While you may think of pewter as an old-fashioned metal, pewter is popular in dinnerware, flatware, decorative home accessories, and jewelry. Pewter is the fourth most common jewelry metal behind gold, platinum, and silver and is valued for its durability, affordability, versatility, and warm, patina finish. Pewter and silver tend to look alike, sometimes they are both stamped, but pewter is lighter in weight, duller and a bit darker in color, and softer than silver. Pewter also does not tarnish like silver.
Pewter is an alloy of 90 percent tin with the remaining 10 percent a combination of silver, copper, bismuth, and antimony. Traced back to the Bronze Age, pewter quickly became a functional metal used for tableware, buttons, buckles, and horse bridles. Since pewter will not hold a sharp edge, it was seldom used for swords or farm implements but was later melted down to form musket balls.
How Often to Clean Pewter
One of the most desirable aspects of pewter is that it does not need to be polished often since it does not tarnish like silver. The patina of pewter tends to slowly and evenly darken over time adding to its appeal. Regular cleaning is necessary, of course, to remove food particles and dust. Additional cleaning is dependent upon the type of pewter finish and your personal preferences.
Types of Pewter
- Polished finish: The pewter has been cast with a shiny finish that resembles silver. Cleaning frequency depends upon how shiny you want it to remain. Gradually, the piece will darken overall. Use the cleaning and polishing instructions below for polished pewter.
- Satin finish: The pewter is cast with a matte patina that highlights a bit of texture. These pieces just need regular cleaning and do not need to be polished. Use the instructions below to clean satin-finished pewter but to avoid scratches, gently rub with the grain of the pewter. Satin pewter does not require frequent cleaning or polishing.
- Oxidized finish: The pewter may be antique or it has been treated with a darkening agent to create a deep grey finish. This finish should never be polished; cleaning or dusting is all that is needed. Gently clean an oxidized finish with water and dish detergent but abstain from polishing this type of pewter if you want to keep the patina.
Equipment / Tools
- Microfiber cloths
- Small bowl
- Sink or bucket
- Dishwashing liquid
- Commercial metal cleaner (Brasso, Hagerty)
- Distilled white vinegar
- All-purpose flour
- Table salt
How to Clean Pewter
All types of pewter finishes will eventually need to be cleaned to remove dust or food particles.
Automatic dishwasher detergent is too abrasive for pewter pieces, so skip the dishwasher and clean pieces by hand instead. The high temperatures in a dishwasher can also be harmful.
Create a Cleaning Solution
Fill a sink or bucket with hot water and add a few drops of dishwashing liquid.
Gently Clean the Pewter Pieces
Submerge the pewter pieces and gently clean them with a microfiber dishcloth or sponge. If the piece cannot be submerged, wring most of the moisture out of a dishcloth and wipe down the surface.
Rinse each pewter piece with hot water or wipe down with a clean dishcloth dipped in fresh hot water to remove any soapy residue.
Use a microfiber cloth to dry each pewter piece to prevent water spots from any minerals in the rinse water.
How to Polish Pewter
If you would like to add a bit more shine or lighten the color of matte pewter, it can be polished. Silver polish should not be used because it can damage the surface of the pewter. Choose instead a commercial polish like Brasso or Hagerty that is recommended for pewter. Follow product directions and use a gentle touch while cleaning—no scrubbing!
You can also create an inexpensive polish with just a few ingredients from the pantry that will clean pewter naturally and restore a bit of luster to pewter finishes. Polishing may also be able to remove some corrosion on pewter.
Mix the Polishing Paste
In a small bowl, combine one cup of distilled white vinegar with 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour. Stir well to create a paste.
If the pewter has a matte finish, add 1 teaspoon of salt to add more abrasive action to the paste. But consider the risk because salt is abrasive and may result in surface scratches though the flour paste will soften the salt a bit. The addition of salt may however help to remove corrosion. Do not add the salt to the paste if you are cleaning pewter with a polished finish.
Apply the Polishing Paste
Use a small damp cloth to apply the paste to the surface of the pewter. Cover the piece evenly, rubbing in a circular motion with light pressure.
Set the piece aside and allow the slightly acidic paste to work for 30 minutes. It is fine if the paste dries or remains slightly damp.
Rinse away the paste with hot water. If the piece cannot be submerged in hot water, dip a microfiber cloth in hot water, wring until slightly damp, and wipe away the paste.
Dry and Buff
Once the piece is rinsed well, use a clean microfiber cloth to dry the pewter and then buff well to reveal the finish.
Tips to Keep Pewter Looking Its Best
- Dust display pieces regularly to remove surface soil.
- Wrap jewelry pieces in tissue paper to prevent scratches from other metals in a jewelry box.
- Keep pewter away from high heat sources and do not store in overheated attics or storage facilities.
- To prevent scratches on polished pewter, do not stack plates or hollow pieces without protective padding.
Does baking soda clean pewter?
Pewter is somewhat soft and baking soda can be too abrasive of a cleaner for this metal. Using baking soda may result in subtle scratches on the surface. You may have also heard that you can use Coca-Cola to clean pewter, but you should never do so because it's too acidic for the soft finish. Other suggested cleaning ingredients, such as ketchup and toothpaste, will likely have no effect on your pewter, so it's best to stick to water and liquid dishwashing soap to clean the item.
Can I clean pewter with silver polish?
Should you clean antique pewter?
Antique pewter typically has an oxidized finish, which looks darkened. You may think your pewter looks badly tarnished but pewter does not tarnish. You can gently wash it but do not polish it if you want to keep the patina. Antique pewter is a combination of lead and tin, but today's modern pewter, even with a different combination of alloys, will still slowly oxidize.