Keep your heirloom pieces looking their best.

By Elyse Moody and Elizabeth Swanson
August 22, 2019
Peter Ardito

There's nothing more elegant than dining on sterling silver flatware for special occasions. The only problem you have to ward against, of course, is tarnish. "It's caused by exposure to open air," says Julien Goudard-Lemoine, director of collections for Parisian silversmith Puiforcat. "Humidity and sea air will speed up the process." He shares his tips on keeping our precious pieces looking pristine.

Related: How to Clean Your Plates, Glasses, and More

Don't Wait too Long to Clean Your Silver Pieces

The oxidation of silver, Goudard-Lemoine says, happens in two stages: a golden-toned, yellow tarnish occurs first. At that stage, it's easier to clean. In the second stage, when silver takes on a darker, blackish tarnish, a bit more effort is required to remove it. To slow down or stave off tarnishing, store your silver in the cloth pouches they were sold in, as that material will protect it from air and heat, he says.

How to Shine Tarnished Silver

"Clean everything by hand with soapy water and a soft sponge—any regular cleaning soap will do," Goudard-Lemoine says. "After cleaning, each item must be carefully dried and wiped with a dry, soft cloth." Never, he says, soak silver pieces in hot water, salt, or baking soda: "The baking soda that's used in electrolytic cleaning can be very abrasive to certain metal surfaces, so it could damage the silver—especially vintage pieces."

How to Shine Pieces with Intricate Design

For pieces with carved designs or crevices, you can put a small amount of cleaning cream onto a soft toothbrush. (Try Wright's Silver Cleaner and Polish Cream; Puiforcat makes its own to use on their display pieces.) Wrap the bristles in soft cotton and gently rub it into the crevices. You can also use a soft cotton swab—just make sure that whatever you use has a very soft, non-abrasive texture, otherwise you'll scuff the surface of your silver. To finish, remove any excess of cream with a clean, soft cloth. And, if your flatware or silverware has any decorative elements, like handles in wood or mother of pearl, just wipe them clean with a soft cotton cloth. "Prevent any extended contact with water—especially on cutlery with wooden or mother-of-pearl handles," Goudard-Lemoine says. For wood accents, he says you can polish them with beeswax.

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