How to Remove Tarnish & Wax from Silver

The random, domestic act of polishing silver serving-pieces and removing spilled wax from silver candlesticks is hardly my idea of a good time. Nevertheless, the holidays are here, company is due, and I want my tableware to sparkle. Here are a few tricks to make this mundane cleaning chore a little less…mundane:

Silver-Plate. I use an electro-magnetic process to quickly clean my coffee and tea service, pictured above, and other large, silver-plated pieces. Here’s the procedure. First, line a dishpan with aluminum foil, shiny side up. Next, pour into the pan one cup of baking soda, and enough boiling water to fill the pan two-thirds full. Submerge silver for about one minute. Finally, rinse with hot water, and then dry with a soft cloth. Why this method works: the foil, soda and hot water produces a chemical reaction that sucks the silver sulfide, or tarnish, from the silver item, and onto the foil. After cleaning several pieces, you will notice that the foil has become quite dark.

Sterling. There is no quick way to clean sterling silver. I find that a gin and tonic, and perhaps an old Bette Davis flick, like All About Eve, helps to keep me amused while I clean every sterling candlestick, fork, knife, and spoon with a cloth soaked in Hagerty’s silversmiths’ polish. If you have an easier way to clean sterling, I’d like to hear it.

You can, of course, avoid all of this scullery-business in the future. Obtain a pair of silversmiths’ gloves, and spray them with dry silver polish. You can buy both gloves and polish here. Then, during your weekly dusting routine, don the gloves and lightly rub your sterling or plated vase, picture frame, tea service, or what have you. Do this religiously, and your silver will always be free of tarnish, and bright as the North Star.

To Remove Candle Wax. Fortunately, it’s not difficult to remove wax from silver candlesticks. Simply place them in the freezer overnight, and the next morning the wax will come off with a mere flick of the fingernail.

You might have a silver-polishing-trick up your own sleeve. Care to share it?

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  1. Great tips, Kevin! I have a pair of candlesticks that I foolishly used outdoors, during a breezy dinner party last August. The wax melted all over them. I'll try the freezer trick. Maybe I'll be able to use them for Thanksgiving!

  2. I'm like you, Kevin. Before the holidays, I take all over my silverware and candlesticks into the living room and polish them while watching TV. Then I don't feel so guilty spending time in front of the boob-tube.

  3. I always use the foil and baking soda method for my silverware, and also for my silver necklace and silver bracelet. It really does clean them!

  4. Wow, Kevin love the Silver Plate method! Maria has been looking for a project for her science class maybe I can save my tarnished silver for that!

  5. Angela – It would be a GREAT science project! Teachers could bring in their tarnished silver, too!

  6. Love the dishpan with foil/baking soda trick. I'm going to try it!

  7. “Weekly dusting routine”??? Or is it “weakly dusting routine”???

  8. David – around here? Weakly, definitely!

  9. Did you get this tip from Mr. Wizard? I'm going to try it right now on a very old tarnished bell from Switzerland my great-aunt gave me many years ago. I'll keep you posted on the results!

  10. Bell results: I believe the old bell is brass so the baking soda procedure didn't quite work. Kevin — do you have any household tips on cleaning tarnished brass??

  11. Judy – I use Noxon Metal Polish for all of my brass, stainless steel, aluminum, chrome, pewter, bronze and copper objects. It makes the brass pedals on two of my ancient pianos look like new. Do give it a try — it really works.

  12. I used the dishpan and foil and baking soda method over the weekend, and guess what? It worked pretty well! (It probably would have worked VERY well if I'd used boiling water, not hot from the tap.) Anyway, I cleaned my tarnished, silver forks and spoons (the knives didn't need cleaning), and also a couple of silver chains. The foil really does act like a magnet for the tarnish.

  13. Yolanda – I've noticed the same thing about the knives in my silver set. They rarely need polishing, because while the handles are silver (sterling or plate), the blades are usually stainless steel.

  14. Kim C., Erie Pa. says:

    Kevin, great tip for the cleaning of Sterling Silver, I'm going to try it the next time I clean mine. It was left to me from my mother whome passed away late October. Her and a friend would sit for hours polishing it. So you know I'm trying to find a faster way to keep it looking great, I love those Bette Davis flicks to. Have A Blessed and Merry Christmas and New Year in 2010.

  15. I believe the old bell is brass so the baking soda procedure didn't quite work. Kevin — do you have any household tips on cleaning tarnished brass??

  16. Welcome, garden gloves! I've always relied on a product called “Noxon” for cleaning brass. You can find it in most hardware stores and supermarkets. Thanks for asking.

  17. Very long time ago someone gave me this tip for cleaning silver plated as well as sterling, and I’ve never looked back – it works perfectly every time! TOOTHPASTE!

    ( just put a toothpaste on an dry or damp eye pad or old T-shirt and polish your silver, then rinse it in a warm water – DONE! ).

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