Complete Guide to Cleaning and Polishing silver

Cleaning and polishing household silver

Today, cleaning silver is more a question of know-how than hard work. Whatever method you use to clean silver, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Always avoid abrasives and be gentle, since silver is soft and rubs off easily, especially from the edges of decoration, Sheffield plate and electroplate. As with any chemicals, wearing protective gloves is a sensible precaution. Also look at different silver care products on the market to decide your best cleaning options.

Traditional Silver Cleaning Methods:

Using jeweler’s rouge.

Wash silver in warm soapy water, rinse and dry well, and then rub on jeweler’s rouge with cheesecloth. Brush off the rouge with a dry brush, and then finish by rubbing with chamois leather or a soft cloth.

Cleaning with silver cream.

Use a proprietary silver cream and cover the surface, pushing it into any indentations, or chasing (engraving), with a brush. Remove with a clean brush and finish by rubbing with chamois leather or a cloth.

Using ammonia and French chalk.

For ornaments with intricately chased surfaces, use a mixture of ammonia and French chalk, applying it with a soft cloth or brush and working it into the crevices. When dry, brush off with a clean brush, and then polish with chamois leather or a soft cloth.

Modern Silver Cleaning methods:

Liquid silver cleaners

Liquid silver cleaners contain chemicals which combine with the sulphides to remove them, and are especially effective for discolored cutlery and deeply chased items. Avoid using them on items such as worn Sheffield plate, since the liquid cleaner turns the exposed copper black.

Applying the cleaner. Dip silver for a few seconds in liquid silver cleaner. When cleaning silver cutlery, take care that none gets on to any stainless steel knife blades. If it does, wipe it off immediately to prevent it making a permanent mark.

Rinsing the silver. Wash silver thoroughly in warm soapy water to get rid of any traces of cleaner. Rinse, then dry and polish with a soft cloth.

Silver bath.

You can use a washing soda to make your own silver bath, which relies on electro-chemical activity to strip tarnish from the silver. Alternatively, buy ready-mixed silver bath solutions from shops.

Using a silver bath quick guide: Put a large plastic container in your sink and line it with a strip of aluminum baking foil. Lay your tarnished silver in the bowl, ensuring that all pieces are touching either each other or the foil. Fill the bowl with hot water and then add a handful of washing soda. Remover the silver as soon as the tarnish has gone, rinse and dry. For the full guide see: How To Clean Silver With Aluminum Foil & Baking Soda

Anti-tarnish foam.

This delays tarnishing, from up to three months for frequently used items to a year or more for items that are rarely handled, such as candlesticks and wine coolers. You can also buy anti-tarnish polish. For permanent protection items can be coated with a synthetic resin by silversmiths.

Using the foam. Wet a cloth or sponge in war water and squeeze out excess water. Dip the cloth into the foam and apply a small amount to the surface, working up a lather and rubbing gently to remove all tarnish. Rinse in warm water, dry and polish with a soft cloth.

Cleaner-impregnated cotton pads.

These are ideal for cleaning heavily tarnished items, for example, cutlery which is used on a daily basis. They are designed to be used once and then thrown away. Cotton pads are well worth the minor extra expense as they are so convenient to use.

Using the pads: Thoroughly rub the pad all over the surface of the silver, discarding each pad as it becomes black. Wash the silver thoroughly in warm soapy water; rinse well, then dry. Finally, polish well with chamois leather or a soft cloth.

Looking After your Silver

A few hints and tips for looking after your silverware:

  • For an instant shine, rub dull-looking silver with cotton wool impregnated with a little white spirit, then rinse and dry well.
  • Store silver in a clean, dry room. Traditionally silver is dept in baize (felt) bags. You can also buy special airtight cases or plate safes.
  • Remove wax from candlesticks by pouring boiling water over the top half of a candlestick to melt the wax. Place it on newspaper and use a hairdryer to melt any was lower down the candlestick to avoid wetting baized covering the base.
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