Silver is beautiful, but needs a little bit of love and care. Caring for it is easy if done right, but if you do it wrong, heartache is guaranteed. It is more fragile than most people think and can be easily damaged. The advice we give here should put you on the right track and is equally true for Fine Silver, Sterling Silver or Silver Plate.
Cleaning and polishing of Silver are two very different things. Polishing always removes some of the surface metal, and is akin to sandpapering wood, but on a much finer scale. This is used to remove tarnish and/or to smooth scratches and restore a shiny, as new surface. Cleaning involves removing oils, fingerprints, dirt and grime that sit on the surface. These substances, if left overtime, will cause corrosion and permanent damage to the surface that only polishing will be able to rectify. Cleaning will not remove tarnish but does help in its prevention. It should be done regularly.
Mild detergent (phosphate/citrus free) or liquid hand soap that has been diluted in water can be gently rubbed onto the Silver surface with a soft cotton rag. An old unprinted t-shirt is perfect. Cotton balls or cotton buds can be used to get into tight crevices or intricate detail. For really hard to reach spots, a wooden toothpick that has been soaked in water can be used. The piece should then be rinsed thoroughly in clean water and then dried completely with a clean soft cloth. For a more effective clean, methylated spirit or rubbing alcohol can be used instead of the detergent. This dissolves any surface oil and will cause the final rinse water to “sheet” off instead of forming droplets.
Always work on a soft surface such as clean cotton rag, as the silver is easily scratched or dented. Wear disposable nitrile or latex gloves (not rubber which causes tarnish). Use a glass or plastic container for rinsing (a plastic colander is ideal) and never let Silver contact a wet, Stainless Steel sink, this will produce an electrochemical reaction that will corrode the steel and leave black marks on the Silver. This can only be removed by mechanical or chemical polishing, and is the reason it is not recommended to wash Silverware in a dishwasher.
Toothpaste, toothbrushes, scouring pads, lemon juice, salt, ammonia, bleach or vinegar are all to be avoided when cleaning Silver. They will either scratch the surface or cause corrosion and pitting.
Tarnish is caused by a chemical reaction between Silver, Sulphur and moisture in the air; It starts off as a yellow tinge, gets increasingly darker until it finally becomes an iridescent purple/black. This occurs at the atomic level, with the surface Silver being converted to Silver Sulphide. Atmospheric Sulphur has become much more prevalent due to our insatiable desire to burn fossil fuels which releases copious amounts of Hydrogen Sulphide. Sulphur is also present in a lot of foodstuffs, particularly eggs, dairy and wine. It is also present in cosmetics and toiletries. Textiles such as leather, wool, silk, felt (including Baize) and rubber all contain Sulphur compounds and should not be left in contact with Silver.
There are two common methods for removing tarnish.
Our preferred method is to release the Sulphides from the surface while leaving the Silver intact. This sounds difficult, but in fact is very straightforward. It is safe, quick, and environmentally friendly. Best of all, it can be done using common household items and will not harm your precious Silver. Please see our page on the safe removal of Silver tarnish.
The second method, which should only be done by experts, is to polish it off. It can be done with acids or fine abrasives and will remove it completely, along with a thin layer of the Silver. When done repeatedly over time, hallmarks and fine detail become less defined until eventually they become erased completely. Approach this method with extreme caution and do it very carefully. If done incorrectly, it will instantly ruin the Silver article.
Avoid polishing creams and dips. They contain abrasives that remove surface metal and acids that facilitate corrosion after repeated use. Their ingredients are generally toxic and there will always be residue left in more inaccessible areas. They should not be used on Silver that will contact food or the skin. Chrome or Brass cleaners are far too harsh and will cause irreparable damage.
The best options are to clean the Silver properly as outlined above and then use either a purpose made Silver Polishing Cloth or a Microfiber Cloth designed for polishing optical glass and computer screens. The Silver Cloth has a super fine buffing compound and tarnish inhibitor impregnated into its fibres. After repeated use the cloth will become black and will have to be replaced, as they cannot be washed. Our personal recommendation though, is for the Microfiber Lens cloth; they contain no chemicals, are super soft and can be washed repeatedly. Both will polish Silver to a beautiful shine and lustre. If you love your Silver, either of these will be a fantastic investment.
Silver will not oxidize or tarnish in a dry clean, atmosphere. Unfortunately, this environment only occurs in a laboratory. The best we can do is minimise the exposure of our precious Silver objects from moisture and pollutants, particularly sulphides.
The starting point for storage is clean Silver, free from fingerprints, dirt, grime, oil and tarnish. At this point, it is imperative not to touch it with bare hands. Cotton or latex gloves are best, but clean pieces of cotton cloth are absolutely fine. We suggest wrapping each article in its own piece of cloth or acid free tissue paper to avoid scratching or rubbing together. These can then be stored in a sealed polyethylene Ziploc bag. The addition of a moisture absorbing Silica Gel pouch will go a long way to keeping your articles looking shiny and new.
The best storage medium is called Pacific Cloth. It is impregnated with fine, sacrificial Silver particles that absorb the sulphides in the air. The cloth tarnishes but the enclosed Silver objects do not. This cloth can be simply wrapped around your silverware, or Pacific Cloth pouches can be obtained for smaller pieces such as jewellery. This material should give you years, if not decades of tarnish free storage. Yet again, a moisture absorbing Silica Gel pouch should be stored with it.
Please do not wrap in newspaper, paper, or cardboard. These are far too acidic and will cause corrosion and pitting over extended periods of time. Avoid storing in damp and humid areas like attics and basements.
Love your Silver.
And your Silver will love you back.
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