Originally published on 11/14/2013
The holiday season often bring lots of company, and folks get out their best china and silver to serve the guests. If you are blessed to have real silver cutlery or serving items, you are likely facing the unpleasant task of removing the tarnish. Silver tarnish is caused by a chemical reaction between the elemental silver and hydrogen sulfide in the atmosphere. Many silver polishes on the market can remove this sulfer build-up, but are full of toxic chemicals and come with many dire warnings about the bad things that could happen due to contact with the polish. A more natural way to clean silver is to reverse the chemical reaction with baking soda, aluminum, and hot water. But does it actually work?
- Better for You – three harmless ingredients are all you need to remove the ugly tarnish
- Better for the Earth – no toxic chemicals are being put into the wastestream
- Saves Time – the tarnish is removed by soaking, instead of you polishing every square inch by hand – a big bonus when unexpected company arrives!
- Saves Money – you can remove the tarnish with simple things you already have in your kitchen (aluminum foil and baking soda)
- Easy – boil water, and dunk – can’t get much simpler than that!
- Not appropriate for silver jewelry with other gemstones in it
- May take a couple tries for badly tarnished silver
- Stinks like sulfur (but that means it’s working)
I don’t have a lot of fancy things. Some “nice” dishes with a pretty pattern (but still from Target). Some “nice” silverware, that is only slightly more dainty than our everyday cutlery. A carnival glass bowl inherited from my late grandmother. And the fancy winner: a silver cake serving set that was given to us as a wedding gift from my Granny. Of course, I’m so not fancy that I didn’t even realize it was silver until I opened it a few years later and saw it had tarnished.
I’ll be honest: that tarnish scared me a little. Not in an “I’m so scared!” kind of way, but more of an intimidated, “what occasion could be so nice that I would polish the silver?” kind of way. Then I turned green and crunchy and didn’t want that toxic polish anywhere near anything that touches food.
The I ran into an all natural way to remove the tarnish from silver. It’s a pretty basic chemical reaction: you place the silver in hot, salty water, with aluminum foil, and the sulfur tarnish transfers from the silver to the aluminum. I did it via the following steps:
- Line a glass dish with aluminum foil.
- Place the silver in the dish, contacting as much of the foil as possible (you can see in the photo above that I made a little aluminum handle rest so the handle was touching aluminum and the server portion was flat against the foil as well).
- Sprinkle baking soda around the silver pieces
- Pour boiling hot water into the dish, enough to fully submerge the silver
- Wait ten minutes until the tarnish has turned into a dull grey color (see photo above for example)
- Wipe tarnish away with a damp cloth, and then wash as normal
- Be awed and amazed that IT ACTUALLY WORKS!!
As you can see above, the method didn’t give perfect results the first time. However, this was a very badly tarnished piece (I haven’t used it once in the ten years since my wedding). When I tried it again with fresh aluminum, and fresh water, it shined up perfectly! Now I have NO excuses for not using it anytime I feel like making the day a party!
Overall, this all natural, non-toxic, silver polishing method worked wonderfully to take the tarnish off the silver. It was a little stinky as the sulfur was released, and I had to do it twice for it to get all the tarnish off. However, my silver was really bad, and I’m sure with a longer first soak it would have probably been fine the first time. Also, in the future, I plan to use this serving set much more often, so a quick soak and polish are all it takes to keep them looking great!
Have you ever tried this trick for polishing your silver? What do you usually do to shine up those special pieces?