How to Clean Silver With a Frugal Homemade Silver Cleaner

silver cleaning

The Spruce / Ana Cadena

Overview
  • Working Time: 10 mins
  • Total Time: 20 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner

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, at a garage sale, or in your grandmother's attic? Ditch the store-bought tarnish remover and try this simple, inexpensive remedy that doesn't use any harsh chemicals or commercial products and doesn't require any elbow grease.

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 or yellowish tarnish flakes on the aluminum foil. Though this process works well, the chemical reaction doesn't smell very good, so make sure there's plenty of ventilation. You may need to soak badly tarnished silver a second time. Alternatively, you can use only baking soda only without salt to make your low-cost homemade silver cleaner.

How Often to Clean Silver With Homemade Silver Cleaner

Use this method for sterling silver as well as silver-plated items any time you need to eliminate tarnish. Experts recommend cleaning silver at least once a year. Note that this method may be too harsh for very fine or delicate finishes of antique silver pieces.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Washtub or glass baking dish
  • Tea kettle or pot for boiling water

Materials

  • Aluminum foil
  • 2 tablespoons table salt
  • 2 tablespoons baking soda
  • Hot water
  • Soft, clean white rag

Instructions

1:14

Watch Now: How to Clean Silver Without Chemicals

materials for cleaning silver
The Spruce / Ana Cadena
  1. Put Foil and Water in the Washtub

    Line the bottom of the washtub or glass baking dish with a large piece of aluminum foil. Fill the container with hot water, preferably boiling water from a tea kettle or other container from which you can pour it safely.

    Tip

    You can also use a clean aluminum lasagna-style baking dish in place of foil. Just make sure you throw out the dish after using it to clean silver.

    filling a container lined in foil with water
     The Spruce / Ana Cadena
  2. Add Salt and Baking Soda

    Sprinkle in 2 tablespoons of table salt and 2 tablespoons of baking soda. The mixture will start to bubble.

    Warning

    Washing soda added to hot water also makes for a great silver polish. Buff with a soft cloth to bring out the shine after the tarnish fades.

    adding baking soda to the basin of water
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena 
  3. Add the Silver

    Place your silver pieces into the water. Make sure they are touching the aluminum foil, but the silver pieces should not touch each other.

    Turn over the pieces of silver using a wooden or plastic utensil (not metal, and avoid using your fingers in hot water) so that as many surfaces of the item touch the foil as possible. The chemical reaction going on in the container should be enough to eliminate tarnish from all nooks and crannies.

    dropping silver pieces into the water
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena 
  4. Soak the Silver

    Allow your silver to soak for 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Soak as long as 5 minutes for heavily tarnished items.

    If the water cools down, add more hot water, and refresh the baking soda and salt.

    letting the silver soak
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena
  5. Remove the Silver

    Carefully remove your silver items—do not drag them across the foil—and rinse them. The tarnish should now be gone from the silver. Buff dry with a soft, clean white rag.

    carefully removing silver items
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena 

Tips to Keep Your Silver Clean Longer

  • Keep silver jewelry shiny with a quick and routine cleaning using a bath of warm water and mild (lemon-free) dishwashing soap. Swish jewelry around in the water for a few minutes, rinse, and buff dry. Gently use an old, soft toothbrush to reach into crevices.
  • Store all silver items in a cool, dry place as 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.
  • Experts recommend keeping a small piece of white chalk in a drawer or bag with silver, especially in humid climates; the chalk absorbs any moisture that contributes to creating tarnish.
  • White distilled vinegar in a glass or enamel bowl can brighten lightly tarnished silver in between foil cleanings for heavier tarnish. Add baking soda for extra cleaning power. Let the silver sit for a couple of hours in the mixture before rinsing and buffing dry.
  • Use ketchup in a jiffy to clean light tarnish; the acid in ketchup will remove the tarnish and brighten up silver if you buff it on with a soft cloth, rinse, and then buff again with a soft, clean rag.
  • Use your silver jewelry and silverware; silver that's used more often tends to tarnish less.