How To Polish Silver

A Complete Guide To Cleaning Silver

Silver is among the most beautiful precious metals found on Earth. It is rare enough that owning it is a status symbol. It is also common enough to be an affordable luxury. If you enjoy silver, you may have a collection of silver coins, a few pieces of silver jewelry or a set of silver flatware. You may even have a treasured set of silver Moscow Mule mugs or julep cups.

If silver has any weakness as a precious metal, it is the fact that it forms silver sulfide after prolonged exposure to sulfur in the air. The black tarnish mars appearance of the otherwise beautiful metal. Severe tarnish might even cause you to avoid displaying or using your silver items.

Don’t let the fear of tarnish prevent you from using your silver regularly. Polishing silver is actually quite easy. Doing it safely, though, takes time. You want to remove the worst of the tarnish without damaging the silver’s finish or removing the natural patina, so patience is a virtue when polishing silver.

Keep these tips in mind when you clean your silver at home.

Frequent Use

The best way to keep your silver clean is to use it regularly. If you own any silver jewelry, you may have noticed that it tarnishes most quickly when you store it. If you wear silver jewelry every day, you can typically wait years between polishing sessions. The same is true of your silver flatware, plates, cups and other items. If you use them regularly, you can polish them less.

Basic Silver Cleaning

After each use, you should clean your silver with mild soap and water. After cleaning the silver, dry it thoroughly with a soft non-abrasive cloth. You can use a soft dish towel or a microfiber cloth.

To clean your silver safely, avoid soaps containing citrus or phosphates as those substances can pit the silver. Also, don’t allow the silver to touch stainless steel. If you clean your silver inside a stainless steel sink, place a plastic tub inside the sink or line the sink with a towel.

Deep Silver Cleaning

Hagerty Silver Polish

Silver Polish Foam by Hagerty

If you need to clean a silver piece that’s been in storage for a while, you’ll likely need to remove a layer of dark tarnish. Soap and water are insufficient for tarnish removal, so choose a low-abrasion silver polishing compound instead.

  • Rinse the silver before you begin. Surface dirt and dust can etch soft silver deeply if you rub it.
  • Apply a bit of polishing compound to a cotton ball or cellulose sponge, and apply it gently to the silver. Rub the silver in straight lines — not in circles — to remove the tarnish.
  • Rinse away the polishing compound, and dry the silver thoroughly when you are done polishing it.

Silver Polishing Methods We Don’t Recommend

If a polishing compound removes tarnish very quickly, it’s probably too harsh. You should generally avoid polishing silver with anything that has the label “metal polish,” for example. Silver is much more delicate than many other metals. A harsh cleaner may etch silver or remove its natural patina. These are some of the silver polishing methods that we don’t recommend.

  • Ultrasonic cleaners: This cleaning method removes tarnish from silver quickly. Unfortunately, it also removes natural or factory-applied patina. Silver placed in an ultrasonic cleaner will come out white, but it’ll also appear dull and lack its original shine.
  • Rouge polishing cloths: Jeweler’s rouge is powdered iron oxide. Rouge is abrasive, so it removes tarnish quickly. Unfortunately, it also etches soft silver. Avoid using it.
  • Aluminum foil and baking soda: You can quickly remove tarnish from silver items by placing them in a foil-lined container, sprinkling baking soda on them and pouring hot water into the container. Although this method is effective in removing tarnish, it’ll also remove patina. In addition, it’ll cause pitting and result in the silver forming tarnish more quickly in the future.

A Word About Coins

With careful storage, a silver coin forms a beautiful patina over time. You should never attempt to remove the patina by cleaning the coin. Doing so could actually lower its value.