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Welcome! This site provides the most thoroughly researched and practiced silver care information on the Internet. I'm on constant lookout for the safest, most earth-friendly, and effective products. I recommend reading this entire guide before cleaning and polishing your silver. Should you have questions AFTER reading this guide and accompanying articles, please feel free to contact me.
Warning: © Copyright
Polish Abrasion Ratings
and Polishing Silver
1. To avoid damaging your silver, clean it only when you don't feel rushed. I've restored many a candelabrum arm that was broken off in haste. Also, be aware that if you're wearing a ring, that ring will scratch when in contact with the piece you're working on.
2. If you are looking for someone to clean your silver, choose an individual with experience. Ask about what methods and polishes they will use. If you require assistance, please contact me.
3. Always polish/clean your silver on a sturdy work surface covered by a cotton towel as illustrated in this image. If the work surface is made of wood or other porous material, lay a piece of plastic under the towel.
4. Keep your polish container closed when not in use, and dont use polishes that have dried-up. In order to keep your water-based polish staying creamy if stored for an extended period, add a little distilled water (not tap water) to top it off.
5. NEVER use chemical dips (see section on Chemical Dips).
6. Before using your polish, please refer to the Silver Polish Abrasion Ratings page as you may be using a polish that is much too abrasive.
7. Use untreated cotton gloves or form-fitting nitrile gloves when handling silver finger prints contribute to tarnishing.
8. Always try to support a teapot or coffeepot by the bottom when holding it by the handle.
9. If your silver is tarnished to an extent that it requires a commercial polish, use only polishes made specifically for silver. (See section on Cleaning Silver.)
10. Don't be stingy with the makeup pads (I prefer the lint-free Premium CVS brand) or cotton balls and constantly rotate them to expose clean material.
11.To remove tarnish in tight spaces, use a Q-tip or wrap a wooden popsicle stick or skewer with a cotton makeup pad or cotton ball.
12. Cleaning silver in a dishwasher is not advised, as the heat and harsh detergents will eventually whiten the silver, causing it to require professional refinishing. In addition, dishwashers can cause blades to explode out of hollow-handled knives. (See section on Silver & Dishwashers.)
13. Silver flatware used on a daily basis will require little or no polishing. Hand wash with a non-lemon-scented phosphate-free detergent and dry them immediately to avoid spotting.
14. When storing your flatware, rotate the pieces so they will wear uniformly.
15. Salt is extremely corrosive to silver; always empty vessels and wash them when not used on a regular basis. (See section on Salt Vessel Corrosion.)
16. When cleaning or inserting a candle into a candelabrum, support the arms from underneath to avoid distortion or possible breakage.
17. Do not cut food on a solid silver or silver-plated tray. Cutting lines (and possibly linear dents) will decrease the object's value. Plus, on a plated piece, you will very easily cut through the plating, exposing the base metal. Instead, cut the meat on a cutting board and place it on the tray.
18. If your objects contain wood, ivory, mother of pearl, etc., apply two coats of Renaissance wax on those surfaces. Let each coat set for 15 minutes, then buff with a paper towel. This archival quality microcrystalline wax will seal these components and help prevent them from rotting and drying out.
19. Hold a piece of white paper up to the piece you're polishing as the reflection will reveal if there is additional tarnish that needs to be removed. Just be sure you are not mistaking firestain for tarnish. (Read about firestain here.)
20. Silver is best stored in treated flannel bags which draw away the sulfur from the silver it's protecting. Alternatively, you can wrap your silver in acid-free tissue or paper then placed in a Ziploc or other polyethylene bag with an anti-tarnish strip. Keep the silver in a dry, well-ventilated, safe area and use silica gel to help absorb dampness. Cutlery should be wrapped individually and placed side by side, rather than piled up.
21. IMPORTANT! When removing tarnish, always invest more time using a gentle silver polish over getting quicker results with a more abrasive silver polish. Ninety-nine percent (99%) of tarnish removed from silver I work on is accomplished with either Blitz Silver Shine Polish or Herman's Simply Clean Collectors Silver Polish.
22. If you see any exposed base metal inside a piece of silver you drink from or flatware you eat off of, don't use it; the exposed area or entire piece will require re-plating.
Below: The right side of this 15" wide sterling high chair tray was polished with Earth Friendly Silver Polish. (Earth Friendly was discontinued which is why I developed Herman's Simply Clean Collectors Silver Polish.) If I had used Blitz Silver Shine Polish, the same side would look a bit glossier because of its tarnish protective ingredient. Polishing, rinsing, and drying time: 2 minutes.
If you're ever in doubt about the the abrasiveness of a silver polish, visit Silver Polish Abrasion Ratings.
23. If your silver was involved in a flood, gently shake any piece that might have hollow spaces (e.g., sockets on teapots and coffeepots that contain ivory heat insulators or wooden handles, hollow handles on some flatware, hollow rims, and candlestick cups with double walls). If you can hear water swishing within these areas, contact a qualified restorer (for referrals, ask a museum with a large silver collection or an antique silver dealer).
24. If the object has no hollow areas, rinse it well to remove any dirt or grit. When the piece feels clean to the touch, wash it with a cellulose sponge, using a non-lemon-scented phosphate-free, antibacterial detergent and warm water.
25. If rust is present on carbon steel knife blades of older pieces, or on the worn edges of knife blades coated with silver, do not use steel wool or Navel Jelly to remove it!
Silver, when properly maintained, will yield generations of enjoyment. The following cleaning instructions have been tried and proven in my silver restoration & conservation studio. They are suited for gold as well as silver. Silver-plated and gold-plated items should be treated very gingerly, as too-vigorous cleaning can remove the plating and expose the base metal.
Tarnish is caused by contact with sulfur compounds, mainly hydrogen sulfide in the air. Other common culprits are:
Foods (partial list):
eggs, onions, mayonnaise, sour cream, mustard, garlic, poultry, fish,
cabbage, bananas, coffee, chocolate, nuts
Tarnish formation is accelerated in a humid environment. Also, oily salts from fingers can cause corrosion patterns that may have to be professionally removed.
BEFORE cleaning or polishing your silver: If your objects contain wood, ivory, mother of pearl, etc., apply two coats of Renaissance wax. Let each coat set for 15 minutes, then buff with a cotton makeup pad or cotton towel. This archival quality microcrystalline wax will seal these components when cleaning and help prevent them from rotting and drying out.
Gently wash and dry your silver immediately after use. While washing, do not allow silver to come into contact with a metal sink, as that can cause scratching. (Use a plastic dishpan or line the sink with a towel.) Use a non-lemon-scented phosphate-free detergent and, to avoid water spots, towel-dry using a soft cotton dish towel or Selvyt cloth. Silver that is used frequently and washed in this manner will require infrequent tarnish removal. When storing your flatware, rotate the pieces so they will wear uniformly.
Occasionally cleaning an object is preferred to waiting until heavy tarnish forms and polishes have to be employed. (All polishes have some degree of abrasion.) You can catch tarnish in its earliest stage if you hold an object next to a piece of white paper. If tarnish has started to form, you will see a very light yellowish tint on the silver. Try removing this light tarnish with either diluted Dawn Dishwashing Liquid (citrus-free) on a cellulose sponge, a 100% plant-based glass cleaner like Better Life Natural Glass Cleaner (my personal favorite), or aloe-free hand sanitizer on a cotton ball, makeup pad, or cotton towel. If the hand sanitizer leaves a residue, rinse it off with warm water or remove it with a moistened cotton towel, then dry immediately. If water doesn't work, use the glass cleaner. Try this technique first as it will remove absolutely no metal. Try using this glass cleaner on your jewelry and other metal objects as well.
Below: Tiffany sterling bowl that was cleaned with Better Life Natural Glass Cleaner (right). If tarnish remains use one of the Least Abrasive Silver Polishes.
Below: After using Herman's Simply Clean Collectors Silver Polish.
Below: Notice the difference in this grimy handle after using Better Life Natural Glass Cleaner and a light wiping with a horsehair brush. This is another instance where cleaning is preferred to polishing. Also, it would have taken added time to remove the grime with silver polish, especially in the low-lying areas.
Check out this video for some basic polishing instructions using hand sanitizer and Blitz Silver Shine Polish.
Always remove dried polish and grime from crevices and ornament on previously polished pieces before repolishing. Run warm (not hot) water over the dried polish and use a tampico (made from fibers of the agave plant), horsehair, or natural white boar bristle brush (found in most hardware stores) and lightly "tap" out the polish. Shorten the bristles if you need added stiffness (see below). This will lift the polish away from the object with no or minimal abrasion. Never use a dry brush when removing dry polish as it will create scratches. If there are porous elements on your piece (wood, ivory, other of pearl, etc.), wet a Q-tip and apply the water to the polish. Allow the polish to soften then lift it out by tapping with a wet brush. A wet toothpick will get into the smallest areas.
If your piece is more tarnished, use one of the commercial silver cleaners, some of which provide tarnish protection. Use the least abrasive product possible. Polishes that are meant to be washed off are less abrasive because they use a liquid to suspend the polishing ingredients.
The least abrasive of the commercial cleaners are Blitz Silver Care Polish (preferred for its combination of tarnish protection and its ease of use: apply/rinse/buff and apply/let dry/buff); Herman's Simply Clean Collectors Silver Polish (preferred for maintaining the object's original finish & extremely mild abrasiveness); 3M's Tarni-Shield Silver Polish, or Twinkle Silver Polish. If you are thinking of using polishes other than what I just listed, please please refer to Silver Polish Abrasion Ratings.
If, after cleaning your silver (not silverplate) piece, a purplish stain remains, do not mistake this stain for tarnish! Attempting to remove it will only damage your prized piece. This is firestain, which is oxidized copper, and can be found on many pre-colonial through early twentieth century pieces. It is not generally seen on pieces that have been produced by the large American silver companies after the early 1900s, but many one-person silversmithing shops still use this technique. I will not get into the technicalities of firestain here, but the stain is usually obscured with fine silver either by silver plating the object or through a process called depletion. The firestain under this fine silver layer, which may be a few thousandths of an inch thick, may not show up until after many years of polishing. Consult with a restoration silversmith if this happens to one of your pieces.
Use the following method if you are polishing near unwaxed or cracked components (wood, ivory, mother of pearl, felt, etc.) or with no available water.
Wooden handles & finials, ivory insulators, and felt used on the bottoms of candlesticks and compotes can become damaged when introduced to excess moisture. For objects with such components, use Blitz Silver Shine Polish. Use this polish also for hollow areas that will not dry (beaded rims, handle sockets with minute holes, etc.), or if there is no source of water. Use a large cotton ball, cotton makeup pad, or cotton swab with the smallest amount of polish necessary and rotate the ball or pad regularly to expose unused surfaces. Rub the object in a straight, back-and-forth manner so as to maintain a uniform appearance. Avoid rubbing in a circular motion. Let the polish dry and remove it with a Selvyt cloth (preferred) or cotton dish towel. Selvyt is a lint-free, untreated, 100% cotton wiping cloth which is also excellent for highlighting ornament with no polish applied.
Use the following method if you are polishing an object without porous components or components that have been sealed with Renaissance wax.
Rinse the object first to remove any pollution that may have settled on the object. These contaminants, which may be more abrasive than the polish you will be using, can actually scratch the silver if rubbed into the surface. Use a cellulose sponge (not Scotch-Brite plastic sponges or the soft plastic sponges that come with some silver polishes) and apply Blitz Silver Shine Polish or Herman's Simply Clean. If you feel it necessary to protect your hands from moisture, use nitrile gloves which contain no ingredients that tarnish silver. Do not use latex gloves! Rub the object in a straight, back-and-forth manner so as to maintain a uniform appearance. Avoid rubbing in a circular motion. Rotate the sponge regularly to expose unused surfaces then rinse. If the tarnish is particularly heavy, a cotton ball or cotton makeup pad will speed the removal process. Flattened cotton swab heads with very little silver polish applied are excellent for cleaning between fork tines. Silver polish can also be used on unflattened cotton swabs to remove tarnish from inside coffeepot spouts and the like.
Below: I'm wearing nitrile gloves and a cotton ball with Earth Friendly Silver Polish to remove tarnish from this Paul Revere Beaker. (Earth Friendly was discontinued which is why I developed Herman's Simply Clean Collectors Silver Polish.)
Dried polish can be removed by patting the area with a warm wet cotton ball or a wet horsehair or natural boar bristle brush. Rinse the object with warm water, and then dry with a Selvyt cloth or cotton dish towel immediately to avoid spotting. I advise using heavyweight cotton inspection gloves to avoid finger prints when cleaning and storing your freshly cleaned objects. I recommend washing them first to remove any processing chemicals.
How to Polish Chain Mail (Mesh) ©
Chain mail (also known as chainmail or chain maille) is one of those items that can perplex most collectors when it comes to polishing. Some will reach for a chemical dip because it removes tarnish quickly, but will end up results like these. Others will use a paste polish that may end up drying within the mesh after buffing. The following instructions are for polishing chain mail without fabric attachments. Chain mail with fabric attachments requires assistance from a conservator.
Place a cotton bar mop (a kitchen towel with a low pile), on your kitchen counter. If the chain mail is very dirty, run it under warm water and dry it first. If it has dried polish, run it under warm water and tap out the polish with one of these two brushes, dry it, then place the object on the towel.
If there is very light tarnish, try using a 100% plant-based glass cleaner like Better Life Natural Glass Cleaner (my personal favorite), or aloe-free hand sanitizer. If the hand sanitizer leaves a residue, rinse it off with warm water or remove it with a moistened cotton towel, then dry immediately. If water doesn't work, use the glass cleaner then gently pat dry with a clean bar mop. Try this technique first, as it will remove absolutely no metal.
If this technique doesn't remove the tarnish, use Blitz Silver Shine Polish on a cotton makeup pad or bar mop, constantly exposing clean areas to clean with. Remove the polish with warm water (again, try the hand sprayer) then wipe the object with a bar mop until you see no polish left on the towel. The Blitz will leave a non-toxic, invisible tarnish protectant.
Toothpaste should NEVER be used as a silver polish. Some toothpastes contain baking soda or other ingredients which are much too abrasive; even trace amounts can cause serious damage. Use polishes that are specifically formulated to remove tarnish from silver.
Chemical Dips ©
Chemical dips, such as Tarn-X, work by dissolving the tarnish on an object at an accelerated rate They work by dissolving the tarnish (and silver!) on an object at an accelerated rate.
Chemical dips will quickly remove factory-applied patinas (if left in the solution for more than a few seconds) or gradually (if dipped quickly each time the object requires cleaning). You'll notice a soft white surface develop over time.
Chemical dips will quickly strip the shine from silver, leaving a dull, lifeless appearance.
Chemical dips will cause pitting of the object's surface. These surface defects will act like a sponge and more readily absorb tarnish-producing gases and moisture. The object will eventually require professional polishing and possibly repatination to restore the original finish.
Chemical dips are made up of acidified thiourea (a strongly suspected carcinogen). Acids are corrosive and will damage silver, niello, bronze, stainless steel knife blades, and organic materials such as wood and ivory.
See the results from chemical dips here.
Aluminum Foil Technique ©
Below: The top sterling fork was left unpolished. The lower fork is another piece from the same lot that was that was subjected to the aluminum foil technique for only two minutes, resulting in stripped factory-applied patina. The whiteness is the result from copper that was etched (as seen under 10X magnification) from the sterling, leaving fine silver behind.
This process, known as electrochemical (galvanic) reduction, uses aluminum foil (or an aluminum plate); a ceramic or other non-heat-sensitive bowl or pan; sodium carbonate (washing soda) or sodium bicarbonate (baking soda); and boiling water. The aluminum is placed in the bottom of the bowl with either the washing soda or baking soda distributed on the aluminum surface. Boiling water is then poured over the powder and the sterling, coin silver, .800 (or other silver-copper alloy) object is immersed. When the object comes into contact with the aluminum in the solution, the tarnish (silver sulfide) is converted back to silver. And as with silver dips, factory-applied patinas will be dissolved. These pieces will eventually require repatinating. Case in point: This action will happen to both tarnished and polished silver. (Note: washing soda etches more severely than baking soda.) Pieces cleaned may tarnish more quickly than silver that has been polished with a paste or liquid, for the object's rough surface will act like a sponge and more readily absorb tarnish-producing gases and moisture. This same solution can also seep into hollow areas such as coffeepot and teapot handle sockets, unsoldered spun beads around the tops and bottoms of some holloware, and weighted pieces with minute holes that developed from over polishing. Another not-so-obvious problem is scratching of the object when dragged over the aluminum. For all these reasons this tarnish removal technique is not recommended.
Coffee & Tea Stains ©
Place the pot in the sink with a cotton towel underneath and fill the pot with warm water. Drop in one five-minute denture cleaning tablet (about five cents each) per two cups of water. Let stand for ten minutes. If it looks like the pot may overflow because of the effervescence, pour out some liquid through the spout (don't allow the liquid to run down the outside of the pot). When the ten minutes is up, empty the pot through the spout then rinse with warm water. You may find that the effervescing action of the tablets may remove only the grime and not the stains. Use a moist cellulose sponge and non-lemon-scented phosphate-free detergent to remove any remaining grime, then rinse with warm water. If you need more scrubbing power, use the natural fibers of 3M's Scotch-Brite Greener Clean Sponge which are more gentle than their Scotch-Brite Non-Scratch Scrub Sponge. If the pot opening isn't big enough to fit your hand, make a swab by wrapping the sponge or pad on the end of a wooden dowel and secure the upper end with electrical tape.
If stains remain, moisten the sponge (not the scrub side) and apply a liberal amount of Wright's Silver Cream, then wipe away the stain and rinse the pot with warm water. Wright's is an excellent cleaner for this task because it's much less abrasive than commercial cleaners that are not meant specifically for silver. Don't use powdered abrasive cleaners as they will impart fine scratches which will attract more dirt. Don't use steel wool (too abrasive and rust may result on the bottom), Scotch-Brite abrasive pads or dips (too toxic see section on Chemical Dips). A cotton swab with a small amount of Wright's will remove stains within the spout opening. Fill the pot with warm water and rinse out any polish that may remain in the spout.
Salt Encrustation ©
Those crusty encrustation marks on and in your salt shaker, open salt, or other vessel can be a real annoyance. Encrustation is different from tarnish in the way it feels. Run your finger over the area and you'll feel a crusty mass. This cannot be removed with silver polish. One way to avoid this problem from the very start is to remove the salt after a dinner party and thoroughly wash it; this way the salt doesn't have time to do its damage. Heavily gold plating the interior is the only other way to preserve the finish because gold is impervious to the effects of salt. It is still wise to clean out a shaker at least twice a year and inspect the plate to make sure it has not been abraded by the salt.
There is a simple way to remove the encrustation yourself. The method described can be used on any solid silver object that has this problem. Do this in a well-ventilated area and with nitrile gloves since you will be using household ammonia. If you have a few spots of encrustation, place a Q-tip or cotton ball with household ammonia on the spot. Let it sit for ten minutes, then rinse the entire piece thoroughly with warm water and inspect the surface. If the black or green spots remain, repeat the instructions above. If the object is covered with encrustation such as a salt shaker which you cannot remove the top place it in a container for 10 minutes with enough ammonia to cover the piece. If the encrustation has not dissolved after a third application or soaking, have the object professionally conserved. If you are able to remove it successfully, you'll probably notice a slight graying of the silver. If this occurs, start by using the one of the least abrasive silver polishes to bring back the object's luster. When restoring the finish to a piece of silver, always invest more time using a gentle silver polish over getting quicker results with a more abrasive silver polish.
Should you have questions, please contact me.
Removing Wax From Candle Holders ©
Do you become frustrated when trying to remove wax from your candle holders? Do you go pawing into your flatware drawer to find just the right size knife to dig out the wax which produces scratches and possible dents in the bottom of the cup? Do you run the piece under warm water, only to create a big mess? Well, here are some simple, non-invasive techniques.
This method can be used for lacquered candle holders...
Put the piece in your freezer. Upon removing, use your fingernail or wooden popsicle stick or skewer (not a knife) to delicately chip off the wax. If residue remains, remove it with grain alcohol using a paper towel, cotton ball, or makeup pad. Do not use a hair dryer or heat gun as it may blister the lacquer!
This method and the one above can be used for weighted and non-weighted candle holders without lacquer...
Use your hair dryer (but not a heat gun) to gently warm the candle cup or other area coated with wax. Be careful not to get the object too hot, for if the candle holder is filled with pitch (a low-melting cement), it will melt. Lightly touch the area with your fingertip to make sure it's not too hot; then lightly wipe off the wax with a soft paper towel, cotton ball, or makeup pad. When cleaning out a candle cup on a candelabra, support the cup with your hand to prevent bending the arm. If the opening is too small for your finger, gently stuff the paper towel into the cup and twist. If there is a large build-up of wax, square off the end of a popsicle stick and remove the wax as it's warmed by the hair dryer. Cotton swabs also work very well, especially on Hanukkah lamps with very small candle cups. Use as much fresh paper towel or as many cotton swabs as needed; otherwise, you will continually reapply the wax you are removing.
Use dripless candles whenever possible and remove any wax residue from candle holders after each use. Using these techniques will greatly reduce maintenance time.
Note: Products like Acetone, Goo Gone, Krud Cutter, Goof Off, and WD-40 will remove wax residue more quickly, but are less environmentally-friendly. Should you decide to use these products, make sure to wear nitrile gloves and perform the task in a well-ventilated area. Always feel free to contact me should you have questions.
Removing Labels ©
If you just purchased a silver object with a price label that won't peel off, don't reach for a scrubby pad or steel wool. Instead, try using a hair dryer on a LOW setting (a heat gun is too hot) to gently warm the label. (Never use a hair dryer on lacquered pieces.) The label should now peel off cleanly. If the label leaves a sticky residue, wait for the piece to cool and try removing it with some hand sanitizer, canola oil, or olive oil on a cotton ball or makeup pad. If that fails, place a cotton ball or makeup pad saturated with oil on the residue and let it sit for one hour (don't worry, the oils won't harm your silver). If it didn't work, try this method again until the adhesive has dissolved and wipe away with a paper towel, cotton ball, or makeup pad. Use Better Life Natural Glass Cleaner (which has a neutral pH) to remove any signs of the oil. If a discolored spot remains where the adhesive had been, remove it with one of the a least abrasive silver polishes.
Note: Products like Acetone, Goo Gone, Krud Cutter, Goof Off, and WD-40 will remove adhesive residue more quickly, but are less environmentally-friendly. Should you decide to use these products, make sure to wear nitrile gloves and perform the task in a well-ventilated area.
KEEP SILVER OUT OF THE DISHWASHER! It's that simple. There are four major reasons for keeping your prized sterling and silverplate out of the "chamber of doom:"
(1) Any factory-applied patina (the blackening in recessed areas) will eventually be removed.
(2) The detergents agressive chemicals combined with the washer's high cleaning temperature will eventually turn it grey or white, with a dull, non-reflective surface.
(3) Most older and some repaired hollow-handled knives are filled with pitch. This low-melting cement will expand with heat, possibly forcing open a thin solder seam, or exploding the knife blade out of the handle.
(4) Silver that touches stainless in the dishwasher can create a chemical reaction, producing black spots or pitting on the stainless and possibly requiring the silver to be professionally refinished.
Sterling, like a fine automobile, must be handled with tender loving care. You certainly wouldn't drive your Rolls Royce through a car wash, would you?
Your primary consideration should be to keep silver objects clean and free of dust and surface grime. In addition, the following guidelines will help to preserve your silvers finish while it is on display or in storage.
Some storage materials should be avoided. Wrapping in newspaper or binding in rubber bands can cause deep discoloration that may have to be professionally removed. Never use plastic wrap as it will bond to silver over time, requiring solvents for removal. Finally, non-archival corrugated cardboard boxes may contain acids and sulfur that aggressively tarnish silver.
If a silver piece to be stored is already tarnished, even if it is heavily blackened, it need not be polished before storing: doing so will only reveal fresh sterling or fine silver electroplate to be exposed to the elements.
Storage (Good): Tissue with polyethylene bag
Before storing, wrap each piece in unbuffered tissue paper (acid-free) or Softwrap acid-free tarnish tissue. Place it in a polyethylene bag such as a Ziploc, toss in a 3M or Intercept Anti-Tarnish Strip (preferred as it also neutralizes gases), and seal the bag. This will provide protection against changes in relative humidity and create a barrier against tarnish-producing gases. You can also use this method if using an untreated flannel bag or flatware roll.
Storage (Better): Untreated flannel with polyethylene bag
Put the object in an untreated flannel bag or flatware roll. Place it in a polyethylene bag such as a Ziploc, toss in a 3M or Intercept Anti-Tarnish Strip (preferred as it also neutralizes gases), and seal the bag. This will create an additional barrier against tarnish-producing gases. Both strips attract sulfur, thereby preventing much of it from being absorbed by the piece being stored.
Storage (Best): Sulfur-absorbing flannel with polyethylene bag
Why? Because treated flannel will guard against tarnish-producing gases from reaching the silver inside. Put the object in a sulfur-absorbing flannel bag or flatware roll made of Kenized SilverShield impregnated with microscopic particles of zinc, or Pacific Silvercloth impregnated with silver (preferred for its longevity). Pacific Silvercloth will stay effective for approximately 20 years outside of a polyethylene bag before it becomes saturated. For additional protection against areas of high humidity, place the flannel bag or roll in a polyethylene bag such as a Ziploc and seal the bag. This will create an additional barrier against tarnish-producing gases and greatly extend the life of the flannel.
To minimize the formation of tarnish inside display cases, use 3M or Intercept Anti-Tarnish Strips and Silica Gel to keep relative humidity low. Certain paints, oils, and fabrics within the case can accelerate the formation of tarnish. Therefore, if the case or cabinet is made of wood, the interior surface should be sealed, preferably with lacquer or water-based polyurethane. If latex paint is used, allow it to dry for at least four months. See the dramatic difference when silver is not exposed to tarnish-causing particulate here.
Lacquers & Renaissance Wax ©
Lacquering silver and silverplate is generally not recommended for a number of reasons: 1. The individual may not properly prepare the object's surface to accept the lacquer. 2. It's very difficult to obtain a uniform coating, even when applied by a professional. 3. If the coating is not applied well, it may have streaks and small holes, allowing tarnish to form. 4. Lacquer will eventually yellow and crack, allowing tarnish to form within the fissures and eventually under the protective coating. Strong solvents must then be used to remove the lacquer and the piece refinished. Take a look at these pieces that were once lacquered by the traditional spray method.
In the case of lacquering silver for museum display, Agateen lacquer #27 was found to be the most successful coating as tested by the Winterthur Museum conservation department. It is an incredibly time-consuming, toxic process and must be done in a controlled environment as outlined here.
Because of the above issues, Renaissance wax an archival micro-crystalline product is recommended. Renaissance will not yellow or crack and will last for years if handled properly. Renaissance wax is not as durable as lacquer, so the object should be handled with heavyweight cotton inspection gloves as acid from fingers may eventually remove it. Since dust can be acidic and eventually wear through the wax, placing your silver in a closed display will help insure that particulate will not fall on the object's surface. Whether inside or outside a display case, every few months gently wipe the object with a Selvyt cloth or soft cotton cloth. This will keep the wax or silver polish with tarnish protectant from breaking down prematurely.
Renaissance wax should not be used on flatware or other objects that will be used to eat from. When applying Renaissance, do so in small areas at a time (no larger than a 3" square). Buff with a soft cotton cloth, cotton ball, or makeup pad immediately. Overlap each area to insure the entire surface gets coated.
3M & Intercept Anti-Tarnish Strips ©
3M Anti-Tarnish Strips can be used to absorb tarnish-producing gases. The strips are made from a 45-lb. paper containing activated charcoal. They guard against corrosion, tarnish, and discoloration by absorbing airborne pollutants. These strips can also be used to protect objects containing copper, brass, solder, gold, and tin. 3M strips absorb on both sides.
Intercept Anti-Tarnish Strips consist of a polymer matrix with copper bound in its structure. The effective surface area of copper available for reactions is twice the size of the polymer strip. The chemical reactions that take place with Intercept and corrosive gases permanently convert them into non-reactive compounds in the polymer and purify the enclosed environment. Intercept creates a neutralized atmosphere which protects all materials enclosed with it against corrosion and aging. Moisture that migrates through the packaging material will also be cleaned of corrosive elements. Intercept reacts with corrosive gases in less than an hour. The strips, which protect on both sides, should be placed near the objects to be protected.
Each 3M and Intercept 2"x7" strip will protect an area up to 424 cubic inches, the approximate size of a flatware chest. Protection time depends on the nature and permeability of the storage container and on the pollution level of the surrounding atmosphere. The following guidelines apply to an average atmosphere: loosely sealed container (e.g., cardboard box, china cabinet, or flatware chest): 6 months; moderately sealed container (e.g., lightweight polyethylene bag): 12 months; and tightly sealed container (e.g., low-permeability polyethylene bag): up to 24 months. The strips should be replaced in a timely fashion because once they are fully saturated with pollutants, the strips will become inactive.
Though both of these products work well, I recommend the Intercept product because 1. They neutralizes and prevent the gases from reacting with the silver. 2. It won't eventually out-gas like the 3M strips, 3. They're not as abrasive if your silver should rub against it. Intercept claims their strips are non-abrasive, but any plastic that is rubbed against silver will leave very fine lines which will be most evident on highly polished objects.
Warning! Though camphor has been used as a tarnish absorber for many years, it is considered a poisonous substance.*
Silica Gel (Humidity Control) ©
Since World War II, silica gel has been the drying agent of choice by government and industry. It is safe to use with even the most sensitive materials, including food and medicineits what is contained in those tiny packets enclosed in pill bottles and shoe boxes to prevent moisture. It prevents tarnish- and corrosion-causing condensation within enclosed areas, such as flatware drawers and china cabinets. Such areas should be made as vapor-proof as possible.
Despite its name, silica gel is not a gel, but is in the form of chemically inert man-made granules containing thousands of tiny crevices that drink up excess humidity from the air by surface adsorption. A good choice of product is a canister containing silica gel that turns from blue to pink when saturated with moisture. Reactivate the gel by drying the canister in a conventional oven. The reactivation process can be repeated indefinitely for a lifetime of protection. (Read directions thoroughly; silica gel dust should not be inhaled.)
Do you own flatware containing carbon steel components (blades and fork tines)? This is how you can keep those components from rusting: After dinner, hand wash the knives in warm water, then dry immediately. Apply a very thin layer of Burt's Bees Lip Balm and wipe with a paper towel until there is no residue left behind. This will keep the blades from rusting. Since this product is non-toxic, you won't have to wash them prior to use.
A large part of the information in the sections on Chemical Dips and Silver Display & Storage was obtained from articles supplied by the Canadian Conservation Institute, Department of Canadian Heritage, 1030 Innes Rd., Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1A OM5, 613/998-3721; Fax: 613/998-4721. Jeffrey Herman supplied additional information on these topics.
"Silver-Care and Tarnish Removal," CCI Notes No. 9/7 (Ottawa: Canadian Conservation Institute, 1993). This article is not technical and is intended for the general public.
"Historical Silver: Storage, Display and Tarnish Removal" by Lyndsie S. Selwyn, Journal of the International Institute for ConservationCanadian Group, volume 15, 1990, pp. 12-22.
"Evaluation of SilverCleaning Products" by Lyndsie S. Selwyn and Charles G. Costain, Journal of the International Institute for ConservationCanadian Group, volume 16, 1991, pp. 3-16.
Silver Shine Polish
Simply Clean Collectors Silver Polish / Web
* Blitz Silver Shine Polish is a great all-around silver polish because it's among the mildest, it contains a tarnish protectant, and is more versatile than other polishes in its class. It also leaves silver glossy. The Herman's Simply Clean is another polish in the Least Abrasive category. The difference in these polishes is that the Herman's removes tarnish without making silver look too bright and leaves no residue, meaning there's no tarnish protectant left on the surface. This is a concern for some people who don't want anything remaining on their silver. I personally prefer using Herman's on pieces that come in contact with food (flatware) or liquids (baby cups, mugs, flagons, and the like). You can certainly use Herman's on the interior of a teapot, for example, and the Blitz on the exterior to retard tarnish. Keep in mind that both products are non-toxic and earth-friendly.
3M Tarni-Shield Silver Polish
Twinkle® Silver Polish
Wright's® Silver Cream
Silver Cleaner (removes grime and light tarnish)
Life Natural Glass Cleaner (preferred)
Heavyweight Cotton Inspection Gloves
Gallaway Safety and Supply / Web
and flux brush styles)
Natural Boar Bristle
The Contenti Company
/ Web site
Nitrile Gloves (heavyweight and disposable)
Safety Source Northeast / Web
Marsha Whitney (3M) / Web
Silver & Jewelry Care Co. / Web
Unbuffered (Acid-Free) Tissue Paper
Staples / Web site
(for large silver collections)
Judd Paper Co. / Web
Cutlery Specialties / Web
Al Ladd Fine Edge Woodworking / Web
Mass-Produced Flatware Chests
AmericanBox / Web
Jewelry & Silverware Safes
Casoro Jewelry Safes / Web
Custom Drawer Inserts, Relining, Flatware Displays
Lloyds of Lancaster County / Web
SilverGuard / Web
Sterling Buffet / Web
Flannel Holloware & Flatware Bags, and Yardage
Kinley Covers (Kenized Cloth) / Web
(Pacific Silvercloth) / Web
Lacquer Stripper (thick consistancy & safer to use)
The video below is an example of how I polished a Paul Revere beaker using Earth Friendly Silver Polish, cotton balls, and the occasional Q-tip. (Earth Friendly was discontinued which is why I developed Herman's Simply Clean Collectors Silver Polish.) The white translucent panel in front provided contrast, making tarnish easier to identify and completely remove. The total polishing time was 30 minutes because of the long-neglected surface. Removing tarnish that would have formed on these pieces over a period of six months may have only taken only two minutes.
This next video demonstrates basic silver polishing. You'll learn a lot within six minutes.
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