- Silver tarnishes when it reacts with airborne sulfur in a process known as oxidation.
- To clean silver, line a bucket with aluminum foil, fill it with warm water and baking soda, and soak.
- While you can’t prevent tarnish completely, storing silver with chalk can slow down the process.
- Visit Insider’s Home & Kitchen Reference library for more stories.
Silver is a precious metal that shines brightly at first but tarnishes quickly as it reacts with naturally occurring sulfur in the air. It’s a process called oxidation, and it’s pretty much inevitable. Your jewelry or flatware needs regular maintenance if you want to keep the silver from turning dull and black over time.
Erin Nelson, a jewelry designer from Cape Cod, MA, very much understands the struggle of silver maintenance.
“The [commercial silver cleaner] alternatives are usually pretty harsh chemicals that I wouldn’t want to breathe in, and I wouldn’t recommend other people do,” Nelson says. She instead recommends this tried-and-true process before resorting to any commercial polish or silver cleaner on the market.
Grab your silver jewelry or flatware and head to the kitchen, where you’ll likely have everything you need to restore the shine.
Other methods for cleaning and polishing silver
If you’ve got large amounts of silver or simply need a backup method to get rid of heavier tarnish, here are a few more methods to try:
Vinegar and baking soda
These are the dynamic duo of household cleansers. Mix a small amount of white vinegar with baking soda to form a paste, then rub it on the silver with a soft cloth to remove tarnish. Rinse it off and let dry.
Skip the minty gels and go for a regular paste. Nelson recommends one with baking soda, as it’s gentle on teeth so it should also behave with your silver. She also says to do a spot check to confirm that you aren’t doing more harm than good with this technique.
Yes, the same stuff you put on a hamburger could save your silver. That’s because the acid in the tomatoes breaks down the tarnish. Use a towel to gently rub ketchup onto tarnished areas. For stubborn stains or heavily tarnished pieces, let the ketchup sit for roughly 20 minutes before rinsing it away. Use plastic gloves if you don’t want to get your hands all goopy, and be sure to rinse the silver well when it comes out of its ketchup bath.
If you’d prefer not to have ketchup-covered silver, opt for a cola bath. That’s right, the same stuff you might like to drink is acidic enough to destroy tarnish and even rust. Pour the soda — you can even use diet — into a dish or cup and submerge the silver. The cola will work quickly, so take a peek after a few minutes to see how it’s cleaning up. When you’re satisfied with the results, remove and rinse thoroughly.
Commercial silver cleaners
Any supermarket or home improvement store will have a number of polishes, dips, and other solutions that can clean jewelry and household silver. Nelson says to use gloves with any liquid-based cleaners, as it’s “impossible” not to get them on your hands, plus they might cause a rash for some people.
Nelson swears by a gentler commercial option called the Sunshine Polishing Cloth. It’s a soft reusable cloth that contains cleaner, so all you have to do is wipe your silver. It’s a great option for touching up jewelry between uses. The cloth will get dirty over time, but do not wash it per the manufacturer’s instructions.
Protecting silver in between uses
Silver begins to tarnish as soon as it is exposed to air, and it only gets worse when perspiration, perfume, or humidity enter the mix.
Nelson recommends keeping silver sealed away in between uses. At the very least, put jewelry or flatware in a box and close the lid, though a zip-top bag will also work fine. Don’t keep silver necklaces out or hang them on a hook for display.
Dull or tarnished silver need not be banished to the junk drawer or a garage sale now that you have these cleaning methods in your arsenal. Any of these DIY strategies are good for regular silver maintenance, but jewelry designer Erin Nelson recommends submerging silver in a bath of baking soda and warm water in a vessel lined with aluminum foil. The foil will absorb the tarnish, and you won’t have to do much if any scrubbing. Keep silver sealed up between uses to slow down the oxidation process.