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How to clean silver

Melanie Whitehouse / 11 March 2016

Get your silver sparkling again with our tips for cleaning and polishing silver, plus find out how to prevent tarnishing.

Find out how to get your silver sparkling again

Unlike gold, silver tarnishes and turns black if not regularly cleaned, but there are scores of quick, easy and natural cleaners to choose from, made from substances you’ll find in your home.

Tried and tested methods

1. To bring out the best in your jewellery or silverware sparkle, line a medium-sized bowl with aluminium foil, shiny side up, and fill it with boiling water. Mix in one tablespoon of powdered laundry detergent, a tablespoon or salt and slowly add half a cup of white vinegar. Give it a stir, so all the granules are dissolved, then soak your silver for up to a minute. Remove using kitchen tongs. Rinse thoroughly with clean water, and either air-dry or buff up gently with a soft cloth.

As with gold, this method shouldn’t be used with jewellery that has gemstones stuck on (earrings, pendants, bracelets) or with fragile gemstones like coral, opals, pearls and moonstones.

2. Use a proprietary silver polish. This maybe best for antique or intricate items of silver. Note that even special polishes can remove a layer of silver, so if it is very precious or delicate, take it to a professional cleaner. With a soft, silver-polishing cloth, rub the jewellery with a little of the polish, using a back-and-forth motion (avoid rubbing in circles because this can leave scratches or patterns in the surface of the jewellery). Rinse off under cool running water, then dry using a soft cloth.

Find out how to clean gold

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Other methods for cleaning silver

Try one of these natural and alternative methods for cleaning silver:

Brighten silver trinkets by soaking them for 10 minutes in a solution of one cup of warm water and 1/2 cup clear ammonia. Gently wipe clean and dry.

Squirt a small amount of ketchup on a paper towel and rub gently over the tarnished areas, using a toothbrush to clean intricate details. If the tarnish is resistant, leave the ketchup for 15 minutes, then rub with a soft cloth and rinse.

Soak overnight in a mixture of 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, 1 1/2 cups water, and 1/2 cup of instant dry milk, or use a paste of cornflour and water. Apply with a damp cloth, leave to dry, then rub off.

Use toothpaste as polish, then rinse.

Squirt hand sanitiser onto a soft cloth and rub away the tarnish.

Dunk silver items in a bowl of lemon & lime soda for one hour. Rinse and dry thoroughly.

Spray window cleaner onto a rag or toothbrush and gently rub silver.

Find out how to make your home more eco-friendly

Preventing tarnish

Amino acids in our perspiration accelerate the rate of tarnish, as do changes in our hormones, certain medications and chemotherapy and even some cosmetics, perfumes and body lotions. Pollution, salt, eggs, onions, mayonnaise, vinegar and other foods high in sulphur may also cause silver to tarnish.

Silver that is used often is rarely tarnished. Each time you remove silver jewellery, clean it in washing-up liquid and water, and dry completely. This will help remove skin oils or perspiration and may help keep it brighter for longer.

To prevent tarnish, rub clean silver with hair conditioner.

Keep silver cutlery and utensils shiny by placing a few sticks of chalk in the drawer or chest where you store it. The chalk absorbs moisture, preventing tarnish.

Avoid using rubber gloves when washing silver, as rubber corrodes silver.

Stainless steel can also damage silver, so avoid the sink and use a bowl instead.

Store silver correctly, either in special bags or wrapped in acid-free tissue paper or flannel. Keep away from other jewellery.

Related: how to clean brass

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.