Homemade Frugal Silver Cleaner

Polishing silver tea strainer with rag.

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Are you tired of having to polish your good silverware every time you pull it out or are you looking for a way to clean tarnished silver pieces that you found at an antique store, garage sale, or while rummaging in your grandmother's attic? Ditch the polish, and try this simple hands-off remedy that doesn't use any harsh chemicals or commercial products, and doesn't require any elbow grease.


You need only a few common household supplies to create your homemade silver cleaner. Gather the following:

  • Aluminum foil
  • Table salt
  • Baking soda
  • Hot water
  • Washtub or bucket


Start by placing a piece of aluminum foil at the bottom of a washtub or bucket. Then follow these simple directions.

  1. Fill the container with hot water, preferably boiling water from a tea kettle or other container from which you can pour it safely.
  2. Sprinkle in two tablespoons of table salt and two tablespoons of baking soda.
  3. Drop your silver pieces into the water. When they settle on the aluminum foil, they should not be touching each other.
  4. Allow your silver to soak for two to three minutes, or as long as five minutes for heavily tarnished items.
  5. Carefully remove your silver items—do not drag them across the foil—and rinse them. The tarnish should now be gone.

You may need to soak badly tarnished silver a second time. Alternatively, you can use only baking soda or salt to make your silver-cleaning solution. Avoid using washing soda as it is more likely to etch your items than baking soda.

Why This Works

When salt, baking soda, aluminum foil, and water are combined, they create a chemical reaction known as ion exchange. During this process, the tarnish on the silver (silver sulfide) is converted back into silver, and the sulfide becomes aluminum sulfide on the foil. If your silver is tarnished enough, you'll see brown tarnish on the aluminum foil.

Benefits and Drawbacks

There are several benefits to creating a silver-cleaning solution as described in this article, including:

  • You don't have to polish the silver items.
  • You aren't using chemicals that you don't understand.
  • It works fast.
  • It is inexpensive and uses ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen.

This method will not only remove tarnish that occurs by contact between silver and air; it will also remove factory-applied patinas. If you want your items to retain their patina, invest in a bottle of silver polish.

Silver restorer Jeffrey Herman also warns that the surface of silver items soaked this way will have a rougher surface when viewed under a microscope and may tarnish more quickly. You might also see lighter and darker areas on the item, as pure silver replaces sterling silver and patina.

You should also take care not to scratch your silver items by dragging them across the aluminum foil. For these reasons, you may want to use a silver cleaner that requires buffing rather than soaking.