Cleaning Silver without Chemicals

Earlier today I cleaned some silver that was tarnishing using a simple combination of household items that reverses the tarnishing process using a chemical reaction.

From a chemical perspective, silver tarnish is technically silver sulfide and forms when silver is exposed to sulfur.  Most commercial liquid jewelry cleaners, tarnish removal cloths, as well as home solutions like using toothpaste, rely on removing the tarnish from the silver material to restore the silver luster, in effect removing some of the underlying silver material at the same time.  The following method actually reverses the chemical reaction that created the silver tarnish to begin with without removing any material at all.  As a bonus there are no harsh chemicals used and most people have what is needed right in their kitchen.

Here’s what you need:
  • a pan or dish large enough to completely immerse the tarnished piece of silver in
  • aluminum foil to cover the bottom of the pan
  • enough water to fill the pan
  • something to heat / boil the water in
  • baking soda, about 1 cup per gallon of water

1. Line the bottom of the pan with aluminum foil. Set the silver object on top of the aluminum foil. Make sure the silver touches the aluminum.

2. Heat the water to boiling. To the hot water, add about one cup of baking soda for each gallon of water. (If you boiled less water, adjust the ratio of baking soda that you use.) The mixture will froth a bit and may spill over so it’s not a bad idea to do this over a sink.

3. Pour the hot baking soda and water mixture into the pan with aluminum foil to completely cover the silver.

Almost immediately, the tarnish will begin to disappear. If the silver is only lightly tarnished, all of the tarnish will disappear within several minutes. If the silver is badly tarnished, you may need to reheat the baking soda and water mixture, and give the silver several treatments to remove all of the tarnish.

4. Once the silver item is clean, remove it from the pan, rinse with clean water and dry with a soft cloth.
There you go.  Your silver item is restored to it’s original beauty!

Categories: Techniques

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