Tarnished Silver Cleaning: Polishing Silver

by marciag

Tarnished silver cleaning is important especially for sterling silver jewelry. Shiny silver looks much better than the tarnished, dull material when worn or showcased.

What Is Tarnished Silver?

Tarnished silver cleaning is done when the silver pieces have lost their initial shine and luster.

Everyone has at home something made of sterling silver, be it handmade sterling silver jewelry, or silverware, candelabra or various antique pieces handed down from previous generations.

While silver initially looks very shiny, bringht and truly lovely, over time, due to it being in contact with air, it takes on a darker patina. It basically tarnishes, becomes dull and almost lifeless.

Now let me mention that there are people who love the tarnished jewelry, especially when the silver has become almost dark. This is what people call antique silver jewelry. They let the silver develop the tarnish over time and don't polish it at all. However that is a special case and the jewelry is in most cases really old.

There is also a case when jewelry designers oxidize their jewelry pieces (I do it all lthe time) for the black tarnish to really show through. But that is another subject for another article.

However for the most part, people love shiny silver and they prefer it over the tarnished pieces that lost their luster.

So how to undertake tarnished silver cleaning? This article will give you some ideas on how to clean your dull looking silver and bring it to full shine again.

Tarnished Silver Pieces

tarnished
tarnished

Do You Have Tarnished Silver At Home?

Different Ways To Clean Tarnished Silver

There are several ways to clean tarnished silver, ranging from polishing by hand using a polishing cloth to using a Lortone tumbler for polishing the silver jewelry. But which one is best for which type of silver?

As you will see below, for silverware I prefer to use a mix of salt, baking soda and water, while for cleaning silver jewelry I either use a polishing cloth (for lightly tarnished and dirty jewelry) or a Lortone rotary tumbler for strongly tarnsihed jewelry.

Cleaning Tarnished Silverware

One of the ways I clean my tarnished silverware is by using water, salt and baking soda. Depending on the size of the items to be cleaned, you need a big enough aluminum container so you can put every piece in. If you don't have an aluminum vessel, then use any regular container and add aluminum foil like in the picture to the left.

First add the salt and the baking soda (one tablespoon each) on the top of the silverware. Next pour hot water over everything in the bowl to cover the silverware pieces.

Now use a spoon (wooden spoon is ok) to mix the powders in the water so they disolve.

Some people like to put the tarnished silverware into the water after everything is added and mixed, but I found it doesn't really matter what you put first as long as the silverware stays in the bowl for a good couple of minutes until you see the tarnish is leaving.

Note: avoid using this procedure for silver jewelry with gemstones because the mix of salt and baking soda will eat away at your stones and damage them.

Cleaning Tarnished Silver Jewelry With A Polishing Cloth

There are several ways that you can remove tarnish from your silver jewelry, and one of the factors involved is whether you have gemstones in the jewelry or not.

Here are some of the methods that I usually use.

Use the method mentioned above of adding baking soda, salt and water for removing tarnish from silverware, as long as your jewelry doesn't have any gemstones in it.

Another method for removing light tarnish as well as oily fingerprints and other dirt from jewelry involves using a polishing cloth.

I use this method when I handle my jewelry a lot and it gets greasy from it, and lightly tarnished through oxidation with the air.

Simply use a polishing cloth that you can buy in most stores and start polishing the silver slowly, covering every part.

This method, however, won't help much with strongly tarnished jewelry because it simply won't take the tarnish out from the pieces.

Warning Note!

Avoid using commercial silver polishing liquid, as tempting as it may sound. Initially you will get a nice polished silver piece, however later on your silver can get just as easily destroyed.

The chemicals in the liquid will eat away at the material.

If you need to use any liquids then follow my tips above on using baking soda, salt and water. They are natural and very gentle on your silver (as long as you don't add any gemstones to the mix, of course).

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Video Demonstrations Of Polishing Tarnished Silver Jewelry

Cleaning Tarnished Silver Jewelry With A Lortone Tumbler

This is where I use my Lortone tumbler to polish silver. One one of the benefits of using a Lortone is that you can use it with gemstone silver jewelry as well, since a tumbler is used for polishing stones anyway. The only gems you should avoid adding to a Lortone is pearls because they are extremely soft, and they will get scratched (no exceptions).

If you don't have yet a Lortone tumbler for cleaning your silver jewelry, you don't know what you're missing. I'm using my Lortone almost on a daily basis.

I use it after I've finished a jewelry piece to get it sparkly and shiny, and I also use it now and then on tarnished jewelry - before I sell a piece or simply before I want to use something I've done ages ago and haven't bothered with keeping it tarnish free in the first place.

So how do you polish your silver jewelry using a Lortone tumbler?

What you need:

Your silver jewelry

The Lortone tumbler

Tumbling media (stainless steel tumbling shot)

Some soapy liquid (I use Palmolive dishwashing liquid)

How to polish tarnished silver jewelry step by step:

  1. First add the tumbling shot to the tumbler barrel. Don't fill the barrel with more than 1/3 full shot
  2. Add the jewelry pieces in it (If you also have gold or copper pieces to tumble, don't mix them in with silver, else you'll change the color of the silver - happened to me! Tumble each material separately)
  3. Add water to the barrel just enough to cover everything + about 1 inch more
  4. Add just a few drops of dishwashing liquid to the water. The US folks like to use Dawn, but as I live in Europe, I don't have that. But any liquid that you use to wash your dishes will work just fine.
  5. Close the lid tightly and place the barrel on the tumbler. Check for any leaking
  6. Start the tumbler and leave it to work for a while until the jewelry is clean. For cleaning purposes I usually leave the jewelry in for about half an hour. If you also want to harden the silver wire (for example for chainmail jewelry), you can leave it in for even 24 hours.
  7. Stop the tumbler, remove the lid and remove your silver jewelry from the barrel
  8. You can pour out the dirty water into the sink, but make sure you don't throw out the stainless steel shot down the drain. The steel shot is not cheap to buy in the first place, so don't lose it!
  9. Next rinse your jewelry from the dishwashing liquid, and then put it on a clean cloth or a kitchen towel (I prefer the paper towel as it absorbs the water much faster) to dry.
  10. Clean well your barrels and take out the shot to dry. While the stainless steel shot usually doesn't get rust on it (that's why you buy stainless steel in the first place), one never really knows the quality of the steel shot they bought, so better be safe than sorry.

Now your jewelry is shiny and beautiful again, ready to be sold to your customer, or to be worn (if it's your own).

The Same Lortone Tumbler I use For Cleaning My Silver Jewelry

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Want To Polish Rocks?

How To Polish Stones
Read this article if you want to learn how to polish rocks by tumbling stones

Updated: 10/29/2011, marciag
 
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What Is Your Experience With Tarnished Silver Cleaning?


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graceonline on 10/28/2011

Truth be told, it is not a chore I enjoy. I've tried this method in the past, but I don't think the description was a thorough as yours, so I will give yours a try next time I need to clean my few silver pieces. Very well done article, btw. Thanks for taking time to make it so easy to read and follow.

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