Silver is one of the best looking types of metals. However, your silver will eventually start to tarnish. When it does, you need to clean it in order to restore its original shine. In this article we will review the best ways to safely clean your silver to remove tarnish. We review both commercial silver polish brands and DIY cleaning solutions.
What is Tarnish?
First it's good to know exactly what tarnish is and how it comes onto your silver.
Tarnish, chemically known as silver sulfide, is a small black coating that can be seen on top of silver. A chemical reaction between silver and sulfur is what creates silver sulfide. The easiest way to restore silver is to remove the layer of tarnish with a polish.
First Considerations for Cleaning
Cleaning silver yourself can be easy to do, but you'll need to keep a few things in mind. Silver is a 'softer' metal so it can scratch easier. Therefore you need to be gentle when cleaning. Don't use a stiff brush, and don't rub too hard.
When you clean silver you actually rub off a small portion of silver from the top layer. So it's important to stop cleaning once the tarnish is removed. This is especially important for silver-plated pieces because only the top layer is real silver.
During the cleaning process it's best to wear gloves. This is because your hands can leave dirt and fingerprints on your silver. The gloves need to be non-rubber and non-latex because rubber causes tarnish. We recommend wearing a pair of light cotton gloves.
If you have silver jewelry that contains precious gems or jewels, like pearls, then you'll want to be especially careful when cleaning. Some chemical solutions could cause the gemstone to disintegrate or lose its shine. If your silver jewelry has a diamond or gemstone then it's best to use a simple cleaning method like baking soda and water or a mild commercial polish.
The Proper Cleaning Technique
The technique for cleaning silver is easy. Just follow the four simple steps below.
- Lay out all your silver pieces onto a paper towel or cloth. This way your silver won't bang or rub against a hard surface.
- Put some cleaning solution onto the silver piece.
- Take your cloth and rub gently in a circular motion. Circles are generally the best pattern to make, but if your silver piece has a pattern from a previous cleaning then you should follow that same pattern.
- Rinse off your silver piece.
- Let it dry. It's important for your silver piece to be completely dry because the moisture could cause it to tarnish again.
Commercial Polishing Brands
If you want the best results then you need to use a commercial polish. Below we review three different brands that will make your silver look brand new again.
Hagerty Silversmiths' Wash
This is our number one recommended brand. Hagerty Silvermiths' wash will work to remove any tarnish on your silver jewelry and give it a deep clean so it looks as good as new. It also features a restoration compound (R-22) that helps keep your silver from tarnishing quickly.
This brand is safe for all types of silver and gold items. To use it, you simply rub some on your jewelry and then polish your item with a cloth. A 19 ounce bottle of this solution costs around $20.
Wright's Silver Cream
This is by far the best budget brand. Wright's Silver Cream will quickly restore your silver items and leave behind a protective layer. It's a mild, multi-purpose solution that you can use safely on jewelry with gemstones or diamonds. This brand also works well polishing other metals such as aluminum, bass, and copper. An 8 ounce jar costs less than $5 which makes it a great value.
Cape Cod Metal Polishing Cloths
If you're looking for a simple and easy way to clean your silver, then the Cape Cod Metal Polishing Cloths are ideal. These wipes do a great job of removing any signs of tarnish and they also leave behind a slight yet durable protective layer to ensure that tarnishing doesn't occur soon after. The only downside to this product is the cost. A tin of 12 wipes costs around $15.
Tips for Using Commercial Brands
While commercial brands do a great job, you'll need to be careful when using them. For instance, quite a few brands contain harmful chemicals in them such as ammonia. If ammonia is used for too long then it could cause problems to your personal health. Because of this, you'll want to research carefully which chemical compounds are found in each brand.
DIY Silver Cleaning Solutions
It's possible to make your own silver cleaning solutions at home. Below we review the three best DIY methods.
Method 1: Baking Soda and Water
Baking soda has many uses and silver cleaning has long been one of its primary uses. For this method you need to combine 1/2 cup of baking soda with 1/2 cup of water in a bowl to create a paste. Next put the paste on your silver piece and clean with a soft cloth.
Method 2: Toothpaste
Toothpaste has some amazing cleaning abilities for silver thanks to its abrasive properties. You can put a small dab of it on your silver piece and then rub it around with a soft cloth.
Method 3: Ketchup
Yes, ketchup can actually help clean your silver. Just take a small amount of ketchup and then rub it over your silver. Let it sit for about 10-20 minutes so that the acidic compounds in the tomatoes can work to breakdown the tarnish. After the time has passed, gently rinse the silver piece off with cool water and let it dry off.
Silver tarnishes because of a chemical reaction between silver and sulfur. A lot of substances can contain sulfur such as air, water, rubber, among others.
The best preventative measure to take is to store your silver in an anti-tarnish bag or container. These bags are usually flannel and they are coated with chemicals that help prevent tarnishing. The bags won't completely prevent tarnishing, but they will slow down the process. Ideally you want to store these bags in a place that is not hot or humid.
If you don't want to buy a special bag or container then the next best option is acid-free tissue paper. Plastic bags should be avoided because they trap moisture.
Cleaning your silver is actually quite easy, it just takes some effort. By taking the time and mixing up your own silver cleaning solution or buying a polish, your silver can get back to looking clean and shiny.
Remember that if you store your silver correctly then you won't need to polish it often- usually only once or twice a year. Every time you polish your silver you remove a small amount of silver from the top layer so there's no need to polish on a regular basis.