• Cleaning Sterling Silver

    Posted on January 14, 2012 by in The Care and Cleaning of Silver



    There are several methods of cleaning silver. They include silver polish and pastes, silver cloths, instant dips, and the soda, hot water and metal plate combination. I will address each one of these methods and what I think of them and why.

    Silver polish and pastes come in two forms, either as a liquid or as a paste. They require an applicator of some kind ie. a rag or a sponge and some elbow “grease”. Twinkle and Wright’s are two of the industry leaders in this area and I know for a fact that Wright’s has both the paste and the liquid (I use the paste polish). Twinkle paste polish is less abrasive than Wright’s paste polish so if your silver just needs a little touch up that is what I recommend if you prefer pastes. Otherwise use Wright’s liquid polish. The reason to use a silver paste or polish is that this method is the ONLY one that will turn your dull and lifeless silver into something that is so bright and shiny you can turn off the lights and almost see your silver glow in the dark! This is also the only method I will ever use. For silver that is extra tarnished and needs a little more abrasion I use Wright’s paste and a piece of felt.

    Silver Cloths are nothing more than a soft cloth with a polish applied to it at the factory. This method is fine as well and is another good way to get a “quick” clean for silver that just needs a little touch up and is not heavily tarnished.

    Instant dips like Tarnex do NOTHING to clean silver but instead put a filthy film over the silver. I have seen pieces of silver that have been the victim of long term exposure to instant dips. They are dull, very UGLY and CANNOT be restored to their former beauty without a tremendous amount of expense. AVOID THIS METHOD AT ALL COST.

    Soda/hot water/metal plate is the worst method to use to “clean” your silver (and I use the word “clean” very loosely). Here is what is happening when you use this method. The soda and metal plate create a solution that strips silver from the item being “cleaned” and applies it to the aluminium foil or metal plate. I performed an experiment once to prove my point and the results were this. The silver was still not clean but was better in some places. If the item was silver-plate it REMOVED the layer of silver leaving ugly wear spots on your now significantly less valuable silver. If the silver was in good condition i.e.: it only needed to be shined a little bit, this method did work a little. If the silver had been ignored for any length of time it DID NOT. In short, don’t risk it. Your silver is worth a little bit of effort. Some ladies are telling people to use Tide as the soda. Again, I DO NOT recommend this method at any time.

    I know we live in a throw away society where it is easier to replace things than get them fixed. I also know that time is always on the move and that once lost, we can never get it back. But if you want your silver looking its very best and brightest it requires a little more effort on your part than the significantly less effective “instant” methods of cleaning silver, like chemical instant dips or the soda hot water metal plate combination method previously discussed.

    Many people have chosen to use stainless steel because it is so much easier to care for than silver. They have been sold on the lie that silver is too difficult to clean. The cost of many better quality stainless steel patterns mirrors the cost of a good set of used sterling. I for one would rather have sterling silver gracing my table and am very confused as to why others would not. Stainless steel simply CANNOT match the beauty of silver. Besides, how many times have you had a guest comment on your pretty stainless steel?

    If you love your silver it will love you right back. Enjoy your silver and use it for its intended purpose. Eating with plated or sterling flatware is what the silver was designed for. Silver-plate will wear off around the fork tines and at the base of the spoons and forks, but even with heavy use this process takes many, many years to occur. Most manufacturers of silver-plate specifically add extra silver to these high wear areas to help combat this. Should the base metal be exposed you may continue to use your flatware. You can have the silver-plated items re-plated, but is really cheaper to buy replacement pieces instead of spending the money to have this done to the worn silver.

    Dishwashers are hard on silverware and therefore should never be used to wash your silver. Hollow handle pieces such as knives and some servers are especially vulnerable to being damaged so you MUST keep them out of the dishwasher. The heat of the dishwasher will cause the glue in the handles to melt. This in turn causes the handles to eventually fall off. I have friends who use their dishwasher to wash their silver and then remove their flatware before the drying cycle, but I DO NOT recommends this method.

    Caring for Sterling Silver:

    Tarnish is formed by impurities in the air like sulphur. If you are in a city whose air quality is especially bad it takes a lot less time for silver to tarnish than if you are in a rural area with fairly good air quality. In a nutshell the more smog in your neighbourhood, the quicker your silver will tarnish.

    After you wash your silver store it in a silverware chest. This helps to keep the impurities in the air off your silver. What you do not want to do is store your flatware in the chest when it is wet as it will cause the lining in the chest to rot. Have someone dry it using a soft towel. Use your flatware DAILY and rotate the pieces you use so the set wears evenly and all pieces develop their patina at the same rate. By doing this you can ELIMINATE having to shine your silverware as you are washing away the impurities that cause tarnish to form in the first place. I have family who for 50 years have never once shined their silver and it still looks as good as the day they bought it. The reason is they put their silver on their tables and use it each and every day. They have truly enjoyed their investment through the years and eaten in style.

    Enjoy your silver as it is a shame to leave it in storage. Silver does take a little extra effort to use but it is well worth the extra care. Stainless steel just isn’t the same thing and will never look as good on your family‚Äôs table as quality silver will. If you need a silverware chest or are thinking about buying some sterling flatware or hollowware and you don’t see what your are looking for here, drop me an email with your request.