How To: Polish Silver

With these simple, totally DIY-friendly tips, you can keep your silver clean, shiny, and tarnish-free with a minimum of elbow grease.
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How to Polish Silver

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Gleaming silver exudes refined charm, yet over time that lustrous beauty gradually fades with the accumulation of tarnish, the product of a naturally occurring chemical reaction between the metal and the air. To look their best, silver candlesticks and vases, table knives and serving spoons all need regular upkeep. You can choose from several effective ways of polishing silver.

How to Remove Silver Tarnish

While each method differs somewhat, they do share a common starting point: The first step in polishing silver properly is to deal with any tarnish that’s been allowed to build up. It’s only when the tarnish is gone that you can really get down to the business of polishing silver. Fortunately, you more than likely already have on hand the ingredients needed for tarnish removal.

  1. Line a saucepan with aluminum foil, fill up the pan with water, then switch on a burner on your range.
  2. With the water simmering, add in a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of baking soda. Stir until both have dissolved.
  3. Place the tarnished silver in the water, leaving it there for about three minutes.
  4. In that time, the tarnish should disappear, leaving the silver looking much brighter.

Note that if your silver has a dark patina you would like retain, skip this step and go straight to the act of polishing. The process outlined above tends to work well—too well, in some people’s opinions. Yes, there are those who’ve tried this technique and been unpleasantly surprised by how silver their silver turned out!

How to Polish Silver

Using Commercial Polish

When you’re shopping for silver polish in your local hardware store or home center, remember that silver is quite different from copper and brass and other metals. That being the case, it’s important to use a polish formulated for use specifically with silver.

Apply the polish by means of a soft sponge or cotton ball, rubbing the silver (not the applicator) repeatedly back and forth (not in circles). Don’t rub too hard, and use a toothbrush if the object you are polishing has any hard-to-reach areas. When you have finished polishing, rinse the silver under running water before drying it with a soft, clean cloth.

How to Polish Silver - Detail Work

Using Homemade Polish

Tempted to experiment with homemade silver polish? Many homeowners swear by one or another ingredient (or mixture of ingredients), and these techniques often filter down through multiple generations of a family. If you’re looking to establish a new tradition with an easy, fail-safe homemade silver polish, look no further than your bathroom cabinet. It turns out that toothpaste—yes, toothpaste—works wonders. There’s only one catch: Make sure to use nonwhitening toothpaste, as whitening formulations typically include abrasives that can leave scratches on silver, a soft metal.

Preventing Tarnish

Polishing your silver as often as once a week is one way to prevent a deep layer of tarnish from setting in, but without a butler at your service, sticking to that sort of regimen is virtually impossible, no? The next best thing is to store your silver with care. After each use, place the silver in tissue paper and then inside an airtight container (for example, a Ziploc storage bag). This may seem like overkill, but such precautions drastically slow down the rate at which silver tarnishes—and don’t you just love it when your silver gleams?