How to Remove Tarnish & Wax from Silver

November 18, 2011

Originally posted on Nov. 24, 2009
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 I use to make this mundane chore a little less…mundane:

Silver-Plate. I use an electro-magnetic process to quickly clean silver plate, like the coffee and tea service pictured above. 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 almost-boiling water to fill the pan two-thirds full. Submerge silver for about one minute. Finally, rinse with hot water, and then immediately dry with a soft cloth. Why this method works: the foil, soda and hot water produce 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.

Want to avoid all this scullery-business? 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.

I think old black and white family photographs are best displayed in silver frames. To clean the nooks and crannies of the ornate frame above (which contains a photo of Irene Spencer, my great-grandmother), I use a polish-dipped cotton swab.

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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Comments

  1. Carol says:

    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. Gardenlady says:

    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. Elizabeth says:

    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. Yolanda says:

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

  7. David says:

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

  8. David – around here? Weakly, definitely!

  9. Judy says:

    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. Judy says:

    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. Yolanda says:

    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??

    http://padana.com

  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. Hey Kevin, my friend's great grandmother was a Spencer and they are related to Winston Churchill. Are you?
    Well I really came on here looking for a way to keep gingerbread houses glued together so I'll continue my search :)

  18. Brigid – I can answer both questions for you. First, yes — I'm related, distantly, to the very Spencers you mentioned: Diana, Winston Churchill, etc., etc.

    Next, you hold a gingerbread house together with egg whites, blended with powdered sugar. This, and what a coincidence since we were discussing the Spencers, is called “Royal Icing.”

  19. Kevin, thanks! Oh my gosh, I can't wait to tell my friend I found her relative right here in Valatie! She lives in Florida but she has been here a couple of times, wow! Thanks for the gingerbread info too!

  20. Anonymous says:

    I'm cheap, a really good silver polish is ashes like in the fireplace …not hot of course!

  21. Anonymous — Details, please! Do you dip a damp cloth into the ashes and then rub the silver? I'm willing to give it a try — I certainly have lots of fireplace ashes!

  22. Donna B. says:

    Oh. My. Goodness. Although I do not have silver items such as that, these are very feasable methods to clean them!
    I do have a lot of jewelry that is silver… Shame you don't have a real solution for sterling. I have a method I'm not too proud of because I get told constantly that it ruins the silver in the long run: Toothpaste.
    An old toothbrush and some plain fluoride toothpaste [none of that "brilliant whitening, freshen's breath" stuff.] brush gently, rinse in warm water. Towel dry.
    I'm told by a lot of coin collectors that that method is bad, especially for rings and such… but it's the only method I use that doesn't leave an oily film like some polish does!

  23. Donna B. – At last, I've met someone who uses toothpaste to polish silver! I suspect the experts say toothpaste is harmful to silver because it scratches as it cleans.

  24. Lucy says:

    green pads will remove polish and they do not seem to scratch the silver.

  25. Helen Ellis says:

    I’ve used potato water (from boiling potatoes) to clean silver jewellery, soak for 5 mins or so, (not overnight). Don’t know why it works, but it does.

  26. Helen Ellis says:

    I’ve used toothpaste too, with an old toothbrush, especially on rings, the gem stones really sparkle afterwards.

  27. Susan Feiger says:

    Great ideas. Just have to try the “POTATO WATER” method of clearning silver !

  28. Susan Feiger says:

    If you don’t have a freezer, put those candlesticks in a warm oven. Just wipe the wax off and you will have a beautiful sheen to boot !

  29. Susan Feiger – I like your wax-melting idea. What temperature oven?

  30. Shabnam akram says:

    The silver foil method is great… but you seem to be using a whole pile of it… i use a bit of it in a steel/glass bowl, with salt and hot water. seems to work with my sterling silver as well!

  31. Juliette Swenson says:

    I am worried that the silver cleaning method lets off nasty fumes into the air. Best to do it OUTSIDE.

  32. Shabnam akram – I use a dishpan and quite a bit of foil because my silver collection involves large serving pieces.

    Juliette Swenson – I have not noticed any noxious fumes when using the foil and baking soda solution. Nor have I noticed noxious fumes when using Hagerty’s silver-cleaning formula. Brass cleaners, on the other hand, seem wildly-noxious to me!

  33. Heidi says:

    Hi, Kevin! – I’m a new reader (found you by a friend’s share of the Monsanto post).
    I have used the boil-with-foil method (in a “past life”, when I actually had silver to de-tarnish!) and I do remember the sulfur smell when I was standing right over the pot !
    (I think the directions I used mentioned the smelly process, and I looked for it?) I am fascinated by science, and I was thrilled at the process of attracting the tarnish to the foil.

    I think I dipped my sterling and plated jewelry, too…. Why do you not recommend this process for sterling? – Thanks!

  34. LindaK says:

    I own a flannel cloth that has been treated for polishing silver. It gets black, but doesn’t hurt the effectiveness of it. I’ve had it for years. I use it for my silver flute. Actually, storing it in the flute case hinders tarnish. I bought another one to use on my jewelry. Also, you can use baking soda on a dampened soft rag to rub off tarnish. I don’t think it scratches the silver, but it could, I suppose leave micro marks on it. I’ve used that for decades on jewelry. You just have to be careful not to rub anything plated too much or you’re going to rub off the plating and your brass or whatever is below will show. I ruined a badly tarnished heart necklace that way. A soft old wore-out toothbrush dipped in soda is invaluable also for polishing the nooks and crannies in jewelry.

  35. KL in NYC says:

    I’ve been using baking soda and white vinegar for sterling silver jewelry.
    Those are the same ingredients for that grade school volcano-lava science project, so you have to be careful.
    Wash the silver, first.
    I usually start with a paste (baking soda + water) rubbed into the washed silver, and I put it into a high container, then pour in some white vinegar. When the fiz dies down to almost nothing, I add some more baking soda. The next time, more vinegar, and keep alternating.
    I let the piece sit in the container overnight.
    Rubbing the piece with a soft cloth should finish it off.
    If the tarnish is really stubborn, repeat the process.

    BTW, fireplace ashes + water = lye. Not good to use without protection.

  36. Melissa Landon says:

    Garden Gloves & Kevin – Cleaning Brass – Make at home
    In a glass or plastic bowl (never metal) mix 2/3 cup distilled white vinegar with 2/3 cup flour. Once the mixture is smooth, add 1/2 cup of salt and stir until mixed in. For light cleaning, paint on with an old paint brush and let sit and hour or so. Immerse in warm soapy water and wash the tarnish off. For really badly tarnished pieces, you can spread on with a paintbrush (thickly) and then let sit overnight. Again, immerse in warm soapy water and wash away the dirt and tarnish!

  37. Teresa says:

    I use cheap Pepsodent toothpaste for my sterling silver rings and it works wonders on it. Not hard to get and smoother than the other types of toothpaste. Use a small amount and then rinse it with warm water, dry with a soft cloth.

  38. Jennifer says:

    I have beautiful roses but I find my foliage is a little sparse. What do you recommend?

  39. Ebichu Chan says:

    Very interesting article thank you. How can we clean semiprecious stones?

  40. Segerski says:

    I’ve always used toothpaste for cleaning sterling silver , silver plate and semi-precious stones. Even my gold an diamond ring! Use the plain toothpaste that does not have whitening or baking soda in it. I’ve never had a problem with scratching. Use a very soft toothbrush or just rub it on with your fingers (no gloves needed) let it dry a bit. Then rub it off with a soft cloth… like t-shirts. Never use recycled paper towels because they can have metal bits in them and that will scratch.
    Mary

  41. June Coady says:

    Most of the ideas folks have sent in are ok and proven but may I please post a warning?
    Using harsh methods (the dishpan/foil and tooth paste ideas and of course the dishwasher) may remove the ‘black stuff in the crevices” which is referred to as “oxidation” and put there by the manufacturer to enhance appreciation of the pattern of flatware and hollow ware. All American silver makers use oxidation but Canada has not until recently. If you were to compare a new piece of silver from the US and Canada side by side you would see the difference.
    Be kind to your silver and try to make it totally shiny and appreciate the artists pattern work.
    Thanks for the opportunity to spread this word.
    The Jeweler’s Wife.

  42. Betty says:

    FYI: Sometimes the “black stuff’ in the crevices is enamel paint.
    I like to use a variety of cleaning methods depending on the object and my mood.
    I have two favorite silver cleaning methods at this time, one is to use a micro fiber cloth (3-M is one of the best) they have no chemicals and when it gets dirty you can throw it in the washing machine; the other is to use a tumbler to clean the tarnish off the silver. If you are cleaning silver plate in a tumbler that uses water, make sure that you dry the item very well so as to not have a problem with it rusting. A dry tumbler might be the better choice if the item is hollow and hard to get thoroughly dry.

  43. Joan says:

    The more I read your pages…the more I wish I would have found your site sooner. I love all the tips and photos, but I love your style of writing as well. Keep up the wonderful work!

  44. Mary Ann Salsman says:

    I don’t know where I found your site, but I am so thrilled that I did. Love, love, love everything about it. So, I had a huge box full of silver and silver plate that just stayed packed up because it was just too formal for our type of entertaining. Then I saw a picture online of a wall decorated with TARNISHED silver trays! It was fantastic looking! I have now unpacked those silver pieces after decades in the box and will display, hang and possibly use them unpolished!

  45. Jacynth says:

    I have been using the foil/bicarb + hot water for years. It removes most of the tarnish, then I use Goddards silver foam to pick up the shine and diminish return of tarnish.

    For copper and brass, the best method I have found is to use a used half a lemon. Just rub it over the object really working the juice over it, then leave it in the sink. Each time I pass by I give it another rub to maintain moisture. Usually most areas polish up quickly, depending on how long you leave the lemon on it. Then I rinse really thoroughly, dry, and then polish item with Brasso. Without the lemon method I would get through a tin of Brasso and it would take hours and hours!

    By the way, I’m in Western Australia, so use whatever proper polish is available in your neck of the woods!

  46. Marie says:

    Would it work with pewter?

  47. Jeannie says:

    I am having a crazy pre-Thanksgiving day! I forgot the silver polish when I went out so I laughed out loud at your gin and tonic plus Bette Davis flick..sounds like a plan. Clean silver and a happy feeling too boot! Thanks for all your great tips and saving me from embarrassingly tarnished silver.

  48. Scott Trudell says:

    Hi Kevin…
    I have tons of silver… Both plate and sterling. The only thing I ever use to polish it is Cape Cod Polishing Cloths. They are cloths pre moistened with polish, and come in a charming metal tin. I order them online. The best part is the way they smell… Like vanilla! No more nasty smelling silver polish for me! They cut through the darkest of tarnish with only a few wipes. I will never use anything else again. You really must give them a try.

  49. Emm says:

    I’ve found that for lightly tarnished plate or sterling, a damp microfiber cloth does great. I’ve always used white toothpaste for cleaning sterling with a lot of tarnish. A soft toothbrush helps get into the crevices. Rinse well with hot water and thoroughly dry.

  50. I’m a professional silver restoration, conservation, and preservationist with almost 309 years of experience. You’ll find the most thoroughly researched, and practiced silver care information on the Web right here: http://www.hermansilver.com/care.htm. And using the aluminum foil technique is one technique I wouldn’t recommend.

  51. Lynn says:

    I ve been designing and making silver jewelry for 13 years now. I’ve found the singular best silver cleaner is a product called “Tar nex” available in most grocery , and hardware stores. You either dip the jewelry in the bottle of liquid or use a cotton ball to wipe it onto an item. Either way, the liquid removes tarnish instantly and rinses off . Perfectly cleaned!

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