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How to polish and clean tarnished silver - best DIY tricks

Cleaning silver shouldn't be a daunting task. Here's how to clean sterling silver using aluminum foil, vinegar and baking soda.
tarnished silverware
“A silver polishing cloth and a little elbow grease is the easiest and fastest way to give your piece a shiny finish,” Chad Berg told TODAY Home.Shutterstock
/ Source: TODAY

Silver has long been the metal of choice for elegant flatware, serving pieces and candlesticks. And when it comes to jewelry, silver never seems to lose its popularity.

But as much as we love its beauty and affordability, silver does require a bit of extra TLC because it tarnishes — and tarnish is just plain ugly. Chad Berg, general manager for Lee Michaels Fine Jewelry in Metairie, Louisiana, knows how to keep silver looking its best and he's dishing out his tips to TODAY Home.

How to clean silver

Start by cleaning silver in warm, soapy water and dry with a soft cloth. But never use paper towels; they can scratch the silver!

How to clean tarnished silver

If your silver looks dull but doesn’t have visible tarnish, it's considered "lightly tarnished."

“A silver polishing cloth and a little elbow grease is the easiest and fastest way to give your piece a shiny finish,” Berg said.

No silver polishing cloth? Wash the silver in warm water using a non-lemon mild dish detergent and a sponge or soft cloth. Dry and buff to a shine.

How to polish silver

To remove heavier tarnish, Berg suggests using a quality silver polish, such as Blitz Silver Shine, Hagerty Silversmiths’ Wash or Wright’s Silver Cream. Apply polish using a cotton ball or cotton makeup pad, a sponge or a soft cloth. Be sure to wear cotton or nitrile gloves because fingerprints contribute to tarnishing. Removing tarnish does take effort, so be prepared to rub and polish silver until the tarnish is gone. Wash off residue, then dry and buff to a shine.

How to polish silver with aluminum foil, baking soda and vinegar

Polishing silver whenever it starts to look spotted or tarnished is usually enough to keep it in good shape, especially if you don't use it all that often.

"Typically, once a year is often enough. You can use a good silver cleaner or if it’s very tarnished, you can use this DIY silver polish," said Melissa Maker, cleaning expert and host of the YouTube Channel Clean My Space.

To make the homemade silver polish, you'll need the following:

  • 1 cup of boiling water
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon white salt
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1 sheet of tinfoil, shiny side up
  • A basin big enough for the silver
  • A flat-weave microfiber cloth

Note: You may need to double or triple these amounts to fill the basin.

  1. Start by boiling the water. While it’s simmering, line the bottom of the basin with tinfoil, shiny side up.
  2. Next, add salt and baking soda to the bottom of the bowl.
  3. Add vinegar slowly (prepare for it to fizz) and mix everything together to dissolve the salt and baking soda. Hint: You want all the granules to dissolve so they won’t scratch your silver.
  4. Add boiling water to your bowl and then gently drop each piece of silver in so that it's touching the tinfoil. Let it sit and the chemical reaction will work its magic for you!
  5. If you want, you can flip each piece of silver over with salad tongs to make sure both sides are exposed to the tinfoil.
  6. Take each piece out carefully — don't burn yourself! — and buff it gently with a microfiber cloth. You should start to see all the tarnish come off!

You can also make a quick DIY silver polish with a few other basic ingredients you might have lying around the house.

"Make a paste with cornstarch and water. Rub paste on silver with a cloth, rinse in warm water and wipe dry with a clean microfiber cloth," Johnson said. "Or use white toothpaste! Place toothpaste on a cloth, rub silver with cloth, rinse in warm water and wipe dry with a clean microfiber cloth."

How to store silver

To minimize tarnish, wrap silver pieces individually in acid-free buffered tissue, cotton, linen or polyester and store in a zip-top plastic bag, or store in bags or containers designed to minimize tarnish.

To further avoid tarnish, consider adding the following to the storage container: Anti-Tarnish Strips, which absorb tarnish-causing sulfur, and silica gel, which absorbs moisture.

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This article was originally published on June 28, 2016.