If you love the look of silver pieces but don't enjoy polishing them to keep them looking their best, there is a DIY cleaning method that doesn't require any elbow grease.
When tarnished silver, salt, baking soda, aluminum foil, and water are combined, a chemical reaction occurs known as ion exchange. During this process, the tarnish on the silver (silver sulfide) is released and becomes aluminum sulfide on the foil. If the silver is tarnished enough, you may see brown or yellowish tarnish flakes on the aluminum foil. The process can be used on sterling silver or silver-plated items.
How Often to Clean Silver
Silver should be cleaned at least once a year, though silver pieces may need to be cleaned more frequently depending on how often you use them and how they are stored. For silver pieces you use or wear daily, cleaning every other month is usually sufficient. Tarnish does not go away on its own and cleaning is easiest if the piece is only slightly dull or tarnished.
Before You Begin
When the silver is added to the cleaning solution, the chemical reaction will create fumes (hydrogen sulfide) that smell like rotten eggs. Be sure to work in a well-ventilated area. You will also be using boiling water so take precautions to prevent accidents.
Equipment / Tools
- 1 Aluminum or glass pan large enough to submerge the silver
- 1 Tea kettle or pot for boiling water
- 1 Stovetop
- 1 Microfiber cloth
- 1 Plastic or wooden tongs
- 1 Aluminum foil
- 1 Table salt
- 1 Baking soda
- 1 Boiling water
Watch Now: How to Clean Silver Without Chemicals
How to Clean Silver with a Homemade Solution
Line Pan or Dish
Line the bottom of an aluminum pan or glass baking dish with aluminum foil. You can use a plastic tub but be sure that it will not be damaged by the boiling water.
Add the Silver
Place your silver pieces on top of the aluminum foil. Make sure they are touching the aluminum foil but the pieces themselves should not touch each other.
Create the Cleaning Mixture
Sprinkle two tablespoons of table salt and two tablespoons of baking soda into the container.
Add the Boiling Water
Pour enough boiling water into the pan to completely cover the silver.
Soak the Silver
After a few minutes, turn over the silver pieces using a wooden or plastic utensil (tongs work best) so that as many surfaces of the item touch the foil as possible.
Allow the silver to soak for two to three minutes on each side. Soak as long as five minutes for heavily tarnished items. If the water cools down during this process, add more hot water and refresh the baking soda and salt.
Remove, Rinse, and Buff the Silver
Remove the silver items, being careful not to drag them across the foil. Rinse them with fresh water and buff dry with a lint-free microfiber cloth.
Tips to Keep Your Silver Clean Longer
- Don't be afraid to use your silver jewelry and silverware—silver that's used more often tends to tarnish less.
- Store all silver items in a cool, dry place. Higher humidity increases the likelihood of tarnishing.
- When storing silver, keep it free from moisture by wrapping it in acid-free tissue or fabric that deters tarnish, such as unbleached cotton, silver cloth, or tarnish-resistant flannel.
- Use chalk or silica bags in the storage area to help absorb moisture that can speed tarnish development.
- For a quick polish, make a paste of baking soda and water. Dip a soft cloth in the paste and gently rub it on the silver. Keep moving to a clean area of the cloth as tarnish is transferred. Rinse well and dry the silver with a microfiber cloth.
Finishing Techniques in Metalwork. Philadelphia Museum of Art