Cleaning Your Tarnished Silverware ~ How-To

Tarnished Silverware

Make your tarnished silverware look like new after cleaning it. Silver cleaning sounds like a laborious procedure, but it is easy to clean and manage in the most environmentally sound way.

How do you clean tarnished silverware? The most popular method for cleaning tarnished silverware is known as the aluminum foil recipe. Yet, there are other methods using household items such as lemon, toothpaste, and ketchup.

Don’t sell your tarnished silverware. Learn how to clean and preserve your silverware using this guide.

Also, learn why your silverware tarnishes so that you can keep it shiny.

Why Silver Cutlery Tarnishes

As silver is exposed to sulfur-containing gasses in the air, it discolors and darkens.

The silver reacts with the gas and creates a surface coat of tarnish. This process is called tarnishing.

Protecting silver artifacts from tarnishing is a significant activity for heritage practitioners.

Tarnish disfigures a silver artifact in general. It can be extracted by polishing or other methods, but it can be labor-intensive.

Moreover, every time an item is contaminated and washed, any silver is destroyed.

On silver-plated objects, polishing will harm or even fully strip the thin layer of silver plating.

It is also better, if possible, to prevent the item from tarnishing, particularly in the case of museums or heritage objects.

To avoid polluting silver content, it must be protected from sulfur-containing gases.

These gases are made from a variety of sources. It may be difficult to prevent silver from vanishing while it’s on display in a historic home.

Placing silver in an enclosed display case still cannot protect it from tarnish—and more so if the display case is made of improper materials or is not airtight enough.

Simple Ways to Clean Your Tarnished Silverware

Silver cutlery seems to lose its shine with time and even to get dark.

This is tarnishing—the result of a chemical reaction between silver and sulfur gas in the air.

Aluminum Foil + Baking Soda

This is one of the best recipes in the silver cleaning arsenal.

The aluminum soda bath is very handy when you need to clean more than one type of silver cutlery.

1. Place Silver in a Disposable Aluminum Container

Position the silver in a single layer on a disposable aluminum tray.

If you’re cleaning silverware that doesn’t fit, line the bottom of a mop bucket with aluminum foil and position the silverware inside.

You want to stop washing silver in whatever dish you use for cooking.

The process might soil the holding vessel or infuse it with smells that could later be passed along to your baking.

2. Dry and Buff the Silverware

Gently remove the silverware using tongs or a soft cotton dishcloth and use additional soft dishcloths to dry each piece.

If you choose to wear gloves for this process, use plastic or cotton gloves.

Never use rubber gloves because the rubber will corrode silver.

When you dry each piece, use the cloth to buff it vigorously. Rub it all over, adding only a little bit of light pressure.

Small circular gestures are better for bigger pieces. Q-tips will help you get through delicate and decorative grooves.

3. Go the Extra Mile

If your silver was severely ignored, you will need to repeat the above measures.

Overall, this is a gentle cleaning procedure that removes unnecessary tarnish.

However, it leaves behind some of the patina that is highly prized in antique silver.

If you want your silver to shine, use the silver polish you bought to give it one more buff.

Baking Soda Bath

Exact measurements are not required here.

  1. Sprinkle the silver parts with an even coating of baking soda.

  2. Apply hot water to the tray until the silver bits are fully submerged. This is a perfect way to see if your baking soda is still active.

  3. Allow it to soak for five minutes. You should leave the bits longer if they’re heavily tarnished.

  4. Baking soda’s chemical reaction with aluminum eliminates the sulfur dioxide that forms on silver and gives it a tarnished appearance.

Corn Flour + Water

This recipe will help you recover the lost shine of your silver.

  1. Prepare a thick paste of water and cornflour and add it to the silver piece.

  2. Let the mixture dry entirely.

  3. Wipe it off with a towel to polish the surface and preserve the shine on your jewelry and silverware. If you’re out of cornflour, you should cover it with tartar milk.

Ketchup Clean-up

Ketchup works well if you need to strip the silver tarnish. This technique is beneficial if you have only 1-2 silver objects to clean.

  1. Add a few drops of ketchup to a paper towel and softly rub the silverware or jewelry.

  2. If old tarnish has built up, add ketchup directly to these areas and leave for 15 minutes.

  3. Rub with a microfiber cloth and rinse with water. Some objects, such as fancy candlesticks or silverware, have more details.

  4. Use a gentle toothbrush to bridge the distance between the crevices and scrub the tarnish.

Hand Sanitizer

Hand sanitizing solutions are a fast remedy if you need to polish your silver ring on the go.

  1. Squeeze a tiny amount of hand sanitizer on a warm paper towel.

  2. Softly rub the diamond. The faint tarnish is gone, and the silver is clean and polished again!

    Don’t try this silver cleaning recipe with encrusted mineral stones because some of the ingredients of the hand sanitizer could harm the stone.


This is a classic, easy-to-use DIY silver cleaning formula. Using non-freezing and non-abrasive toothpaste.

  1. Squeeze a little amount of it on a smooth fabric or paper towel.

  2. Rub onto the jewelry or silverware with circular gestures to polish it and clean the tarnish.

  3. Leave it for five minutes. Afterward, wipe off the toothpaste with water. After this process, the silver is as clean and polished as if it were new.

Lemon-Lime Soda

If your silver jewelry has been matted and tarnished, soak it in a plastic tub filled with lemon-lime soda.

  1. Leave your silverware for an hour in a plastic tub filled with lemon-lime soda.

  2. Take out the silver, scrub well with warm water, and dry with a paper towel or fluffy cloth. This approach works only with slightly tarnished silver items.

Window Cleaning Detergent

Glass cleaner works well, and not just on glass surfaces. It also extracts debris and preserves the shine of sterling silver.

  1. Spray a little on a cloth, then start cleaning out your jewelry or silverware.

  2.  Use a gentle toothbrush to softly comb around tiny details and decorations.

Never use this ancient silver formula on cutlery, candlesticks, jewelry, or silver accessories— antiques can be very delicate.

If you need to clean antique silver, it’s best to invest in a specialist tool.

Ammonia + Water

This combination can help you easily brighten silver cutlery, jewelry, and accessories.

  1. Prepare solution: The ratio should be 1:2 of ammonia and water.

  2. Soak your silverware in the liquid for 15 minutes.

  3. Take it out of the solution and wipe it with a soft cloth.

  4. Buff with a dry cotton cloth to polish the surface. It’s not recommended to use ammonia on antique silverware or silver jewelry.

White Distilled Vinegar + Baking Soda

These two ingredients can brighten up silver cutlery.

  1. Prepare 1 part of the clear ammonia solution and 2 parts of the warm water.

  2. Soak the silver objects in the solvent for 10 minutes.

  3. Remove them from the solvent and clean them with a soft cloth.

  4. Buff them with a dry cotton cloth to polish the surface. It is not recommended to use ammonia on antique silverware or any sort of silver.

Baking Soda + Water

If you have stubborn tarnish on your silverware, prepare a thick paste of baking soda and lukewarm spray.

  1. Apply to tainted spots with a wet rag. Leave it for 2-3 minutes.

  2. Gently rub it with a soft rag. Do not rub too vigorously so that you don’t scrape the paint.

  3. If there are small details, use a soft toothbrush to clean them.

  4. Rinse the silverware with cool water and dry with a soft sheet.

  5. Buff in circular gestures to polish the silver.


A paste of cornstarch and water will make silver look new again.

  1. Apply with a wet rag, let it dry, and rub with a slightly abrasive cloth or rough towel.

  2. If you’re out of cornstarch, should add tartar cream.

How Quickly Silver Tarnishes

The rate at which silver tarnishes depends on the concentration of sulfur-containing gasses such as hydrogen sulfide suspended in the air.

In a museum environment, the dark layer of tarnish can take months or years to develop.

The concentration of hydrogen sulfide is usually between 86 and 600 parts per trillion (ppt).

One part per trillion of gas means that there is 1 molecule of that gas for every 1 trillion.

Silver exposed to freshly boiled egg tarnishes within minutes rather than months.

This reveals that the hydrogen sulfide concentration in the egg is far higher than in the traditional museum atmosphere.

Tarnish grows quicker on silver that has been newly polished than on silver that has tarnished.

As a result, a coating of tarnish, as unappealing as it may seem, simply helps shield the silver from further tarnishing.

For this purpose, silver with tarnish should be kept unpolished until cleaning is needed for show or display.

Relative humidity (RH) also influences the rate of tarnishing. Silver tarnishes quicker with a given concentration of hydrogen sulfide as the RH increases.

As a result, silver is better processed under dry conditions (below 50 percent RH). 

Sources of Tarnishing Gases

  • People (intestinal gas emissions containing hydrogen sulfide)
  • Plaster casts (made with gypsum)
  • Pulp-and-paper industries
  • Clays
  • Drywall
  • Foods (certain ones such as eggs)
  • Glues (protein-based)
  • Heating fuel (especially coal-based)
  • Paints
  • Grout
  • Inlays in furniture
  • Munitions
  • Sewer gases
  • Sulfur (elemental sulfur)
  • Adhesives
  • Cement
  • Volcanoes and hot springs
  • Water (some natural well water and bogs)
  • Wood (recovered from anaerobic environments)
  • Wool, wool felt
  • Vulcanized rubber objects such as:
  1. Ebonite
  2. Latex gloves
  3. Molding material (polysulfide rubber)
  4. Rubber bands
  5. Rubber gloves
  6. Rubber o-rings
  7. Rubber stoppers
  8. Vulcanite
  9. Pencil eraser

Prevent Silver From Tarnishing

There’s no way to stop silverware from going black because silver interacts with so many materials used in daily life.

For example, tarnishing can be accelerated by contact with tap water, various foods, and perfume.

Though tarnishing is a normal process that cannot be stopped, it can be slowed down.

However, at some stage, you will also need to scrub the tarnished layer.

The Best Way to Store Silver

To hold the shine on your silver, cover each piece in either acid-free tissue paper or cotton muslin.

Please stay away from harmful chemicals as they can damage the silver with tarnish.

You’ll still want to do whatever you can to prevent one piece of silver from contacting another, to stop scratching.

Place the silver in a plastic container, preferably a sealed zip bag or a package lined with soft cotton.

Because wood can induce a chemical reaction, it is better to avoid wooden storage boxes.

Put a bit of regular chalk in a bag or a jar of your silver before storing it.

Storing silver with chalk helps to extract moisture from the container, which, in exchange, can avoid tarnishing.

Because the silver is wrapped, you won’t have to think about the chalk getting in touch with it.

Ensure that the pieces are not kept in a hot or humid environment, such as an attic or a damp basement.

Instead, place them in a box, a fridge, or a hutch so you can open it more quickly.

And again, don’t worry about the chalk! Let it do its work as you sit back and relax.


Try these methods and tips to polish your tarnished silverware for the holidays, or simply use them as part of your interior.

Leave a little piece of chalk in the box. Chalk is absorbent and holds the moisture away from the silver.

You can replace the chalk with tiny packets of silica gel.

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