Sterling silver has a warm glow and develops a patina that enhances its beauty, especially in carved or ornate pieces. It does, however, tarnish when exposed to salts, acids, and oxygen. Fortunately, it can be cleaned and when handled properly, you can keep tarnish under check.
Jewelry, flatware, or serving pieces labeled as sterling silver, are made from an alloy of 92.5 percent silver and 7.5 percent other metals, usually copper, nickel, or zinc. If the item was made of pure silver, it would be so soft it could be bent or dented easily. The sterling silver designation also means that the piece is solid silver, not plated with a thin layer of silver over another base metal.
How Often to Clean Sterling Silver
The frequency of cleaning is highly dependent on how often you use the silver and how it is stored. Tarnish should be removed as soon as you notice that the finish is looking dark or cloudy. Tarnish will not go away on its own and regular cleaning is easier than waiting until the surface is completely black. For silver pieces you use or wear daily, cleaning every other month is usually sufficient.
Equipment / Tools
- 2 Microfiber cloth
- 1 Cotton or synthetic fiber gloves
- 1 Anti-tarnish cloth or storage bag
- 1 Non-abrasive sponge
- Small bowl
- 1 Commercial silver cleaner and polish
- 1 Baking soda
- 1 Dishwashing liquid
Cleaning Silver With a Commercial Silver Polish
Wash the Silver
To remove loose dust and soil, wash the silver in some warm soapy water using a non-abrasive sponge and rinse well. Do not submerge silver that has wooden or ivory inlays. Simply wipe away the soil with a damp, soapy sponge and then rinse with a clean, damp sponge.
Read the Label
Follow the usage directions for the commercial polish you've selected. Here are some tips that are helpful when using any product:
- Do not use too much of the product or it can get trapped in engraved and decorative areas.
- Use a soft, non-abrasive cloth or sponge.
- Keep turning the cloth or sponge to a clean area as the tarnish is lifted to prevent redepositing the tarnish onto the silver.
- Rinse in warm water and immediately use a dry, lint-free microfiber cloth to buff the silver to a shine.
- Do not wear rubber gloves when cleaning silver which can react with the silver surface. Use cotton or synthetic fiber gloves.
Cleaning Silver With Baking Soda
Wash the Silver
Start by washing the silver in warm, soapy water to remove loose soil. Rinse in cool water. Drying with a microfiber towel will often remove water spots or light tarnish that is causing the surface to look dull.
Make a Paste
To remove heavier tarnish, mix one-part water and three parts baking soda in a small bowl.
Apply the Paste
Wet the silver and use a soft, microfiber cloth or sponge to apply the paste. Work in a small area at a time and gently rub in circles to remove the tarnish. Keep moving to a clean area of the cloth as the tarnish is transferred.
Rinse and Buff Dry
Rinse away the baking soda paste with cool water. Immediately use a microfiber cloth to dry and buff the silver to a shine.
You can find instructions online for creating a cleaning bath for silver using aluminum foil, boiling water, and other products. While it will remove tarnish, it can also harm your silver by loosening glued areas and removing so much of the patina that ornate patterns are lost. It is not recommended for use with fine silver.
Tips to Help Prevent Silver From Tarnishing
- Use it often. Frequent use helps silver from becoming tarnished as quickly due to the friction from regular washing.
- Store silver in anti-tarnish cloths that help prevent air from darkening the surface.
- Use chalk or silica bags in the storage area to help absorb moisture that can speed tarnish development.
- Wear cotton gloves when dusting or handling silver pieces to prevent tarnish from body salts and oils.
- Put on sterling silver jewelry last after applying perfumes or using hair spray to prevent interaction with the chemicals.