How to Clean and Polish Silver

If you own a lot of it, you really should know how to properly clean and polish silver.

If you're hosting a really fancy dinner party, you might be tempted to bring out your silverware; and yeah, I mean those utensils actually made out of real silver. Maybe you got them when great Aunt Sylvia died, maybe you're just trying to make sure none of your guests are actually werewolves in disguise. Maybe you just think silver is a girl's best friend

Either way, silver should always be properly taken care of. Silver can degrade and start to look ugly pretty fast, especially if it's been sitting in a dusty old drawer for months or even years. If you don't clean and polish silver often enough, it will be really hard to remedy any damage once you actually want to take it out and use it. There are multiple ways to go about getting some shiny clean silver, so let's take a look at a bunch of different home remedies, as well as the professional stuff. 

Aluminum Foil

This is a tried-and-true method for getting silver bright and shiny. For this "recipe," you'll need:

  • 1 piece of aluminum foil
  • A glass bowl
  • 1 cup of boiling water 
  • 1 tablespoon of baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon of sea salt
  • 1/2 cup of white vinegar 
  • A rag or soft cloth for polishing

Add all the dry ingredients together into the bowl, and then slowly add the vinegar. Beware, there will be a chemical reaction happening! We all remember making those volcanoes out of baking soda and vinegar; that's what will happen here. Then add the boiling water and your silver, making sure the silver is touching the aluminum. Leave the silver in there for no longer than 30 seconds, then remove with kitchen tongs. Buff and polish with your rag, and now you have beautiful silver to show off! 

Pro tip: You can also use one of those aluminum baking dishes instead of the aluminum and glass bowl.

Hand Sanitizer

Not only does it fight germs, but it can clean and polish silver too! This one requires no "recipe" of any kind; simply squirt a few drops onto a cloth and rub away the ugly tarnish adorning your precious silver. Once you can see your beautiful face in the spoon again, you know you're done. Silver experts actually suggest hand sanitizer above all if you don't have any professional silver polish on you. 

Ketchup

I really wasn't expecting this one, and it's probably not going to do as good a job as some of the others on this list, but it works in a pinch. Get some ketchup on a paper towel and start rubbing it all over your silverware. Let it sit for about 15 minutes, and then clean it thoroughly. You don't want your beautiful silver to smell like ketchup after you take it out! You can use a toothbrush to get in between the cracks and crevices for silver with very intricate designs. 

Window Cleaner

Window cleaner, like Windex, is also a safe and efficient way to clean and polish silver. You might already have it out if it's a spring cleaning day, so after you finish cleaning your windows, take some time to polish that silver too. You can either spray it directly on a rag and clean or mix it with a few drops of vinegar if your silver is heavily tarnished. Be sure it's only a few drops though, as too much can damage the quality of your silver and it will never be as shiny as it could be. 

Toothpaste

Before I say anything else about this one, be sure that this is PLAIN toothpaste. Don't grab that whitening stuff or anything with crystals. That will irreversibly damage your silver! That being said, if you've got plain toothpaste, you can absolutely use it to guarantee your silver will look much shinier and nicer than it did before. It's one of those toothpaste lifehacks you never knew you needed!

Cornstarch

Simply make a paste with cornstarch and water and apply it to a damp cloth. Let the paste sit and dry for a little while, and then rub it off with something mildly abrasive like cheesecloth. This method is definitely for silver that is severely tarnished, and should not be used for regular buffing and polishing. 

Lemons

In addition to being a great way to remove stains from shirts, lemon juice and water can also be used to clean and polish silver. This method will take a bit more time than some others, but it's worth it. Make a mixture of 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, 1 and 1/2 cups of warm water, and 1/2 cup of instant dry milk. Let your silver soak overnight in this mixture, and in the morning, simply rinse it off. Not only will your forks and knives be shiny and new-looking, but they will smell lemony fresh! 

Silver Polish

Honestly, nothing will clean and polish silver better than professional silver polish. All of these home remedies are great in a pinch, but if you do it incorrectly, their abrasive chemicals could damage your silver beyond repair. Hagerty Silversmiths' Pump Spray Polish is a gentle spray that won't damage the silver but should remove a light level of tarnish. You can apply this spray pretty frequently because it will also prevent your silver from getting gritty looking in the future. As a result, you won't have to polish as hard next time you're doing a cleaning. 

How NOT to Clean and Polish Silver

Now that we've gone over all the different things to use to brighten up your silverware, I do want to touch on what not to use when you clean and polish silver. Don't think that adding more baking soda, lemon, vinegar, or whatever you're using will make the process go faster. Use exact measurements and if you're nervous, it's better to use less than suggested. You would rather have your silver a little less shiny than it be damaged beyond repair, right? 

Don't use any cleaners (besides window cleaner) that aren't meant for silver. The chemicals could ruin your utensils or jewelry if they are not meant specifically for cleaning silver. Don't buy cheap or off-brand silver polish either. It is definitely worth it to go with a more expensive, well-known brand since they definitely won't hurt your silver. Keep that silver sparkly and looking brand new every time you pull it out! 

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How to Clean and Polish Silver
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