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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.


Silver Mysteries Solved

Move over Sherlock Holmes, the mysteries of silver are mysterious no longer. Got a piece of American silver? Search the back until you find some marks. 

1. If you see the word STERLING or STER, the item is 92.5% silver. The rest is probably copper or some other metal added for hardness. Save this.

2. If you see the word COIN, it is 90% silver. The word does NOT mean it was made from melted coins. It just means the silver content is the same as that of coins (at least, when coins like quarters and dimes were really made of silver), which was 90%. A little less than sterling, but still quite valuable, with silver selling at about $33/oz. Save this.

3. If you see the letters EPNS, it means there is a thin, thin, thin layer of silver on top of base metal. Those letters stand for ElectroPlate on Nickel Silver. Never mind its name, nickel Silver isn’t silver, it’s an alloy of copper, nickel, and zinc that looks silvery. What little silver there is in that piece was electroplated on top of the nickel silver in a coating so thin, it’s measured in microns, or millionths of a meter. Silverplate can have one micron or twenty or so, and more is better because it won’t rub off as easily, but even if the piece is several microns thick, it isn’t worth the effort of extracting the silver. If you have a piece marked EPNS that is not antique, it has no monetary value, but save it if you can use it. If it’s damaged, toss it in the trash.

The upshot is, if you have silverplate, it has no resale value. (Unless it is old, as in 19th century, in which case the plating is thicker but the real value comes from the piece’s age, not the silver content.) Sterling and coin have resale value, even if dented or squashed, because it can be melted down for its silver.