How to clean and polish silver

by | Dec 28, 2020 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

Lacquered silver spoons and forks arranged in rows on cloth
Photo: Michael Sullivan

Varnish or black silver sulphide is an unavoidable aspect of owning silver, especially if you do not use it often or store it properly. According to Jeffrey Herman, the founder of Society of American Silversmiths, “Silver stains primarily due to particles in the air that have acid or sulfur that deposits on a piece.” Fortunately, the stain can be easily removed with polish.

Before you start polishing your silver, lay a clean cotton towel on your work surface. Remove all jewelry from your hands, such as when cleaning it, and if you want to be extra careful, wear it nitrile gloves to protect the silver from plating oils and acids on your skin.

A stained spoon and a polished spoon on white cloth
A stained spoon (top) and a polished spoon (bottom). Photo: Michael Sullivan

Before embarking on polishing, Herman recommends wash your silver with soap and water.

Then use a cotton ball or cotton ball to apply aloe-free, alcohol-based hand sanitizer to the silver, rub it gently over the surface (70% isopropyl alcohol also works, but it can be harder to find).

Focus on cleaning one area at a time before moving on to the next, and switch to a new cotton ball or pad when dirty. You may need a cotton swab for complicated cleaning, such as between the fork teeth.

Rinse the silver with warm water and dry it immediately with a cotton towel. For lightly stained pieces, you may find that this is all you need to do (which is preferable as it is less abrasive than using polishing). If there are still stains, use silver polish to remove it.

  • Glove hands using a cotton ball to clean a silver spoon

    Cleaning a silver-plated spoon with hand sanitizer and a cotton swab before polishing. Photo: Michael Sullivan

  • Someone who uses a sponge to polish a silver-plated fork

    Polishing a silver-plated fork with a damp sponge and Herman’s Simply Clean. Photo: Michael Sullivan

There is a lot to say about silver polish, but the simple advice is to use the least abrasive option you can get. Herman recommends using one of them Herman is simply pure (his own product which he developed) or Blitz Silver Shine Polish (Blitz sells Herman’s Polish on its website).

Dip and moisten cellulose sponge into the polish and rub it gently over the silver (this does not require much pressure). Focus on one area at a time, and avoid removing the dark patina in the slits in ornate patterns because it shows the detail and craftsmanship of the piece. Herman suggests holding a piece of white paper next to your silver while walking, as this makes it easier to see stains you have missed.

When the sponge becomes discolored, rinse it with water and squeeze it out completely before continuing – or switch to a new sponge when it is very dirty. When done, rinse the silver under warm water and dry it with a clean cotton cloth (if your silver has components that should not get wet, such as wooden or ivory handles, avoid this and use “Dry” polishing method instead).

  • A stained spoon that has been washed

    A stained spoon after washing with mild soap and warm water. Photo: Michael Sullivan

  • A stained spoon after it has been cleaned

    The staining is done after cleaning some dirt with alcohol-based aloe-free hand cleaner. Photo: Michael Sullivan

  • A spoon after it was polished

    Spoon after polishing. Photo: Michael Sullivan

  • A close-up of the bottom of polished cutlery

    Polished cutlery (top) and stained cutlery (bottom). You will always leave the factory patina in the cracks in decorative areas to show the details of the design. Photo: Michael Sullivan

For larger pieces of silver, such as bowls or teapots, start polishing at the outer edges and work toward the center. Herman explained, “It’s like painting the interior of a house. You first paint all the cramped spaces and then use a roller to mix everything in. “If you need a quick guide, see this video by Herman cleaning silver with hand cleaner and polishing.

If your silver comes in contact with food, wash it after polishing.

The two silver poles we recommend and the polishing methods described above are also safe to use on gold. But if your piece of silver contains other metals, such as copper or brass, you might want to consult an expert before polishing.

How to remove heavy stain

Gloved hands rub the bottom of lacquered silver cutlery
Apply polish with a cotton swab to poorly stained silver cutlery. Photo: Michael Sullivan

If there is still something that is difficult to remove, after your first pass, you can re-apply the polish “dry” using a cotton ball or a pillow instead of a damp sponge. Then carefully remove the varnish with a damp sponge and / or polish it off with a clean cotton towel (Herman demonstrates this method in this video).

You can also use this “dry” method if your silver has components that should not get wet, such as wooden or ivory handles. Alternatively, oppose Gerri Strickler, an associate conservator at Museum of Fine Arts Bostonsaid before polishing your silver, you can cover these areas with plastic film to protect them.

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