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How to Clean Silver

February 22nd, 2012 · 12 Comments

Here at Artbeads, we know tarnish never sleeps! Exposure to air and moisture create tarnish and it darkens the bright, white shine of silver. We do what we can to keep silver products from getting tarnished—store in sealed plastic bags with carbon paper strips to absorb moisture—yet the tarnish still settles on anything it can.

Different types of silver items require different handling. For example, a silver-plated tray cannot withstand weekly polishing with an abrasive cleanser because the plating will eventually wear off. Similarly, a highly detailed design that has been oxidized (blackened) to enhance the pattern should never be chemically cleaned or it would lose the detail. A delicate chain shouldn’t be pulled through a polishing cloth because it might stretch or break fine links. For these reasons we carry several tarnish removal products. Some require more elbow grease than others, but we will explain when to use these different types of cleaning techniques, including an old home remedy to remove tarnish.

It’s important to note that for very soiled silver, you must first carefully wash it with mild soap and water and dry thoroughly. You run the risk of scratching silver if you don’t remove any dirt first.

Polishing Cloths and Pads

The two-part polishing cloth will be familiar to most. The inner part is treated with jeweler’s rouge and will bring out the luster of your silver while removing any tarnish and dirt. The outer part is a flannel material that buffs away any residue and really makes a shine. These are never washed and can be used well after the inner cloth turns completely black. If it ever stops removing tarnish it’s time to purchase another one.

Euro-tool makes 2×2-inch polishing pads that are ideal for reaching tight spots and to avoid removing oxidation. These traditional Native American pieces would have been spoiled if the darkened patina was removed from the recesses. Here we were able to polish the high spots to a mirror shine and still maintain all the detail. These pads are disposable once they’re blackened and come in a package of twenty.

Microfiber has become as common as denim and nearly as useful! Our Artbeads microfiber cloth is perfect for any piece of jewelry and will not cause damage. Soft stones such as opals, malachite and pearls set in silver should only be cleaned with an un-treated cloth like this. These cloths are machine washable and last a long time. We keep finding other uses for them like cleaning electronic screens, wiping fog from windshields, and keeping eye glasses free of smudges. While we wouldn’t choose this to clean a very tarnished piece, it’s perfect for a quick wipe off when you notice it’s become a bit dull. Natural pearls should also be wiped with a soft cloth after wearing and before storing in a soft pouch, and the microfiber cloth is just right for the task.

Jewelry Cleaner

It may be time to bring out the “big guns”— Precious Metal Liquid Jewelry Cleaner. If you need to clean silver chain, elaborate filigree, wire work, delicate earrings, or other items that could be bent or damaged by rubbing with a cloth, this is what you should use. Be aware that if you were to spray it on an antique piece you could reduce its value by removing patina of age. Follow the directions on the bottle carefully, being certain to rinse the cleaned items and dry thoroughly.

Home Remedy

You may have seen silver cleaned with an old method that involves aluminum foil and baking soda. It can effectively remove tarnish, provided the items are in direct contact with the foil. First, line a glass pan with foil. Lay the item to be cleaned inside, fully submerge it in very hot water and then sprinkle a generous amount of baking soda over the piece. Keep in mind that your results will vary, and this method is not recommended. However, it’s a fun science experiment, doesn’t cost much to try and will continue to fascinate people!

For sparkling silver, maintenance and preventative measures will save you a lot of work. Keep your silver free of skin oils and dirt, and keep it sealed from humidity and air. If you store items that are difficult to clean carefully you won’t have to clean them as often!

-Marissa

Tags: Ask The Experts · Beader's Resource

12 responses so far ↓

  • 1 joanne farash // Feb 25, 2012 at 7:03 am

    what type of sterling silver cleaner can be used thats has swarovski crystals worked into the piece or gemstones?

  • 2 Teri // Feb 25, 2012 at 8:17 am

    The spray, Precious Liquid Jewelry Cleaner is ideal for silver and Swarovski. It works in an instant without having to scrub. You can even fill a small container and dip a piece. Just rinse it with tap water (mind the drain!) and pat dry.

  • 3 Carol Redmon // Feb 28, 2012 at 3:31 am

    I love the look of silver with pearls! I have made several pairs of earrings using 26g argentium, but they still tarnish eventually. Because of the delicate wire used, they are extremely difficult to clean with a polishing cloth. Any ideas?

  • 4 MrFitz // Feb 28, 2012 at 6:04 am

    For Silver and pearl (or delicate gemstone) designs, we use a small paint brush dipped in liquid cleaner. It allows cleaning of specific components without dunking the entire piece. In fact, we reviewed a variety of Silver cleaning techniques on our web site (pardon the advert).

  • 5 Harriet Hicks // Feb 28, 2012 at 6:13 am

    Informative and helpful info.

  • 6 Florence McMenamin // Feb 28, 2012 at 6:47 am

    You can use a soft toothbrush with a small amount of toothpaste on it. Careful brushing can remove tarnish on silver pieces. Rinse with warm water and a soft cloth to dry and polish your piece

  • 7 Jennifer // Feb 28, 2012 at 7:03 am

    I have the cleaner, but the nozzle gets clogged quickly & can’t be fixed. Thinking that it was just a bad nozzle, I grabbed an empty (water) misting bottle & transferred the solution. It worked – for a little while, then THAT nozzle clogged. Any ideas?

  • 8 Sharon D. // Feb 28, 2012 at 8:01 am

    I would like to know why the Home Remedy is not recommended? It can be very effective, but like anything, you have to do it a bit until you see how to do it correctly – IMO. Just wondering why it isn’t recommended.

  • 9 Marissa // Feb 28, 2012 at 8:44 am

    Hi Jennifer-
    The solution can clog the nozzle sometimes, and if that happens, simply soak the cap in hot water. Spray the bottle a couple of times upside down and it should work fine after that.

    Sharon-
    We don’t recommend the home remedy because it does take quite a while to get your silver polished. You have to really scrub your pieces in order to get the salt off from the baking soda, and this solution is only effective on certain silver pieces–particularly those that are not very tarnished. It’s still a fun experiment, but can end up being more work than it’s worth.

  • 10 Nancy // Feb 28, 2012 at 10:29 am

    I think this is a very helpful and well done lesson as are all lessons on this site. I did not know that opals were soft stones and needed more care/ Thank you so much for your presentation.

  • 11 Linda // Feb 28, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    I recommend the best silver polish ever called Goddards Silver Dip. Fast-easy and no mess! I ordered it from Amazon.com. It’s terrific!

  • 12 Michelle // Mar 1, 2012 at 8:11 am

    Just a paste of baking soda and water worked with your fingers is very effective also. If tarnish isn’t too bad, dry baking soda on a soft cloth works well too.

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