Silver is a beautiful and priceless metal and it can last a long time. This is great for longevity, but it also means if you have silver sitting around, it may have gotten somewhat dirty since you first acquired it. Silver is a classic material, no matter if it’s silverware, jewelry, a plate, a platter, or even a sword you may have inherited! Since you probably don’t want to get rid of your silver items anytime soon, it’s important to know the trusted ways to keep silver as shiny as the first day you brought it home.
This article has different household tips when you’re asking, how do you clean heavily tarnished silver? No matter what you have at home, this versatile guide will help your tarnished silver to shine.
What is tarnish?
After you’ve had silver for a few years, you may have noticed it starting to appear a bit dull or grey in color. This discoloring is known as tarnish. It’s a thin layer of corrosion that forms over metals like copper, brass, aluminum, and, yes, silver! It’s important to understand why tarnish appears so that you can prevent it from happening in the future.
Tarnish is caused by a chemical reaction of silver, often occurring due to sulfur, which can exist in the air particles around us through compounds like Hydrogen Sulfide and Sulfur Dioxide. Even some day to day items (like soap, shampoo, face wash, meat, eggs, mustard, onions, latex, and wool) can contain sulfates or sulfides, so silver tarnish is a common problem.
Sulfur is not the only cause of tarnish. Other chemicals, like chlorine and copper, can also cause tarnish. Even the different pH levels or acidity levels of a person’s skin can cause tarnish. And cosmetic products, like hair spray, hair products, and lotion can cause silver to tarnish, so beware getting ready after putting on silver jewelry.
How to Keep Silver from Tarnishing
Although you can’t totally prevent tarnishing, there are a few steps you can take to prevent silver from tarnishing in the future.
Silver will not tarnish in dry air, so keeping a silica gel or some chalk nearby your silver pieces can help prevent tarnish.
You can also slow tarnish by making sure jewelry is the last thing you put on when you’re getting dressed — apply all deodorants, sunscreens, and perfumes prior to putting on silver jewelry. And don’t wear your silver pieces when you are doing activities that involve close contact with strong chemicals, like swimming or cleaning with strong household cleaning products.
Lastly, to help prevent silver from tarnishing, make sure you are not cleaning it too often. Products like polish are abrasive, so take care with how frequently you choose to shine up your metal. It isn’t necessary to do so every time you notice a small amount of tarnish.
How to Store Jewelry to Prevent Tarnish
Even if your silver pieces aren’t worn around as jewelry, it’s still important to store them properly. Never wrap your silver in rubber or tissue paper containing acid. If you have to use tissue paper, make sure it’s acid-free. Another option is to use unbleached cotton muslin. Make sure you’re using something — if the silver pieces touch each other, they could scratch each other.
A final tip is: don’t leave silver in direct sunlight — even in a cabinet! The sunlight can speed up the chemical reaction and cause your jewelry to tarnish faster. Cleaning and organizing your silver in order to store it in a safe place is the key to maintaining its quality through the years.
How to Clean Sterling Silver
The silver pieces you own may not be pure silver, but it’s still important to take delicate care when cleaning them. Although sterling silver is stronger than pure silver, it is also more likely to tarnish.
Depending on the silver content in your sterling silver piece, it may tarnish more or less frequently. To find out how much silver your piece contains, examine the piece itself and the packaging. Many reputable jewelers will imprint their jewelry with a .925 stamp to show it is 92.5% real silver. If your silver has a .925 stamp, it contains mostly silver and should be treated delicately.
Silver can come in different purities, like .950 or .925, meaning they contain 95% or 92.5% silver. On packaging, these will likely appear in decimal form, and are useful to know. The purity of the metal will decide a few things, like how malleable the silver is and also how quickly it tarnishes.
Both sterling silver and pure silver can tarnish, but they can also both be cleaned with DIY silver cleaning methods. Removing residue doesn’t have to be hard. The easy methods below all work well if you’re wondering, “how do you clean heavily tarnished silver?”
How Do You Clean Heavily Tarnished Silver?
Household Solutions to Clean Silver
The good news is that it’s easy to clean silver even after tarnish appears. There are many products already found in your home which can help to shine up your tarnished pieces. And, best of all, there are even products designed especially for cleaning silver. They’re easy to use and polish up the metal right away.
However, be sure not to rashly substitute any products, especially when it comes to polishing the silver. Silver is very delicate, and it’s important to take care when cleaning it. For example, using a paper towel instead of a microfiber cloth or soft rag to dry silver can cause scratches.
Here’s how to clean silver with items you can already find around the house.
Silver Polishing Cloths
Silver polishing cloths are the easiest way to clean tarnished silver, and even prevent tarnish from occurring in the future. A silver polishing cloth, like the Champion Silver Polish Cloth, will aid immensely in cleaning. It’s so easy — all you have to do is use the polish cloth to rub the heavily tarnished surface and clean the tarnish from your silver. After cleaning and buffing, the heavily tarnished pieces will look brand new.
Aluminum Foil and Baking Soda
Here’s how to polish silver if you need a quick and easy solution to clean silver. It’s perfect for smaller silver objects, like flatware, as you need the silver to be able to fit into a bowl. For this method, you need a sheet of aluminum foil, baking soda, boiling water, and a bowl large enough for your silver item or items.
Take the bowl and line it with the aluminum foil, shiny side up. Next, fill the bowl with boiling water and baking soda. The ratio of baking soda and water should be about one tablespoon of baking soda to one cup of water. Last, add your silver into the bowl mixture. Make sure it actually touches the aluminum foil, because this will begin a chemical reaction that cleans the residue from the silver. Leave the silver in the bowl for up to ten minutes, depending on the dirtiness on the piece.
Dish Soap and Water
You can clean silver with something you definitely have just sitting around in the kitchen: dish soap and water! If your items are not badly tarnished but instead just dull or have just a bit of residue, this is probably the method for you. Gentle cleaning, with just soap and water, will make silver gleam beautifully, and this method can be used on gold as well.
For this method, all you do is add a few drops of dish soap to a bowl of warm water. Mix the two until you see bubbles, then let your silver soak in the bowl for five to ten minutes. If there are any holes or crevices, you can use a small soft brush, like a toothbrush, to carefully clean them out.
After you’ve finished cleaning your silver, rinse the silver in warm water. Then, use any microfiber towels to clean off the silver. When you’re done wiping down the silver with your soapy cloth, rinse it with cold water, then buff the silver with a clean cloth specially intended for silver. The Champion Silver Polish Cloth is specifically intended for sensitive silver and will make it look bright and new without risking any damage to your jewelry or plates.
Be aware that you should never use dish soap if you are washing a piece of silver with gemstones or pearls. These will react differently to dish soap than the silver itself and should be treated with even greater care. And even though you may be hand washing your items using dish soap, you should never put your silver in the dishwasher itself!
If you’re wondering how to polish silver with cleaner made just for silver jewelry, you can find a bottle of jewelry cleaner at any jeweler and most department stores! These are designed specifically for the polishes of jewelry and fine metals like silver. They will have their own instructions about how to polish your jewelry on the individual containers. Even better, a jewelry cleaning cloth like the Champion Silver Polish Cloth already contains powerful cleaning components in the cloth itself and one cloth will outlast 1 gallon of jewelry polish!
Surprisingly, you can even use toothpaste to clean up your silver! However, for this method, make sure you test the process on a small section of your silver before using it. This method is a bit harsher, so you do not want to use it frequently.
The only types of toothpaste you should use are simple toothpastes: solid-colored with tartar-controlling ingredients. You should also stay away from gel toothpastes — weirdly, these actually aren’t abrasive enough to remove a lot of tarnish! The best results come from toothpastes that aren’t too tough or too gentle.
If you are using this method, it’s pretty straightforward! Just apply some toothpaste to a microfiber cloth, rub until the tarnish is removed, then rinse with warm water and dry.
Vinegar and Baking Soda
There are many ways to clean silver naturally, with things you have sitting around. If you have vinegar sitting in your kitchen, you have a quick way to restore your silver. Just mix ½ cup of white vinegar with two tablespoons of baking soda in a bowl of warm water. Then, just let the silver soak for two to three hours. When you’re finished, rinse the silver in cold water before you dry with a soft cloth or microfiber towel!
The best thing about this method is that the cleaner itself is already mixed up for you. To clean silver using window cleaner, all you need is the cleaner itself and a soft cloth or a small brush, like a toothbrush. This method works for newer silver, but it should never be used on an antique piece.
After the silver is done reacting, you could use a microfiber cloth to clean it off and make it extremely shiny. A polishing cloth is the best bet for cleaning a silver piece or silver jewelry, because it is specially designed to polish silver. The Champion Silver Polish Cloth uses extra care to make even tricky polishing jobs easy. Using this cloth will gleam it up beautifully. It can be used not only on silver, but also on brass, gold, chrome, and any kind of jewelry!
Professionally Cleaning Silver
Sometimes, it’s a good option to take your silver to a professional. Maybe there’s a family heirloom that’s particularly delicate, and you want an expert to remove the tarnish. If your piece is extremely old, fragile, or valuable, like antique silver, you might not want the responsibility of cleaning it and may choose to leave cleaning up to an expert. If you decide to use this method, you can contact a local jeweler to remove the tarnish initially, then follow up by using a silver polish cloth as needed.
How to Store Your Silver
After you’ve cleaned your silver, you want to make certain it will stay shiny and clean! The worst thing to do is allow clean silver to come in contact with harsh chemicals and strong cleaners, like chlorine or bleach. Make sure you’re storing it with packaging meant for its sensitive structure. Something like rubber bands and newspaper will damage your silver. And even though it seems like an easy method of cleaning, you should never put silver in the dishwasher! This will also damage it.
You’ll want to ensure that your silver pieces are dry before they are stored. Use a polishing cloth to wipe the silver completely dry with a clean cloth before putting it away. When storing, you should keep silver separate from other metals, like brass or copper. Keep silver in a location where it’s only being stored with other silver pieces.
It’s important to remember there is no way to completely eliminate tarnish, but now you know how to answer when someone asks you, “How do you clean heavily tarnished silver?” in the future. Using these helpful silver cleaning tips, combined with the Champion Silver Polish Cloth, you’re sure to help your gorgeous pieces stay shiny and clean for a long time!