Holiday time means making your antique objects look their best, particularly your silver serving pieces, flatware and collectibles.
You figure cleaning silver is pretty straightforward - silver polish, cloth, elbow grease. Well, actually, it is not that simple.
First of all, do you know if you have a piece of sterling silver or a piece of silver plate? This matters because sterling silver and silver plate have different properties. Silver plate is a piece of metal, usually copper, that has been plated with a thin layer of silver. If you polish too hard then you may polish away the silver layer and reveal the copper beneath the silver plated surface.
Shown is an 18th century sterling silver chocolate pot and set.
As silver oxidizes, it will tarnish. There is no stopping this process. And, once you notice even the slightest bit of tarnish, it is time to clean your silver.
If you don't want to use commercial polish, you can try this natural method but go easy on the salt because salt can damage your silver if you are overzealous.
1. Line the bottom of a plastic tub with a sheet of aluminum foil.
2. Fill the tub with steaming hot water atop the foil.
3. Add 1 teaspoon salt and 2 teaspoons baking soda to the hot water. Do not use too much salt because salt is corrosive to silver and silver plate.
4. Place silver items into the tub atop the foil.
5. Leave tarnished items in the solution for no more than 5 minutes. Once you see your silver piece looking clean, remove the piece from the tub.
6. Rinse and gently buff dry using a soft cotton towel.
Don't use rubber gloves because rubber can damage silver plating.
Don't use steel wool pads because they may scratch metal surfaces.
Don't use sponges as they may scratch silver surfaces.
Don't over polish silver plate. It is very easy to rub away the thin layer of silver plating and reveal the copper or other base metal underneath.
Don't serve certain foods - eggs, mustard, onions - that will wear away silver plating.
If you prefer a specialty commercial silver polish, be sure to choose either a sterling silver or a silver plating polish.
Many commercial polishes do the job well.
Read labels and consult the manufacturer's website, if you need more information.
Ph.D. antiques appraiser, author, and award-winning TV personality, Dr. Lori presents appraisal events to audiences worldwide.