Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Don't Wear Your Silver to the Sea: Green Silver Polish

Silver tarnishes fast. Silver in August in Philadelphia is not pretty as it quickly builds up tarnish in a matter of days. Even in January the necklace that I wear daily tarnishes quickly. While a simple hand polish is green and cheap, it requires frequent polishing and the tarnish may still defeat your efforts. That's a time commitment and there are three easier, faster methods that are safe to use on silverware or silver jewelry.

Most silver polishes do not divulge their ingredients. On the one hand, many have existed for a century and it's tempting to think that during 100 years of producing cleaners for silverware, which comes in contact with food and mouths, the manufacturers would only use safe ingredients. Without labels and full disclosure, it's better to protect yourself.

Method One: the power of foam

With all of the fun of a kitchen chemistry experiment, this method cleans your silver jewelry simply and safely.

What you need (to clean a small pieces):
  • Tin foil and bowl or a tin pie plate
  • 1 Tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 Tablespoon salt (I use sea salt)
  • A few drops of dish soap (generally recognized as safe)
  • A small jewelry cleaning tray or drain cover.

If using tin foil and a bowl, line the bowl with tin foil. Tin foil is more attractive to tarnish than silver is, so it helps draw the tarnish away from your silver. Place jewelry in bowl. Add baking soda, salt, soap, and boiling water. The combination of baking soda and water will produce an instantaneous foam. You may smell a slight odor, which is only sulfur, produced by the release of the tarnish from the silver. Stir around the silver pieces so they come into full contact with the mix.

This only takes a few minutes but if a piece is heavily tarnished, let it sit longer. After completing the soak, drain the liquid and rinse all of the pieces with warm water. Failure to rinse may leave behind a white, powdery residue. Dry the silver and polish it with a soft cloth, simply wiping it down a couple times.

Method Two: more foam, more hands-on

What you need:

  • Plain toothpaste
  • Water faucet

Rub a cover of toothpaste on the jewelry. Run warm water over the silver piece, working up a foam, then rinse clear. Dry and polish with a soft cloth.

Method Three: Baking Soda Solo

What you need:
  • Damp cloth
  • Baking soda
  • Water (optional)

For especially tough tarnish, create a paste of baking soda and water and apply it directly to the silver piece. Use the cloth to rub gently in circles until the tarnish disappears. Rinse well and dry. Finish up with a minute or two of polishing with a soft, dry cloth.

Your silver should be sparkling like new without any negative environmental or health side affects. Some special concerns to keep in mind: do not use any of these methods on semi-precious stones because it may damage them. Do not use hot water on lacquered pieces. Consult a professional for help with special finishes and intricate or carved designs. When in doubt, with very expensive pieces or items of great sentimentality, consult a professional. Proper storage and care (don't wear your silver sea, where salt air and water increase tarnish) avoids excessive tarnish.

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