Discover an earth-friendly and nontoxic way to polish silver.

Updated February 25, 2020
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Although the results are satisfying, polishing a collection of silver flatware can feel incredibly tedious. All silver, whether sterling or plated, is vulnerable to tarnish when exposed to air and light. Many naturally-occurring gases in the air contain the compound sulfur, which reacts with the silver to create silver sulfide, the dark coating you find on silver items that have been stored away or unused for some time. Moisture and humidity can promote this chemical reaction, which is why silver tarnishes quicker in areas where the air is humid or damp.

Light tarnishing can often be removed by simply washing the silver item with warm water and gentle dishwashing liquid and then buffing it dry with a soft cloth. Silver cleaning cloths made especially for removing tarnish from precious metals are also available. But the easiest method for removing unsightly tarnish from your wares (and minimizing the elbow grease required to do it) is to give them a baking soda bath.

The non-toxic technique—which involves placing your silver items in a disposable aluminum pan and then soaking them in a solution of baking soda, salt, and hot water—helps reverse the chemical reaction by using baking soda to lift and transfer the sulfur off of your silverware and onto the aluminum pan. 

Once the items regain their luster, simply rinse in fresh water and dry, buffing more as needed, with a soft cloth. Keeping your silver items stored in a cool, dry place, away from sunlight will help reduce tarnishing down the road.

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What you need

Materials
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How to do it

Step 1

Fill an aluminum pan (or one lined with aluminum foil) with hot water. Add salt and 1/2 to 1 cup of baking soda, and stir to dissolve.

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Step 2

Working in a ventilated area, submerge the silver pieces in the solution. A chemical reaction will occur, removing the tarnish. It's important to note that with this technique, the good tarnish (a desirable patina and the dark crevices in a pattern) may be removed as well, and pitting may result.

Step 3

Rinse and dry each piece, and then buff with silver polish to remove any remaining sulfur sulfide. Experts recommend using a good-quality commercial polish, and there are some less-toxic ones available.

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