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.
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!
- plastic or glass container
- aluminum foil
- microfiber cloth
- 2 tablespoons washing soda, (aka soda ash)
- 2 tablespoons ordinary table salt
- 1 cup vinegar
- 2 cups boiling water
- Line the plastic bowl, baking dish, or another similar non-metal container with aluminum foil—shiny side up.
- Add the washing soda and table salt.
- Pour in the vinegar, stir to mix.
- Carefully add the boiling water.
- Drop in silver items to be cleaned, making sure each one is completely covered and in full in contact with the aluminum foil.
- After a few minutes—or as long as it takes—when it appears the tarnish has mostly disappeared, carefully remove items with kitchen tongs.
- 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 immersed. 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.
A random selection of silver flatware, highly tarnished from years of non-use and neglect.
Into the bath they go. Immediately the cleaning solution turns cloudy and gives off a pretty pungent odor, not unlike rotten eggs!
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.
I left these pieces in the “bath” for about 15 minutes, then wiped them dry. So easy and such great results.
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!