Thursday, 5 February 2009

As good as new - cleaning silver the easy way!

There are two different ways of thinking about silver tarnishing. It is a natural aging process of this precious metal, and for many people it enhances the piece of jewellery or the ornament as it highlights the textures and patterns in the design. For others, it's an ugly sight that needs to be cleaned away as quickly as possible. I can see both views - for some pieces, such as filigree work, as long as the tarnish isn't over the whole piece it can definitely add to the beauty of the work, However, I really dislike the look of tarnish of smooth pieces such as bangles, or on chainmaille. As with everything, it's all a matter of taste! anyway, I thought that I'd show you a quick and easy way of cleaning silver.

I couldn't believe how easy this method was when a friend first told me about it, but it's great! I don't like using the jars of silver cleaning dip that you can buy as I find that although the silver is clean when it comes out, it's dull. The method below leaves it beautifully shiney, and what's even better is that it uses items that most people have already got in their kitchens, not nasty chemicals, and you can in most areas now recycle the tin foil that's used. A couple of words of warning though:
  • DON'T clean items with glass beads, especially not precious lampwork beads, in this way, as it uses hot water that could cause the beads to crack.
  • DON'T clean items that have been oxidised as the oxidisation will be taken off!
  • Try not to breath in the fumes that will probably be given off as a chemical reaction is taking place.
  • I prefer not to clean items with semi-precious stones using this method, as although the ingredients are very mild this is still a chemical reaction.
You will need:
  • A washing up/kitchen bowl
  • Aluminium tin foil
  • Bicarbonate of soda (I get through tonnes of this as I also use it for helping to clean my tumbler and for neutralising the pickling solution I put silver in after it's been soldered)
  • Hot water from the kettle
What to do:
Line the bottom of your washing up bowl with a sheet of tin foil.Wash your silver with soap and water and put it in the bowl on top of the foilSprinkle some bicarb of soda over everythingPour on enough hot water to cover your silver and watch in amazement! Take your silver out as soon as it is clean and rinse it overwise any residue could damage the surface. The hotter the water you use, the quicker your silver will clean. If you really really want to clean jewellery with glass beads in this way, use water that is only warm. It'll take longer and you may need to do it a few times, but better safe than sorry.
Dry with a soft clean cloth.You can just about see from the photo above that there was still a little bit of tarnish left over on the bangle so I gave it a quick polish with a silver cleaning cloth, the type that you can buy cheaply from most jewellers.

And now for the science bit.....this method uses a reaction between the aluminium and silver sulphide (the tarnish). The bicarb acts as an electrolyte, causing the tarnish to transfer from the silver to the foil.

A few more useful tips on keeping silver clean:
  • The best way of keeping silver tarnish free is to wear it! The next best thing is the store it inside an airtight plastic bag, as it is the contact with air that speeds up the formation of tarnish.
  • Make sure that your jewellery is completely dry before storing it.
  • Silver hates rubber! Never store your silver in anything rubber or cleaning it while wearing rubber gloves or hold chains flat on a display with rubber bands - it could cause tarnish so deep that permanent damage is caused.


  1. Thank you for such a comprehensive guide. I love bright and shiny silver and tarnish is my enemy. I will try your suggestions as I am always hesitant to use silver dip.
    Kristin :)

  2. I enjoyed this article and very informative, thanks

  3. I'm glad it's useful! Coming next - the opposite - oxidising silver!

  4. Oh jo this is amazing way to clean your silver, and much cheaper also, you are a lady with great info, thanks eve x

  5. Sonia says.....
    This cloth seems to good to be true....Where can I get this cloth???

    Wednesday, July 1, 2009

  6. Hi Sonia,
    Thanks for leaving a comment. The cloth came from a lovel high street jewellery store. It will polish up lightly tarnished silver but if your silver is really dirty then you will probably also need to use a silver dip or the bicarb of soda method I've described in this post.

  7. Wow, amazing results.. chemistry in front of your eyes. One question though I had two chains that I *thought* were sterling silver and they didn't really clean with this method, does that mean they aren't or are they just too tarnished for it?

  8. Oh WOW..brilliant!!! Now I just wish I had more silver to clean!!! This was such fun and SOOOOO easy! Imagine...all those years of rubbing and polishing - what a waste of time!!


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