This Homemade Silver Cleaner Removes Tarnish Like Magic

There’s no shortage of commercial silver cleaning products on the market these days. Those that I’ve tested generally do the job, but they’re messy, contain harsh chemicals and if that’s not bad enough—they’re expensive! Good news. I have a simple homemade silver cleaner recipe for your lovely silver pieces—chains, earrings, bracelets, flatware and heirlooms that’s cheaper, better and definitely faster.

Sterling Silver Scrap

A word of caution: I cannot recommend this method for cleaning jewelry adorned with gemstones or silver items that have patina which is intended to be part of the intricate design. And this is definitely not for non-silver costume jewelry. What follows is for cleaning silver.

Most important ingredient

There are lots of DIY recipes out there for cleaning silver.  I’ve tried many and the results have ranged from marginal to OK, but not great. One included a final step of scrubbing the items with a green Scotchbrite pad. No! Trust me, I did not need to test that because I know that a green Scotchbrite scrubber will scratch the heck out of silver (stainless steel, too!).

That being said, never forget that the most important ingredient in any DIY method is common sense. With that, let me tell you about the absolute best homemade method and recipe I’ve found—this one works like magic!

Equipment

  • plastic or glass container
  • aluminum foil
  • microfiber cloth

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons washing soda, (aka soda ash)
  • 2 tablespoons ordinary table salt
  • 1 cup vinegar
  • 2 cups boiling water

Instructions

  1. Line the plastic bowl, baking dish, or another similar non-metal container with aluminum foil—shiny side up.
  2. Add the washing soda and table salt.
  3. Pour in the vinegar, stir to mix.
  4. Carefully add the boiling water.
  5. Drop in silver items to be cleaned, making sure each one is completely covered and in full in contact with the aluminum foil.
  6. After a few minutes—or as long as it takes—when it appears the tarnish has mostly disappeared, carefully remove items with kitchen tongs.
  7. Gently polish and shine with a microfiber cloth

This recipe multiplies well for larger items. You may need to use a bucket or similarly larger vessel to make sure the items are completely emersed. And make sure it is well lined with aluminum foil.  Do the math to multiply the ingredients.

What’s the magic here?

I’m no scientist, but my research reveals that when the tarnish on silver meets up with sodium carbonate, sodium chloride, acetic acid and introduced to aluminum, an electrochemical reaction occurs. Not to get too technical or to appear that I might be a chemist, I am told that reaction can be expressed as  3Ag2S+2Al—>6Ag+Al2S3as. Impressed?

Tarnish is caused by sulfur-containing substances in the air. As that tarnish is released, it produces an odor similar to rotten eggs. You’re going to smell this the moment you drop the silver pieces into the solution (it goes away quickly). Hot water accelerates the reaction. I am convinced by what I’ve learned that contrary to what some might believe, this reaction does NO HARM to silver.

And now for some images taken by me, your highly unskilled photographer.

 

Tarnished silver flatware before cleaning

A random selection of silver flatware, highly tarnished from years of non-use and neglect.

 

Tarnished silver flatware in homemade silver cleaning solution

Into the bath they go. Immediately the cleaning solution turns cloudy and gives off a pretty pungent odor, not unlike rotten eggs!

 

Wiping off tarnish from silver fork using microfiber cloth

This fork, covered in decades of tarnish build-up, came out not quite as sparkly as the others. A good wiping down with a microfiber cloth was all it needed.

 

Silver flatware after cleaning with homemade silver cleaner

I left these pieces in the “bath” for about 15 minutes, then wiped them dry. So easy and such great results.

 

The ingredients required for homemade silver cleaner and tarnish remover together with the cleaned flatware

 

 

I inherited this tiny silver child’s cup from my dear Scottish mother-in-law, a wholly devoted lover and collector of all things British Royal Family. She purchased this commemorative piece upon the coronation of George VI and his wife Elizabeth as king and queen of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth, which took place at Westminster Abbey, London, on  May 12, 1937. It was black as night (sorry, Mom)  before I tucked it into the bath along with the flatware. Such a precious treasure, now bright and shiny!

Best commercial alternative

Realizing not all silver items will fit in a bucket or bowl, there are times you may need to use a commercial silver cleaning product. In that case, I highly recommend a polishing cream, Simichrome Metal Polish. It, together with your elbow grease, will do a great job on silver.

Simichrome is the least harsh commercial product I know of, but also the most effective. This is what serious car enthusiasts use to polish the chrome and silver on engines. Collectors use it on their most highly-prized collectibles.

While Simichrome will also clean coins back to mint-condition, please do your own research to discover if bringing them back to like-new condition will destroy their value. Remember the patina!

This Homemade Silver Cleaner Removes Tarnish Like Magic


NEXT UP:

The 3 Vacuums I Use Every Day and Absolutely Swear By

Surprisingly Amazing Ways to Make Meals from Leftovers

How to Remove Salt Stains from Leather and Suede


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12 replies
  1. Mary Frances Kordick
    Mary Frances Kordick says:

    Mary, Years ago I got an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner that easily removes dirt or sweat, etc. on jewelry and eyeglasses (several with lots of bridge buildup). It has an aluminum chamber which water is placed and heats automatically before the ultrasonic vibrations begin. It doesn’t do well with tarnish. Do you think the washing soda and salt could help my silver jewelry?

    Reply
  2. RJ Shaver
    RJ Shaver says:

    You really need to either leave out the chemistry or alter you html such that it appears more appropriate. You probably should use some latex to provide an even better display as there is not an easy way to do an arrow in html. Even better, print the chemistry to a jpg file and insert that so everything looks correct. In the reaction, you need to at least have subscripts plus an arrow. An even better practice is to alter the equation with ‘Ag(s)’ to indicate that it is a solid or use a small down arrow to indicate formation of a solid.

    Reply
  3. Beverley
    Beverley says:

    Hi Mary! This works equally well using baking soda instead of washing soda. I do it in my large stainless steel kitchen sink and I can fit a large silver serving platter in it. I was amazed the first time I tried it!!
    Blessings,
    Beverley

    Reply
  4. Kathleen Owen
    Kathleen Owen says:

    Does this work on other metals? I have a teapot my parents got in the 40’s and it is definitely tarnished – very dark in some places. My father called it “pot metal”. Thanks so much for your all your help!

    Reply
  5. Jan McDermott
    Jan McDermott says:

    Hi Mary, I’m one of your big fans and read the column daily. Here’s my take on removing silver tarnish. I received a recipe years ago for tarnish remover. It involves the hot water and foil side up but I only use Tide powder. A tablespoon per sink full of hot water. Less powder for small items….since rinsing can be difficult if too much soap is used. This is not a good recipe for difficult pieces but I put my silver thru this process every Fall and keep things up well. BTW My silver spoons etc are in a case and need to be done only every 2-3 yrs. Thanks again for your column!

    Reply
    • Mary Frances Kordick
      Mary Frances Kordick says:

      Jan, My concern is that if Tide powder does this to your silver, what does it do to your regular wash for clothes. Yikes! Consider changing to Mary’s ‘recipe’ for clothing laundry – it works better and is certainly more green for the environment.

      Reply
    • Mary Hunt
      Mary Hunt says:

      I would highly suggest you not do that, Rowan. Toothpaste is slightly abrasive. And should you leave any behind in cracks and crevices of jewelry especially, it will dry hard as cement. My jeweler explained this to me years ago and even demonstrated on an engagement ring. He needed jeweler’s hammer and chisel to remove it.

      Reply

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