How to Clean Silver Ecologically: Silver Polish Alternatives

Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Colourbox

Things made out of silver tarnish over time, losing their shine and becoming black. We’ll show you how to clean silver without polish, using simple household products.

If you don’t use your silverware or wear your silver jewelry regularly, they become matte and black over time. This unsightly tarnish is silver sulfide.

Pure silver is too soft to use to make utensils or jewelry, so another metal is mixed in, forming an alloy, to add durability. The metal most commonly used for this purpose is copper. Pure silver is resistant to tarnish, but the added metals cause your silver items to tarnish when they come into contact with oxygen, moisture or sulfur in the air or in food. To get rid of this corrosion, you don’t need to reach for expensive polish made of caustic chemicals. Common household items can be just as effective in getting your silver to shine again. 

Cleaning Silverware and Silver Jewelry with Aluminum Foil

silverware
It is easy to clean silverware with household products. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Pixabay – CocoParisienne)

By far the most popular way to clean silverware is to wrap the silver pieces in aluminum foil and place them in boiling salt water. 

Aluminum and silver both form compounds with sulfur, but in this case, aluminum is more reactive than silver. With the salt water acting as a catalyst, the sulfur atoms are transferred from the silver to the aluminum, forming aluminum sulfide and freeing your silver pieces of their tarnish. However, the production and the disposal of aluminum foil are damaging to the environment and also to our health.

For this reason, we want to show you some alternative ways to get your silver shiny. These methods will cost a bit more time and effort, but they are better for the environment. 

Please consider: Polishing silver by hand can lead to small scratches. Be very careful!

How to Clean Silver with Common Household Items

  • Lemon juice and salt: Make a thick paste out of lemon juice and very fine salt. Use it to polish the tarnished silver and rinse with warm water. The stains will be gone.
  • Baking Powder: A tried and true method for getting rid of tarnish is cleaning silver with baking powder. Mix it with a bit of water and use a soft brush (e.g. an old toothbrush) to carefully polish the silver.
  • Toothpaste: Toothpaste is a versatile household item. To clean silver, you just need to rub a small amount of toothpaste on the tarnished silver. Allow it to work in for a few minutes and then rinse with cold water. Polish with a microfiber cloth until dry. 
  • Cleaning silver with baking soda and salt: Along with lemon juice, baking powder and vinegar, baking soda can substitute almost any cleaning product. Cleaning silver with baking soda is easy. Soak the silver pieces in lemon juice for thirty minutes. The acid helps to get rid of dirt and grease, without damaging the silver. Then place the silver in a solution of water and baking soda.

Slowing Down and Preventing Tarnish

cleaning silver with baking soda
Follow these simple tips, so your silver won’t tarnish. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Pixabay – Homestage)

There are a few simple ways to prevent or at least slow down the formation of silver sulfide:

  • Copper coins: Copper is more reactive with sulfur than silver.  If you store your silver pieces with a few pennies, the pennies will tarnish and become black first, which leaves your silver cleaner for longer. 
  • Limit contact with air: Wrap your silverware or jewelry in a cotton cloth, limiting the contact that your pieces have with the oxygen, moisture, and sulfur in the air. 
  • Chalk: A piece of chalk can also be effective in slowing the corrosion process by absorbing moisture from the air. Simply place a few pieces of chalk with your silver pieces when you store them.   
  • No silver in the dishwasher: There are many reasons why you should keep silverware out of the dishwasher. Pieces of sulfur-rich food like eggs, fish, or mustard will cause discoloration. Many dishwasher tablets contain chemicals that will also react with the silver, causing further tarnishing. The best thing to do is wash your silverware by hand as quickly as possible after use. 

This article was translated from German into English. You can view the original here: Silber reinigen: Besteck und Schmuck mit Hausmitteln putzen

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