How To Care For Silver Items?

How to care for silver items in your home? The basics of cleaning and care of solid silver and silver plate are the same. Silver looks at its best when it is used regularly. The patina that develops on it is caused by light catching on minute scratches on the surface. But the very quality that gives silver its lustre also shows that it can be dented and scratched. The silver coating on silver plate is very thin and can wear through with overzealous rubbing.

Silver tarnishes very easily. Tarnish is caused by the silver reacting with sulphur in the air or with other compounds to form a yellow film. If it is not removed, it turns brown and eventually goes purplish black.

All sorts of things can tarnish silver, including eggs, onions, spinach, mayonnaise, wool, newspaper, brown paper and rubber. If you have worn rubber glover to polish silver and have noticed that it actually seems to become more tarnished, you would be right. The sulphur in the rubber creates tarnish even as you are trying to clean it off. Wear cotton gloves.


As well as tarnishing, silver can be corroded by salt, chlorine bleach and acids. Always clean it after use and before putting it away. Silver salt cellars have a glass lining to protect the metal. Even so, empty them and wash them after use. The same applies to mustard pots.

During the care for silver items, silver that is on display should be dusted regularly. Dust particles attract moisture and pollutants in the atmosphere, which encourage tarnishing. Use a soft duster and rub gently to bring up the shine. A soft brush, such as an old, well-washed blusher brush, is useful for getting dust out of crevices and elaborate decoration.

How to wash silver items?

For solid silver use warm water and a little washing-up liquid. Wash with a soft cloth, rinse and polish with a silver polishing cloth. These cloths will bring up the shine and are also impregnated with tarnish inhibitors. Do not rub too hard, or you may scratch the surface. Use long, even strokes – do not rub crosswise or in circular movements.

Pieces of silver that are not solid should not be immersed in water. Instead, take two bowls. Fill one with warm water and a little washing-up liquid and the second with plain water. Dip a cloth into the first bowl, wring it out well and gently swab the object all over, being careful not to let water get into any crevices. As you wash each area, dip a second cloth in plain water, repeat the process with that, then gently buff dry with a silver polishing cloth, as above.

Light tarnish can often be removed just with a silver polishing cloth. On small objects, you can also use a plastic (not rubber) art eraser. Rub gently all over with the eraser, then wash, rinse and polish with a dry cloth. This is a particularly useful trick to know for anything that is elaborately decorated, because the eraser can reach into small crevices. Cut it to fit, if necessary.

When you care for silver items, heavier tarnish can be removed only with silver polish. Cream cleaners are very good. Silver dip is gentler but not as effective and has to be completely removed from a piece of silver or it can cause corrosion. Never use silver wadding, which is too abrasive.


Care for silver items using silver polish. Apply the polish with a soft cloth, working in long strokes, rather than in small circles. This is particularly important on flat pieces, such as salvers. On chased or engraved pieces, use a hogshair brush.

How to wash silver cutlery?

Wash all silver cutlery immediately after use. Certain foods such as vinegar, mustard, Brussels sprouts, egg and salt tarnish and/or corrode silver, causing pitting to the surface. Wash by hand in hot water with a little washing-up liquid. Do not wash silver and stainless steel cutlery together. A reaction between the two metals will damage the silver. Do not put silver or silver plate in the dishwasher.

Tags: home cleaning tips, silver care

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