Cleaning up silver, like those beautiful antique water pitchers, tea pots and silverware, has traditionally meant rubbing on a funky smelling cream to remove that black tarnish and dipping silver jewelry into some kind of powerful chemical eye-burning liquid. Those overwhelmingly strong smells had to mean it was working, right?
Well, they’re not exactly doing what you think they’re doing as “stealing” may be the word that better applies here. Those chemicals are little thieves, taking away some of the silver molecules while they “work,” as well as being incredibly toxic. According to Organic Consumers, metal polishes may contain nerve-damaging petroleum distillates or lung-irritating ammonia, potentially irritating eyes, skin or airways during use.
Silver expert Jeffrey Herman notes that those chemical dips work by dissolving the tarnish on an object at an accelerated rate, and they take the silver along with it. They quickly remove factory-applied patinas if left in for even more than a few seconds, or they will eventually if dipped in very quickly each time the item requires cleaning. They strip the shine from silver too, leaving it with a dull, lifeless appearance, and can also cause pitting in the surface. Herman adds that those dips are often made of a strongly suspected carcinogen known as acidified thiourea, which is a corrosive that will damage silver.
All of that said, you can see why turning to a natural, green cleaning method for making that old silver shine is really a much better idea.
1. Aluminum Foil
This aluminum foil solution is one of the most popular for shining up tarnished silver. In fact, some call it the “holy grail of all natural silver polish.” It’s like a magic cleaning wand that makes that tarnish disappear instantly, right before your eyes.
To use this technique, gather together the following:
- Aluminum foil
- Aluminum or glass baking dish
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1 tbsp baking soda
- 1 tbsp sea salt
- 1/2 cup white vinegar
- Soft cloth for polishing
- Tongs to remove silverware from the boiling water
- Bring the cup of water to a boil in a pot on the stove. When the water is mixed with the other ingredients, it will activate the baking soda to start the process of transferring the tarnish to the foil.
- Add your dry ingredients to the pot and then slowly pour in the vinegar, being extra cautious as it will result in a slight reaction. While vinegar isn’t an absolutely necessary ingredient in the process, it will help to speed it up significantly.
- Pour the boiling water in after the vinegar. Now place your silver into the pot, making sure each piece is touching the foil. Avoid letting any of the pieces overlap, they should all be spaced apart at least slightly. Leave them in for 30 seconds, or a few minutes if the pieces are heavily tarnished.
- Using your tongs, remove the silver and rub off any remaining spots by buffing with the soft cloth. Your silver will now be restored to its original glory.
While it definitely sounds rather bizarre, ketchup can actually clean tarnished silver. Kind of makes you wonder if you should be consuming it, but it does do a great job for this purpose. All you need to do is add a little bit to a paper towel and then gently rub it over tarnished areas of the silver. For tough objects that just don’t seem to be getting any shinier, you may need to allow the ketchup to stay on them for 15 to 20 minutes and then rub the tarnish off with a soft cloth. For objects that have textured details like fancy silverware, use a toothbrush to get into those hard to reach areas.
3. Baking soda
If you don’t want to go through the entire aluminum foil method, or you’re just out of foil, you can use baking soda on its own. You’ll need to completely cover your tarnished pieces in baking soda – use a generous amount, covering the objects until they’re totally immersed in the white powder. Allow it to sit and perform its magic for about 30 minutes. After that period, dampen a soft cloth with hot water and then buff the baking soda into the piece using the cloth to rub off the tarnish. Rinse the object thoroughly in hot water, and watch that shine come through.
4. Rubbing alcohol
For mild mineral spots or residue, you can mix together 4 parts water and 1 part rubbing alcohol in a bowl. Simply dip a clean, soft cloth into the mixture, and then rub it over your silver. Afterward, wipe it dry using another clean cloth.
Mix up a paste using water and cornstarch, which works similar to baking soda. Apply the paste with a damp, soft cloth and allow it to dry. Once it’s dried, rub off the tarnished areas using cheesecloth.
6. Banana peels
Bananas make a great take-on-the-go snack to boost your energy and satisfy hunger pangs, but did you know you can make use of their peels too? The next time you enjoy one, be sure to save the peel to use for cleaning your silver. You’ll need three of them, so you might want to share a couple with your friends. While peels don’t work that well for heavily tarnished, large pieces of silver, they’re ideal for those smaller, delicate pieces.
To use this method, simply toss those three banana peels into your blender and add just a little water to make a paste. You’ll use this paste to clean the silver by dipping a toothbrush into it, and then working it around your silver. Afterward, dip the piece into water to rinse off any residue that remains, and pat dry.
Toothpaste works on silver similar to how it removes that plaque on your teeth. For this technique, simply squeeze out a bit of toothpaste onto a cloth and then use that to polish your silver. If your piece is heavily tarnished you might want to let it sit for a minute or two before polishing with your cloth. Rinse afterward and it should be nice and shiny again.