Silver is one of the most beautiful and widespread metals in the world. That “moonlight” surrounds us in the form of jewels, but also other pieces: crockery, cutlery, photo frames … And as unfortunately we all know, silver gets ugly. It darkens until it loses all its brightness, leaving it with a sad appearance, which makes us think more of “junk” than of a precious metal.
Then you wonder: how to clean the silver? Fortunately, cleaning silver is easy. It is an easy manual job, requiring a bit of labor on your part, but it offers spectacular results: nothing like knowing with which the silver is cleaned and watch it shine new like the first day. So I’m going to explain 7 methods or tricks to clean silver at home in an easy way, so that you can choose the one that best suits your pieces, your resources, or your needs.
Although first you want to know …
Why does silver get ugly?
Basically due to two factors that you cannot control: the air, and yourself.
When it comes to air, the problem is a very common poison called hydrogen sulfide (H2S). This is the gas responsible for many of the “bad smells” that we perceive (it is also called “sewer gas”, with that I tell you everything), and we find it, for example, in natural gas, or the result of the decomposition of some foods.
This gas, of which traces are found in the atmosphere on a regular basis, is responsible for the blackening of silver. Upon contact with silver, a chemical reaction occurs that generates silver sulfide (Ag2S), leaving the compound fixed on the surface of the silver object.
And while all this happens, we, the people, come into play: the pH of our skin, the compounds in our sweat, even what we eat or what we medicate with, contribute to accelerating the chemical reactions explained above.
The result: silver turns black. The solution? It is in your hands.
How to clean silver at home: 7 methods
It is worth remembering. Although the blackening process of silver is almost inevitable, we can do our part so that the pieces are better protected. Remember that, apart from blackening, another problem with these pieces is scratches, scratches and other marks. To avoid them as much as possible, and also better protect the jewels from the environment, the main thing is to keep them in a jeweler. But not stacked. The typical hodgepodge of pendants and rings mixed together in a box without compartments only serves to scratch each other. It is important to have a jewelry box with its compartments, and if possible with cotton or some other soft fabric that quilts the pieces.
2. The eraser
This does not appear in any article on how to clean silver, and everyone is surprised when I explain it. But it is surprising how many stains can be removed from a piece of silver by simply applying an eraser. Do not forget to try it before launching into other more expeditious methods.
3. Whiten silver with sodium bicarbonate
We started with the somewhat more elaborate methods, which mainly seek a chemical reaction that removes that layer of silver sulfide. The first trick, one of the best known, is to use baking soda. Create a paste with water, spread it over the silver surface you want to clean, and then rub it in well with a soft cloth. That will take the sulfur away.
4. The toothpaste
This is an even more “homemade” variant than the previous one. The components of the toothpaste react with the silver sulfide, removing the sulfur. So in very large pieces (for example, trays or silver teapots) you can use toothpaste. You should first clean the surface well with soap and water, and then apply the paste with a cloth. You let it act for a few minutes, and you remove it with another round of soap and water. And you can use that tray as a mirror, if you want.
A somewhat more expeditious system. Personally, and given the risks and options available, it is the one I least like to use. But it works fine if done correctly. It involves mixing one part of hot water with another of ammonia, in exactly the same proportion. This combination removes silver sulfide at high speed, but ammonia is a very abrasive agent: if you go overboard, it can end up affecting the piece. In fact, if it is a jewel in which there are gems, or especially pearls, it is better to forget it, because it will surely affect them. Ammonia, for example, corrodes the nacre that covers the pearl, and gives it that special shine.
6. Homemade liquid to clean silver
A mixture that gives good results: a glass of hot water, a handful of coarse salt, a tablespoon of vinegar, and a jet of dishwashing liquid. Stir well (it is important that the salt dissolves in the water) and immerse the silver pieces in this solution. Leave them for a quarter of an hour, rinse them under the tap, and dry them with a cloth: like new.
7. Aluminum foil
A more elaborate method, but one that offers wonderful results to clean silver. It is about taking a container (a bucket, a large salad bowl… It depends on your pieces) and lining it with aluminum foil. Then you just have to fill it with hot water and salt. When introducing the pieces of silver, a curious chemical reaction occurs: the chlorine in the salt reacts with the aluminum, taking along the silver sulfide, and leaving the pure silver in its place. Give it ten minutes for the reaction to complete, take out the silver, pat dry, and enjoy the results. Here is a video where you can see the process:
4 additional tips for cleaning silver
With the methods explained above, you already have a wide range of options to clean silver and leave it as the first day. They are also methods that can be used both for large pieces, tableware, etc., as well as for silver jewelery (with the precautions already mentioned). However, there are 4 more tips that I want to give you, and that will help you in cleaning your jewelry and silver pieces.
- The brush and the chamois. On many occasions you will have to clean engraved silver, or with shapes that make it difficult to clean the entire surface with a cloth. On these occasions you need to use a brush, impregnated with the formula you have used. It is important that it has soft bristles (we do not want to scratch the silver), and that you rub in a straight line. On the other hand, when you have finished cleaning it, it is very important to dry the piece with a soft chamois, and rub it to polish it. That gives it the final touch that the silver leaves to put it in a display case.
- The wax. A common piece of silver is the candlestick. Many times, it is about candle holders that we use, and therefore it is normal that they have wax stuck “impossible to remove”. Well, to clean the part, you will have to remove it. But don’t ever do it with your fingernail, or a toothpick, or anything like that. It is as simple as filling a bucket or saucepan with very hot water, and leaving the candle holder there. The water will wash away the wax, and then you can clean the candle holder in the solution of your choice.
- Specific products. All the solutions mentioned are homemade, and ecological. But if you don’t have the means, or the courage, remember that many supermarkets sell special products to clean and repair scratches on silver.
- Outdoors and gloves. Elements such as ammonia, or other combinations, produce toxic gases, as you well know. And at the end of the day, by cleaning you are removing sulfur. Remember to always do this in a ventilated place, so that gases do not accumulate, and use gloves to clean the jewelry.
Other recommendations for cleaning silver jewelery with precious stones
In general, cleaning any jewel that is set with precious stones is an added difficulty. Here are a series of ideas that you should keep in mind:
- You cannot use very hot water, the gems, depending on the setting technique used, are held by the metal that surrounds them, whether they are grains, claws, etc. However, for many jewels today adhesives are used to hold them. Be very careful because the heat of the water can weaken the properties of the adhesive and thus cause the gems to fall.
- Rub with extreme care, it is important that it is a brush with very soft bristles.
- Avoid cloth cloths, as it is very easy for a thread to catch on any edge of the setting, and that can damage the jewel or even tear off the stone.
- If you have pearls, never use ammonia as it eats away the protective layer of mother-of-pearl, ruining the pearl and leaving it dull, rough and ugly. In general, to clean silver jewelry with pearls it is best to limit yourself to warm water with mild soap, or just water, scrubbing very carefully with a soft bristle brush or chamois. And then let it dry in the open air for a long time, so that the thread that connects the pearls can also dry out if it is a necklace.
A Guide to take care of your jewelry
As the maintenance and cleaning of our precious jewels is one of the recurring topics that everyone asks about, I have written a short but comprehensive Guide to the Care and Cleaning of Jewels.
In it you will find the main tips to, first, prevent your jewelry from spoiling, and second, clean them if they end up getting ugly.
In the meantime, I hope this article will be of use to you, and that your silver jewelry will shine as it deserves. If you think it may be of interest to your friends and contacts, share it on the networks, thank you!