Whether it’s the sterling silver tea set you inherited from your grandmother or silverware you use on special occasions, knowing how to clean silver properly will protect your treasures. Even if you store your silver safely, platters, jewelry, and utensils will tarnish eventually.
Silver cleaning and polishing isn’t something that belongs on your monthly cleaning checklist. But you should know how to clean tarnished silver if you’re going to use or display the items. Silver jewelry and other pieces you use frequently may only need a quick polish with a microfiber cloth to bring back their shine. But fine silver on display or stored away inside a jewelry or cutlery box may need more work. Keep reading to find out how to polish silver and keep it clean.
Why Does Silver Tarnish?
When silver comes into contact with sulfur gases in the air, it can discolor, darken, and form a layer of tarnish. Moisture can speed up the tarnishing, so humid environments can cause your silver to tarnish quickly. Acids and even oxygen can also cause and accelerate tarnishing or break down the finish on silver. Knowing how to clean silver will help keep these dangers at bay.
How to Clean Tarnished Silver
Tarnish can be tough to remove, so understanding how to polish silver safely is important. Because silver is a soft metal and tarnish is a chemical reaction, getting rid of heavy tarnish takes muscle and, at the same time, a delicate hand! That’s because every time you clean or polish silver, you remove some silver. On silver-plated items, cleaning or polishing too hard can damage or destroy the thin silver plating.
All you need to clean and polish silver are microfiber cloths and some silver cleaner. A microfiber cloth is safe for jewelry, candlesticks, plates, and other silver. Use a dry cloth to lightly dust your silver before you clean it, as dust can scratch the finish and the soft metal if you rub too hard.
Grab your silver cleaner or polish and put a small amount on a dampened microfiber cloth.
Gently rub the silver with the polish using an up and down motion because cleaning in a circular motion can make scratches more visible.
Turn your cleaning cloth often so you can work with a clean section of the cloth.
Rinse your silver with warm water and dry it off.
Once it’s dry, buff your silver to a nice shine with a clean, dry microfiber cloth.
We recommend keeping your cleaning and polishing routine down to about three or four times a year.
Home Remedies for Cleaning Silver
While there are plenty of commercial silver cleaning and polishing products, you can save a few bucks and skip the potentially toxic chemicals by making your own. From cleaning silver with baking soda and vinegar to polishing it with toothpaste, we’ve got you covered. Here’s how to clean silver with ingredients you probably already have around the house.
Vinegar and Baking Soda
Cleaning silver with vinegar is safe for your silver, you, and the environment, and it’s great for bringing back the sparkle. Vinegar is a natural cleaner, disinfectant, and deodorizer that is tough on tarnish. Here’s how to polish silver and get back that sparkling shine with vinegar and baking soda. For silverware, jewelry, and other small silver items, soak them in a glass bowl with a half-cup of distilled white vinegar and two tablespoons of baking soda. Let the silver soak for three hours, rinse the items, and dry and polish them with a microfiber cloth.
Baking Soda and Aluminum Foil
You can use your own chemical reaction to get rid of tarnish on silver using baking soda, water, and aluminum foil. Boil four cups of water with one tablespoon of baking soda and a hand-sized piece of aluminum foil. Toss in your silver items and let them boil for about 10 seconds. You may let your silver boil a little longer if it’s heavily tarnished. Remove your items with kitchen tongs, rinse them, and lay them on a towel to dry. Once your silver is dry, buff it to a brilliant shine with a clean, dry microfiber cloth.
Lemon Juice and Salt
Even the most heavily tarnished silver jewelry will come out sparkling with this silver cleaner. Mix one and a half cups of water, one tablespoon of lemon juice, and a half-cup of powdered milk in a container and drop your silver in. Let it sit overnight and you’ll wake up to a wonderful shine. Pull out the silver and rinse it, then dry and polish the finish with a microfiber towel.
If you need a quick silver cleaning solution, use undiluted lemon juice. Pour it over your tarnished items and immediately begin polishing. The tarnish will react to the acid in the lemon juice quickly; rubbing it into the metal cleans even more. Dry the silver and then buff it to a shine with a dry microfiber cloth.
Not just used as a thickening agent, you can make a paste of cornstarch and water and wipe it onto silver with a damp microfiber cloth. Let the paste dry and polish it off with a clean, dry microfiber cloth. Think of the process as similar to waxing a car. When you lightly buff away the “wax,” tarnish and dirt lift away, leaving a beautiful shine.
When you’ve got to get that tarnish off a piece of silver right away, reach for your hand sanitizer. The alcohol in the sanitizer will break down the tarnish and leave a decent shine to boot. Just squirt some hand sanitizer on a non-abrasive cloth and rub the tarnish away.
Toothpaste is more of a silver polish than a silver cleaner, but you’ll still want to use a light touch. The abrasive particles in toothpaste are great for cleaning teeth and tarnish, but they can damage plated silver and sterling silver items. Squeeze a dab of toothpaste onto a damp microfiber cloth and lightly polish your silver. Rinse your silver with warm water, then dry and polish it to a shine with a microfiber towel. Reserve this method for polishing satin or matte silver unless you have a steady hand.
How to Store Silver and Protect It From Tarnish
According to Southern Living, “Silver should always be stored in a drawer or chest lined with tarnish-resistant flannel or individually wrapped in acid-free tissue paper, silver cloth, or unbleached cotton muslin and placed in a zip-top plastic bag.” That’s excellent advice, but if you can’t provide the ultimate storage for your silver, you can still keep it safe and shiny longer with some alternative solutions.
Whether you store your silverware in a drawer or a cabinet, the key is to protect it from damage and tarnish. To fight moisture, a few pieces of chalk in your silver storage will absorb tarnish-causing moisture. For fine silver jewelry, invest in anti-tarnish bags for each piece and keep them stored in a cool, dry place. If you’re storing silver away for a while, you can use archival tissue paper to wrap the pieces and keep them in an acid-free box. Skip the newspaper; the acid in the paper and chemicals in the ink can corrode silver.
Avoid the dishwasher at all costs! If you want to get your silverware and other dining silver clean before storage, hand wash them! After you use silver utensils, or platters immediately wash the pieces by hand with dish soap. If you have a stainless steel sink, wash your silver in a plastic container to avoid scratching. Dry the silver with a clean microfiber cloth and let it continue to air dry for an hour before storing it.
Now that you know how to clean silver and make it shine, what’s next? Check out our extensive library of housekeeping guides you can use all over the house. Whether it’s through our professional how-to's or by using one of our popular residential cleaning services, the Dream Cleaning Team wants you and your family to have a cleaner, healthier home.