A set of silver table and dinnerware used to be standard in every home. It was a way to show a successful home, and since silver does tarnish if left unattended a well-maintained one. Silver has fallen from its once central position in a home, but some sets are still inherited. Fine silver can also be found in antique shops and sometimes thrift stores as well, but removing tarnish from silver and preventing its return has become something of a lost art.

In this excerpt from the book Household Magic Joan and Lydia Wilen explain how to remove tarnish from silver, and provide tips to keep your silver dinner and tableware looking its very best.

Polishing Silver the Easy Way

If you have a wood burning fireplace (or know someone who has one), collect some wood ashes in a glass jar. Add two tablespoons of baking soda for each cup of ashes, then shake the jar until the ashes and baking soda are fully integrated.

When you are ready to clean a tarnished metallic object, take a scoop of the mixture and add enough water to form a mildly abrasive paste. Use a damp cloth to gently rub the paste on the metal. Use a soft cloth to wipe off the paste, then rinse and dry.

NOTE: Damp metal tarnishes quickly, so immediately after cleaning, dry the object thoroughly.


You are not the only person who appreciates the beauty and durability of silver. Silver has been mined for at least 6,000 years. It’s easy to mold and shape. In fact, one ounce of silver can be drawn into 8,000 feet of thin…very thin… wire.

Here are some ways to treat your silver as though it’s worth its weight in gold…

Caring for Silver

◆ Put baking soda on a damp cloth and massage the silver with it. Then rinse and buff dry. Baking soda will remove tarnish and enhance the silver’s patina.

Quick Silver Cleaner—and an Alternative

The following remedy is a popular cleaning method that cleans lots of silver pieces quickly and easily…

Line the bottom of a heatproof glass pan (Pyrex works well) with aluminum foil, shiny side up. Put the pieces of silver on top of the foil. Add one heaping tablespoon of baking soda, then pour in just-boiled water—enough to cover the silver items. In minutes, right before your eyes, the tarnish will disappear from the silver and end up on the foil. As soon as the silver is totally tarnish-free, rinse everything thoroughly, then buff the pieces dry with a soft cloth.

This easy and fast method magically removes the tarnish from silver—lots of pieces at once. And although it works well, it may also remove dark accents in design crevices. That’s not always a good thing. And it may also soften the cement of hollow-handled flatware. Definitely not a good thing. And, based on our experience, it may leave silver with a lackluster finish.

So, if you like luster…and the dark accents in design crevices…and you want to hang on to your flatware’s hollow handles, then we have something that may be a better idea, especially if your silver pieces are heirlooms. Try this…

Rub each piece of silver with baking soda sprinkled on a moist, soft cloth. Then buff dry. It may take a little more elbow grease to clean your silver this way, but your heirlooms will be better off—and eventually, so will your heirs.

◆ Cut the hard ends off a banana peel, and purée the peel in a blender or a food processor. Then, using a soft cloth, rub the silver with the puréed peel. Wipe, rinse and buff dry with a clean soft cloth.

◆ Coat the silver with a thin layer of non-gel white toothpaste, and gently rub the object with a damp cloth. Once the tarnish is gone, wipe off all of the toothpaste, rinse and buff dry with a soft cloth.

◆ Got sour milk? Pour it in a glass pan and soak the tarnished silver pieces in it for 30 minutes. Then wash the silver with dish detergent, rinse and buff dry with a soft cloth. (Throw out the rest of the sour milk.)

CAUTION: Do not rub the silversmith’s markings too hard. They will fade away, along with the value of the piece.

◆ Moisture causes silver to tarnish. So, whether you store or display your silver objects in a case, a credenza or a cabinet, add things that will help to absorb moisture, such as little pieces of blackboard chalk…a handful of uncooked rice…a few charcoal briquettes… or the small silica gel packets or drums that come in vitamin bottles.

◆ Exposure to moisture and air causes silver to tarnish. If you’re not displaying your silver, store it in acid-free tissue paper or in specially treated tarnish-proof bags (available at some hardware and houseware stores). You can also look for bags that are made of Pacific cloth (also called silvercloth), which is avail able at some hardware, houseware or fabric stores, also at Amazon.com.

◆ Never let rubber bands or any rubber come into contact with—or even come close to— silver. The sulfur in the rubber can cause tarnishing and corrosion.

◆ Wrapping silver in newspaper is a no-no because the paper is acidic—it will cause silver to tarnish.

◆ Oak is an acidic wood. It’s not a good idea to store silver in oak drawers or cabinets unless you wrap the silver or line the drawers with Pacific cloth or acid-free tissue paper.

◆Plastic bags are better than nothing at all, but moisture can get locked in, and it will cause tarnishing. Find another way to store your silver.

Not Just for Special Occasions!

If you have silverware, use it! The more you use it, the less it will tarnish, and the better the pa tina will be. If you’re saving it for special occasions, make every occasion special by bringing out the good stuff.

Silverware—Dos and Don’ts

◆ According to the experts at Tiffany & Co., even though silver is dishwasher-proof, it’s better to wash silverware by hand in hot sudsy water as soon as possible after use. Doing so will prevent food from causing tarnish stains. Rinse well in clear warm water, dry thoroughly (do not let silver air-dry) and put it away.

◆ Foods that contain sulfur, like eggs, and mild food acids, like those found in vin egar, mustard and salt, will make silverware tarnish and/or corrode faster than alkaline foods. That’s not to say, don’t eat those foods. It’s just to emphasize—wash silver ware as soon as possible after use.

◆ If you insist on putting silverware in the dishwasher, OK. Just don’t put it in with stainless steel. An electrolytic action takes place when silver and stainless steel interact. The action causes pitting on the stainless pieces and leaves black spots on the silver.

For additional tips and other advice for you and your home, purchase Household Magic from Bottomlineinc.com.

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