The easy-peasy guide to restoring your silver and silver plated-pieces

November 27 | Guest post by poshhippie

The holidays, they fast approach. Maybe your best silver serving dishes and tools are tarnishing in a cabinet, or perhaps you just found an awesome old silver piece in a thrift store. Check out this easy-peasy guide to bringing silver back to life.

From sad to shiny in a few easy steps!
From sad to shiny in a few easy steps!

I found this silver-plated Wallace Silversmith cake service set on Shop Goodwill, in the original case! Seemed a bit tarnished but totally salvageable. The average price for these run from $100 – $300, so at $20 I feel really good about my purchase. But how to tidy these up?

Enter some simple household materials, and very little elbow grease.

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To easily shine tarnished silver, you will need:

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Step 1: Boil enough water to put in the glass or aluminum dish that will cover the items you are looking to remove tarnish from.

Step 2: Line the glass pan with some aluminum foil. I lined my aluminum pan with foil too, but I really wanted this to work.

Step 3: Place the tarnished silver pieces into the dish, then cover with the boiling water.

Look at it bubble, double, double, toil, and trouble!
Look at it bubble, double, double, toil, and trouble!

Step 4: Sprinkle 1/2 cup or more of baking soda (one cup per gallon of hot water) onto the silver and watch the magic happen.

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Step 5: After about five minutes, I took a little more baking soda and worked it into the nooks and crannies. Then let it soak a little more.

Step 6: Once the water cooled, I took the pieces out and dried them off, and shined them up with a flour sack towel.

Shiny!
Shiny!

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  1. This technique does work really well. Some hard spots might not come out clean right away, and need a little extra polishing. Also, be careful….my sister cleaned a whole slew of inherited silver plate stuff one night, and accidentally scorched the wood-topped kitchen island from pouring all that boiling water into the aluminum pan…..

    2 agree
  2. I have some silver spoons and jewelry and I have cleaned them with arm and hammer toothpaste. I just rubbed it with my fingers and rinsed and dried the silverware. It worked great!

    3 agree
    • This. I like the elbow-grease aspect of it, but really, it doesn't take much. I usually use a t-shirt to rub the toothpaste in, then again after to add a final bit of shine.

      1 agrees
    • No. Just no.

      You are abrading away the tarnish (which is silver salts & oxides) and the metallic silver (which is softer than the tarnish). This will soften details in the pieces and remove valuable silver.

      The baking soda method actually turns the tarnish back into metallic silver while oxidising the aluminum. And the reaction only happens to the tarnish so it won't further soften details.

      Rubbing baking soda in just abrades the silver as well as it is the un-oxidized area of the aluminum that is the limiting factor in the reaction, not the amount of bicarbonate (which is acting as a catalyst). You can speed it up by taking pieces of aluminum out and scratching them with sandpaper and putting them back in (this removes the aluminum oxides and exposes more aluminum).

      6 agree
  3. You can totally do this on low heat on the stove in a regular pot. If you do a lot at once, you may notice a smell a bit like rotten eggs, since silver tarnish contains sulphur. The science behind it is that you're making a battery in the water, which I think is pretty cool!

    5 agree
  4. This is AWESOME! But does anyone have any tips for gold-plated pieces that are tarnishing?

    • Gold doesn't tarnish, but maybe it's just dirty? Or maybe it's not really gold…

      1 agrees
  5. I use my Tom's Flouride Free toothpaste on my sterling silver rings and it works great. I rub it in with a Q-tip (cotton swab for anyone who may not know) and rinse, then rub over it with a dry Q-tip to polish. For nooks and crannies, I will rub some toothpaste in and let it sit a bit then rinse it clean.

  6. I will definitely have to try to this for cleaning my silver. Nice to know there's a cheaper alternative to store-bought silver cleaners. Thanks for sharing!

  7. As Trent said, the baking soda rubbed in is an abrasive. I wouldn't use the scrubbing method on heirloom silver or any quality piece. However, for cheap thrift store scores that aren't of particularly good quality (the kind which will eventually be thrown away, or need to be electroplated again, or will end up being spray painted because they are such cheapies–dollar store type platters), I will use mildly abrasive cleaners. I find that not only does any paste (NOT gel!) toothpaste work b/c of the baking soda, but that Soft Scrub cleanser works fabulously (this is baking soda with lemon-a natural bleaching agent-and some other things, basically baking soda paste diluted with detergent and with lemon added). I use it to scrub the tub, to get hair dye of the porcelain, and to polish my lower quality silver stuff. The fine stuff gets actual silver polish or a jewelry cleaner.

  8. I have a silver plate pie server and there is a small area in which the silver plating is erroded away.
    Do you think that this method will actually restore the silver in the narrow spot on my piece?

    • No. If the silver is abraded away and there is not even tarnish there, it won't be re-deposited there. The tarnish doesn't move around much as it re-deposits.

      Theoretically you might be able to re-plate it if you used a soluble silver salt instead of baking soda but it would be to the whole piece and you'd have to have a lot of aluminum foil. Silver salt solutions are toxic so the used solution would be toxic too (not severely, just don't drink it or spill it on yourself or your garden), dispose as per your local regulations on used "Photographic Fixer" – in fact you might be able to use used Photographic fixer as your silver source – but be careful; if it's not completely exhausted it may dissolve more silver off your piece.

      It is probably easier to have a jeweller re-plate it. The process is similar, just using a voltage source rather than making a battery in the dish out of aluminum and silver oxides.

      Best bet is to just know this is why nobody uses abrasive polish any more. Too many ruined heirlooms.

      2 agree

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