Silver is elegant and stylish. Modern yet classic. Precious, yet not eye-wateringly expensive. All this makes it a great choice for jewelry, flatware and decorative objects.
Over time, though, silver can become tarnished. So how do you keep it looking beautiful?
That’s where we come in! We’re going to share nine tips to polish and clean silver. And we’ll give you all the information you need to get the best possible results.
So if you’re ready, step this way for a brand new sparkle!
1. Use the right method for your silver
Lots of silver cleaning techniques involve using abrasive materials. Over time, that can wear away at your silver. One result of this can be that it rubs away hallmarks, which can affect the value of the object.
This is a particular issue if you’re dealing with antique silver. This may already have been subjected to many years of cleaning, so needs to be handled with care.
It’s also important to consider whether some silver should be completely tarnish-free. That might sound strange – but with relief decoration, for example, some tarnish can give depth to the design. And matte or niello silver – silver designed to look black – shouldn’t be polished.
Silver gilt pieces, despite their golden appearance, can also develop tarnish. That’s because any tiny gaps in the gilding will allow the air to reach the silver. The tarnish will then develop on the surface of the piece.
Silver gilt can be cleaned in the same way as silver. It’s important, however, to clean it very gently. The gilding is often thin, and can be removed entirely by overzealous polishing.
The same goes for silver plate. This too will tarnish, but needs careful cleaning to avoid wearing it away and exposing the harder metal beneath.
The best approach with any silver item is always to proceed with caution. Clean a small area at a time and consider the effect before proceeding further.
2. Start by removing dirt and grime
Before you get stuck into removing the tarnish from your silver, make sure there’s no dirt on the surface. If there is, you may find yourself rubbing it back and forth as you clean. And because dirt often contains sharp-edged minerals, that can damage the surface of the metal.
The first step to any cleaning process, therefore, is to make sure the surface is free of tiny particles of dirt. To do this, you’ll need a cotton bud and some methylated or white spirit.
Dip the cotton bud in the spirits and wipe it gently over the surface of the silver. Take your time and try to get into all the nooks and crannies where dirt can hide.
You may find that this process also begins to remove some of the tarnishing. But if your silver isn’t sparkling yet, don’t worry! There are a host of other techniques that will have it gleaming in no time.
3. Use a silver polishing cloth
Silver polishing cloths have very mild abrasive particles. They’re a good option for delicate and thin silver pieces, or for silver with engraving. Because the particles are so mild, they will polish the silver slowly and gently.
The only issue with a polishing cloth is that it can be tricky to get into corners. That can make it difficult to get good results in around joints or hinges. Fortunately, the professionals have a clever hack to deal with this!
Cut out a small piece of your polishing cloth and wrap it around the head of a cotton bud. That will help you direct it more precisely into any tight spots. It’s also a good idea to add a few drops of methylated spirit to moisten the cloth.
Silver polishing cloths aren’t expensive, and they’re widely available from jewelers, supermarkets and online.
4. Use silver polish
If you find some tarnish remains, even after your best efforts with a silver cloth, a specialist silver polish is a good option. These can take the form of a paste, cream or foam. Any of these will work well, but you’ll get the best results by using the polish alongside distilled water.
Take a cotton bud and dip it in distilled water before collecting some of the polish on the end. Rub the cotton bud gently over the silver, using a circular motion. The polish will lift away the tarnish from the surface of the metal.
When the cotton bud turns black, dispose of it and repeat the process with a fresh cotton bud. Continue until all the tarnish is removed.
If you’ve used a foam cleaner, you’ll now need to get rid of the residue that will remain. Use a cotton bud dipped in distilled water to do this. Be patient! It can take a little time to remove all the residue.
Last but not least, dip a clean cotton bud in some methylated spirits. Wipe it over the surface of the silver to help slow down the process of new tarnish building up.
5. Use baking soda
There are lots of specialist silver polishes on the market. But home-made remedies can work very effectively too. One of these is a paste made with baking soda and water.
Take care with this, as it’s very abrasive. It’s best used on new silver without relief work or engraving. And if your silver is set with gemstones, it’s better to stick to gentler cleaning methods. The tough paste can damage the stones.
To make up your paste, mix three parts baking soda with one part water. Wet the surface of your silver and apply the paste with a soft, lint-free cloth.
Take care to rub the paste into any tight spots. The cloth will become soiled quite quickly, so keep turning it as you work. That will ensure you keep removing the tarnish, rather than simply moving it around.
When you’ve finished cleaning, rinse the silver in clean water. Give it a final buff with a soft, clean cloth to restore its shine.
6. Use toothpaste
If you need a household remedy and don’t have baking soda at home, toothpaste is another option. As with the baking soda paste, this can be very abrasive, so use it with care.
It’s not the right choice for delicate or highly polished silver. And if your silver is set with gemstones. particularly softer ones like turquoise, emeralds or pearls, it’s best avoided. But for matte or satin finishes, particularly sleek modern designs, it can work well.
It needs to be the right kind of toothpaste to avoid damaging your silver. So what exactly is the right kind?
Well, it should be a solid color, rather than having stripes or flecks in it. And it should be free of whitening or tartar-control agents. These will be too abrasive and risk scratches.
On the other side of the coin, make sure you use a paste not a gel. A gel is too soft to be effective on silver.
Start by moistening the surface of the object to be cleaned. You can do this either by briefly immersing it in water, or – better – misting it using a spray bottle. The damp surface will make it easier for you to spread the toothpaste.
Now add a small amount of toothpaste to your silver using your finger, a damp tissue or a cotton bud. You don’t want to apply more than a pea-sized amount to begin with. Now use the tissue or cotton bud to gently rub the toothpaste over the surface of your silver.
You can also use a clean, soft-bristled brush. A child’s toothbrush works well. For stubborn tarnishing, let the toothpaste sit for a couple of minutes before removing it. But don’t leave it too long. If it dries, it will be difficult to get off, especially from tight corners.
When you’ve finished cleaning, rinse your silver thoroughly in warm running water. (If you’re cleaning a small item like an earring, make sure you cover up the drain first!)
Pat it dry with a clean microfiber cloth, absorbing as much of the moisture as possible. Now leave it on top of a soft lint-free cloth to dry completely before storing it away.
7. Use tomato ketchup
You don’t have a silver polish or cloth. You’re out of baking soda. Your toothpaste is a gel. What do you do? Head to the pantry and dig out that bottle of tomato ketchup!
Yes, ketchup is another household cleaning remedy for silver. In this case, it’s the acid in the tomatoes that does the heavy lifting.
As with other chemical methods, it needs to be used with care. Avoid the ketchup coming into contact with any gemstones. And don’t leave it in contact with the silver for too long, or the acid can cause damage.
Those warnings aside, this is a very simple cleaning method. Just fill a small bowl with ketchup and immerse your silver item so that it’s completely covered. Leave it there for five to ten minutes, depending on how heavily tarnished it is. But don’t exceed this period.
Then remove the silver and scrub it gently with a soft-bristled brush. This will make sure the ketchup has got into all the nooks and crannies.
Finally, rinse your item thoroughly in warm water. It’s best that this is running water, so that floating particles of ketchup don’t reattach themselves to the silver.
When all the ketchup has gone, pat the item dry with a soft, lint-free cloth.
8. The case for silver dips
Silver dips take the hard work out of silver cleaning. You simply immerse your silver in the solution and let the chemicals lift away the tarnish.
There are, however, some disadvantages. They will remove all signs of corrosion, so for antique silver they can drain the character from the piece. And if you have any areas of lead solder repair – often found around the pins of antique brooches, for example – the dip will turn them black.
The chemical action will also wear the silver down to some extent. For that reason, it’s a good idea to use silver dips sparingly.
You can either buy a specialist dip or make one yourself using some simple household ingredients.
For the home-made approach, start by lining the bottom of a bowl with aluminum foil. You want the shinier side to face upwards. Now fill the bowl to the brim with boiling water, one cup at a time. (You need to know how many cups of water you’re adding.)
Add one tablespoon of baking soda for every cup of water. The solution will bubble up. Add your jewelry and leave it there for between two and five minutes. If it’s very tarnished, you can leave it there for up to ten minutes.
When the time is up, remove it from the water. Use some tongs to do this, as the water is still likely to be very hot. Now rinse it under cool, clean water and dry it with a lint-free cloth. Hey presto, your silver will be shining again!
9. Reduce the need for polishing
While cleaning removes surface dirt, polishing will actually remove a thin layer of silver from your item. For that reason, it isn’t something to be done too often. There are, however, some things you can do to keep your silver looking good for longer.
In the case of silver jewelry, wearing it can actually help to reduce tarnishing. The combination of the friction and natural oils in your skin will help keep the surface shiny.
The right storage also plays an important part. An airtight container will help. Storing a piece of chalk alongside your silver will reduce humidity in the storage container. You can also buy specialist anti-tarnish strips that perform the same function without the chalk dust!
Ready for sparkling silver?
We hope you’ve enjoyed our round-up of nine tips to polish and clean silver! Remember to consider what techniques will work best for your items before you start.
Antique silver and silver set with gemstones will need particular care. And silver plated and silver gilt items should be polished as rarely as possible to protect the finish.
It’s always best to start with the gentlest methods and progress only to more robust ones if absolutely necessary.
Whatever approach you choose, we hope you enjoy restoring the sparkle to your silver!