How to Restore Tarnished Silver

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How to Restore Tarnished Silver

Silver is a very popular precious metal, beautiful enough for use in jewellery, but with an accessible cost. So popular is silver for the table that some people even refer to plastic eating utensils as silverware.. One of the few drawbacks of the metal is that it can tarnish. Some buyers avoid silver because they regard silver as high maintenance. Actually, using silver regularly and cleaning it as needed often prevents tarnish. Even neglected and badly discoloured pieces are easy to restore. Silver is not any harder to care for than any other metal; however, owners should learn the few steps they need to take to restore tarnished silver.

How to Restore Silver

The first step to properly caring for silver is to understand what tarnish is and is not. Then, use gentle products that damage neither the silver nor its owner. It is not even necessary to remove all tarnish, since engraved or otherwise highly textured silver benefits from a little darkening in the creases.

What Is Tarnish?

Silver tarnish is a dull yellow to black discolouration whose cause is a chemical reaction with sulphur compounds in the air. Other metals mixed with the silver can also oxidise, adding to the discolouration. Pure silver does not oxidise. Tarnish does not damage silver, although the sulphur compounds that cause it are very bad for human health. The longer tarnish remains, the harder it is to remove.

Tarnish is not the same thing as patina. Patina refers to the very fine scratches that silver develops with use. The surface of the silver develops a warm, soft appearance rather than the mirror-like shine of new silver. It is possible to remove tarnish without damaging the patina, and the two look quite different. Tarnish is dull-looking and can also hide imperfections in the silver.

What Is Silver?

Most people are familiar with silver in a general way, but there are multiple grades of silver, plus other metals that resemble silver. These metals have different properties and require different care. Especially for second-hand pieces, owners should make sure something really is silver before trying to clean it.




Fine silver

Pure silver

Shiny, white-grey

Too soft for most uses


Sterling silver

Silver mixed with copper


Silver plate

Other metal coated with silver


White gold

An alloy of gold

Heavier and more durable than sterling silver



A grey-white metal

More durable and heavier than white gold or sterling silver


Sterling silver is not the only silver alloy in popular use. Buyers should look for particular numbers or makers' marks to identify each type of silver. The law varies from one country to the next concerning how much silver an alloy must include to count as silver.

Silver Cleaners and Polishes

Very mild tarnish sometimes just wipes off. Otherwise, boil it in water with a small amount of salt and baking soda mixed in. Be sure to only use an aluminium or enamelled pot with an aluminium foil lining, as other metals can damage silver. The aluminium is important to the chemistry of the process. If the piece is too big to fit in a pot on the stove, put it in an aluminium-foil lined container and soak it until the water and baking soda mixture cools. Afterwards, wash with a gentle soap and dry with a clean, soft cloth.

For more stubborn cases of tarnish, many experts recommend specially formulated silver polish. However, while these products are gentle on silver, they often contain toxic chemicals that can harm the user or the environment. Pay attention to any warnings on the product label and try to find out what is actually in the polish. If a chemical is unfamiliar, do an Internet search for its Material Safety Data Sheet to find out what its associated risks are. Choose the least toxic product available.

Toothpaste works very well to remove tarnish, although it is more abrasive than silver polish and could scratch the metal. Use a polishing cloth or a soft-bristled toothbrush.. Very delicate pieces, or pieces that contain stones, require cleaning by a professional.

How to Buy Silver Cleaning Products

eBay has a wide selection of silver polishes,, brushes, and cloths, as well as less formal silver care products, such as toothbrushes. To find something specific, use the Advanced Search feature, but to browse the listings, do a basic search with a general search term, like silver cleaning products.. For any questions about a product, ask the seller; there is a convenient contact link on the seller's profile page. Once the tarnish is gone, remember to use the silver frequently and clean it as needed, to help keep the tarnish from returning.

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