How to clean the tarnished silver you’ve inherited

imagesEveryone tells you NOT to clean or polish old, tarnished silver or it will ruin the value of the piece. If your item is a valuable antique, you obviously don’t want to do that. However, on everyday, modern silverplate or sterling, feel free to polish away and use it regularly! Actually, if you use your silver regularly and wash and dry it regularly, it won’t need polishing; it will stay pretty shiny. 

Old items can be cleaned, but for the most part, that should be done only by a professional or you risk damaging the item. Here’s a gentle way to clean silver that won’t harm your piece: Fill a dish with warm water and a few drops of dishwashing liquid. Gently scrub with a soft toothbrush. Dry with a soft cloth so the item doesn’t spot. If that doesn’t work and your item dates from the 19th or 20th century, you can use a commercial cleaner or polishing cloth, available at a jewelry store, but never use the harsh silver dips (often sold in grocery stores or on TV) that will damage your piece. And do not put it in the dishwasher. Do not use baking soda (it’s abrasive). If it is older than that, or you suspect it might be, show it to a person who deals in antique silver and ask for advice. 

mgQeHqraGMTR3uGRB6shh4wAnd store whatever silver you decide to keep in Pacific cloth bags (that dark, velvety fabric) to keep it from becoming tarnished. 

P.S. What are the worst substances that cause tarnish? Sad experience has proven to me that eggs, lemon, mayonnaise, and mustard are all toxic to silver. After my silver touches any of those, I need to polish it right away.


About Mary Miley

I was born at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY, where my father taught tactics to the cadets, so it's no surprise that my earliest memories are of the Corps drilling on the parade grounds to the rhythm of the Army band. I attended public schools in Pennsylvania, Illinois, and France, then worked my way through the College of William and Mary in Virginia as a costumed tour guide at Colonial Williamsburg, experiencing first hand the pleasures of wearing 18th-century attire during the sweltering summer. After putting my husband through law school selling cheese in Cleveland—aw, come on, it was a recession!—I returned to Williamsburg for a masters degree in history and a full-time job at Colonial Williamsburg, working with antiques and reproductions. It was there that I really learned how to write and how to make history come alive. When my children were young, I left Williamsburg for a thirteen-year stint teaching American history and museum studies at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, and at the same time consulted with museums across the country on matters retail and financial. A free-lance writer since 1986, I have published a dozen nonfiction books and more than 200 magazine articles, most on history, travel, and business topics. During the past few years, I've branched into fiction, writing the first two of a mystery series and a romantic suspense, all set in the 1920s. The first, THE IMPERSONATOR, won the national contest for Best First Crime Novel and was published in 2013 by St. Martin's/Minotaur; its sequel, SILENT MURDERS, came out in 2014. I live in Richmond, Virginia, with my husband, an attorney. My greatest pleasures are traveling, playing the pipe organ with all the stops out, and reading mysteries.

Posted on October 20, 2013, in Silver and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Can I wash my silver cloth bags? What detergent is safe? Mine are my mother’s from 1955.
    Marion King

    • Pacific cloth bags can’t be washed. You can brush the dust or dirt off and air fluff them in a dryer, but not wash them.

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