Restore your dull, discolored silver accessories to their original state.
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Silver is a precious metal that's used to create your favorite jewelry, cutlery, serving platters, candlesticks, and more. If you have some of these accessories displayed around your home, you know as well as anyone that their shine isn't permanent. Contact with sulfur compounds, such as hydrogen sulfide in the air, can cause silver to tarnish over time, giving your beloved pieces a dull, unfinished look. Unlike rust, tarnish—a thin layer of corrosion that forms over certain metals—can be easily dealt with. Using a few easy-to-find supplies and these expert tips, your silver will be restored to its original state in no time. 

How to Clean Silver 

If your piece is lightly tarnished, try cleaning it before jumping straight to polish. As a hard rule, silver should never be cleaned in the dishwasher. The machine's high heat and harsh chemicals will cause your once reflective accessories to become dull. To safely clean your silver, start by using a plastic dishpan or line the sink with a towel—this prevents the silver from coming into contact with the sink's metal. Jeffrey Herman, founder of the Society of American Silversmiths, says to "use nitrile gloves as this will prevent fingerprints from transferring to your silver and possibly creating an imprint." Herman's comprehensive care instructions direct those cleaning silver to start by running it under warm water. Next, wash any tarnished areas with a cellulose sponge and citrus-free, phosphate-free dish soap. "Don't use the sponges that come supplied with some silver polishes as they scratch," he explains. Once clean, immediately dry the silver with a cotton towel. For any ornamental or hard-to-reach spots, Herman says to use a natural-bristle brush, such as a horsehair or white china bristle brush. If your piece has wooden handles or ivory insulators, Herman says to coat them first with crystal clean carnauba wax and allow them to dry. 

How to Polish Silver 

Tarnish is a natural process that anyone who owns silver will encounter occasionally. Luckily, it can be easily remedied. Before you begin, Herman says to rinse your silver pieces with warm water and dish soap to rehydrate old polish and dry immediately. Then, lay a cotton towel over your workspace so your silver doesn't get scratched while you work. Use nitrile gloves to avoid fingerprints and clean any remaining grime with hand sanitizer using cotton products, like cotton balls, makeup pads, or swabs. If tarnish remains, then you can reach for the polish. "It's always best to spend more time polishing with a mild polish than less time with an abrasive one, Herman says." He recommends using Herman's Simply Clean Collectors Silver Polish ($13.95, hermans-silver-polish.com)—his own brand—or Blitz Silver Shine Polish ($10.19, homedepot.com). Apply your chosen polish to a cellulose sponge and rub it in a back-and-forth motion, rather than circular. According to Herman, if you find the sponge is taking longer than expected to remove tarnish, switch to a cotton ball or make-up pad, as they are both firmer and won't absorb the polish as easily. "Some polishes are rinse-only, and others may be allowed to dry then buffed off. Read the label's instructions," Herman says. He also notes that you should keep your polish sealed closed when you're not using it so it doesn't dry out. 

Set of Vintage English Silver Cutlery over an Old Linen Cloth and a Dark Wooden Background. Top View
Credit: Eddy Buttarelli/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

How to Store Silver 

Although silver can be used daily, there are a few steps you can take to ensure its longevity against tarnish. "Silver can be left out on your table providing it's protected with a clear wax," Herman says. He recommends using non-toxic Meguiar's Quik Wax ($11.99, target.com) or Renaissance Wax ($15, walmart.com), which he notes is more difficult to apply, but is just as effective. Using wax on your displayed silver will keep tarnish at bay for up to a year, but over time dust will gradually degrade your pieces. "Remove this dust with a moist cotton towel and distilled water when you see a build-up, dry, then reapply the wax," Herman explains. Wax will also protect your silver when stored in a china cabinet, where less dust is present. If you see any yellowing of silver, remove it with hand sanitizer or 70 percent isopropyl alcohol and then reapply the wax. For the longest-term storage, Herman recommends wrapping your silver in acid-free tissue and then placing it in a polyethylene bag with a non-toxic anti-tarnish strip to avoid grime for years to come. Store flatware in a chest or drawer lined with silver cloth and an anti-tarnish strip. "Keeping your silver covered with this cloth prevents tarnish-producing gasses from interacting with your silver," Herman says. 

How to Clean Silver Jewelry 

Whether you wear silver jewelry every day or have it tucked away somewhere, chances are you've dealt with it building up some tarnish and grime. According to Louise Lieblich, Head of Diamonds and Jewelry at WP Diamonds, sterling silver tarnishes primarily by contact with sulfurous fumes in the air or in the dust that lands on your item. "The higher the humidity in the air, the faster the jewelry will tarnish," Lieblich says. "Also, rubber gloves, rubber bands, wool and elastic items contain higher levels of sulphur and can speed up the tarnishing." When handling jewelry, Lieblich recommends wearing cotton or vinyl gloves, as the oils, moisture, and salts in our fingers cause a chemical reaction that can darken and corrode the jewelry overtime. To clean sterling silver jewelry (including ones with gemstones), immerse your accessories in a little warm water with a dab of dish soap. "This will get it clean and then you can dry it with a lint free cloth and move on to the polishing stage," she says. 

How to Polish Silver Jewelry 

To polish silver jewelry, Lieblich says to use a silver polishing cloth and rub back and forth gently until the tarnish is removed. "Some pieces of silver jewelry are patterned in such a way where a small amount of tarnish is best left on it as it adds depth to the design," she notes. Once clean and polished, store your jewelry in a felt lined dry box with a few silica gel packs. Lieblich says the packs will help keep the air dry and reduce tarnishing. "You can also wrap the items in silver polishing cloths or store them with anti-tarnish strips," she says.

Comments (2)

Martha Stewart Member
December 13, 2021
great information on cleaning your silver for the holiday, Thank you Jeff for your silver polish, works great!
Martha Stewart Member
December 13, 2021
great information on cleaning your silver for the holiday, Thank you Jeff for your silver polish, works great!