Sterling silver is a precious metal for elegant flatware, serving pieces and jewelry. It requires maintenance to retain its gorgeous luster. Here’s how to keep that shine and preserve the life of family treasures using items you’ll find in your pantry.
What is sterling silver?
Pure silver, also known as fine silver, is too soft for practical use. Sterling silver is a hardier material made of 92.5 percent silver mixed with 7.5 percent copper or zinc. These added metals make the silver stronger and moldable.
Remove tarnish with household ingredients
The bane of owning beautiful sterling silver or silver-plated items is tarnish. Tarnish is the dulling of the silver through slow oxidation. You can remove tarnish and shine your sterling or silver-plated pieces by rubbing them with a commercial silver polish. But years of repeated rubbing with commercial cleaners can remove a thin layer of silver and wear down the patterns and etchings that help make these pieces beautiful.
Alternatively, you can remove tarnish without rubbing through a chemical process using items you likely keep around the house.
Note: This process is not recommended for silver jewelry with stones mounted on it or for fine silver.
- Assemble a glass or porcelain container deep enough to hold the item you’re cleaning, aluminum foil, baking soda, salt and boiling water.
- Line the inside of the container with aluminum foil. Lay the silver items on the foil, with no pieces touching one another.
- Sprinkle two tablespoons of salt and several tablespoons of baking soda into the container. Add boiling water and stir until all the silver is covered.
- Allow to soak for fifteen minutes. Check the progress of cleaning, extending the soak if needed. Then, turn the silver pieces over and soak again for an equal amount of time. The water will naturally cool, so add more boiling water as needed.
- Thousands of tiny bubbles will appear on the surface of the silver. This is a chemical electrolysis process that removes the oxidizing tarnish.
- Remove the pieces and dry them with a clean, soft cloth. The tarnish should be gone.
Polish sterling silver to a brilliant gleam
To finish restoring your silver’s bright luster, polish it with a non-gel, non-abrasive, non-whitening toothpaste and a clean, soft cloth. To get into the crevices of etched patterns, gently use a soft bristle toothbrush. Rinse with water and dry thoroughly.
Prevent tarnish with proper storage
If your silver item is not in regular use or on display, tarnish-preventative storing will preserve it.
To prevent tarnish:
- Wrap the sterling or silver-plate items in acid-free tissue paper.
- Put them inside a tarnish-resistant cloth bag or a soft cotton or flannel bag.
Add several silica gel packets to the bag.
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