the foil and your silverware.
5. Wait 10 – 15 minutes.
6. Remove your silver and rinse it thoroughly in cold water.
7. Allow your silver to dry on its own as using a towel could leave tiny scratches.
Although not highly dangerous, be aware that mixing baking soda, hot water and silver causes a minor chemical reaction, so try not to breathe in the fumes.
For this household method, choose plain white toothpaste without teeth whitening agents. Also do not use a gel or toothpaste that contains baking soda. These are the simple steps:
1. Take a soft, dampened cloth, sponge or old t-shirt and put a dab of toothpaste on it.
2. Gently polish the silver in straight (not circular) motions.
3. As the cloth or sponge becomes dark with tarnish, add more toothpaste to a clean area and carry on gently polishing.
4. Once done, rinse the silver thoroughly with warm water and dry carefully with a soft towel.
Do take care not to rub too harshly as this can cause small scratches which would dull the silver’s surface.
Storing Silver Correctly
In addition to regular cleaning, it’s also important to store your silver correctly if you want to preserve it in its best condition. The first tip here is to never store silver unless it’s completely dry. Secondly, never store silver where it can come into contact with rubber, stainless steel or paint.
For silver dinnerware and the like, wrap each item in acid-free tissue paper or anti-tarnish paper or pieces of flannel (you can buy special flannels that are made specifically for this purpose). Once done, seal the wrapped silver item in an airtight plastic bag.
A final tip for storing really expensive silverware is to place a canister of silica gel near it – this will help reduce humidity and thus prevent tarnish.
The above tips and options give you the know-how to keep your silver jewellery and dinnerware in tip top condition with a minimum of fuss. Do remember that this beautiful metal is fragile and thus prone to scratches, so never rub silver harshly when cleaning it.
About the Author : Julia Littlewood is a stylist and jewellery designer.