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How to clean tarnished silver so it’s shiny as new

Keep your silverware burnished and buff with our comprehensive guide.

Updated Reading Time: 7 minutesBy Cleanipedia Team

Silver ring being cleaned with a soft cloth.
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Though silver brings brilliance to jewellery, tableware, and decorative objects, it is also known to tarnish easily. That’s why it is important to give your silverware a good clean and polish regularly. Read on for our step-by-step guide on how to clean tarnished silver.

Note, if you are cleaning items that contain precious gems check with a jeweller before using these methods.

You will need:

  • Bowl (large enough to submerge your silverware)
  • Tongs
  • Clean tea towel
  • Hot water
  • Kitchen foil
  • Laundry detergent
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How to clean tarnished silver in 7 simple steps

This is your simple go-to method for cleaning tarnished silver.

  1. Line a bowl with kitchen foil

    Use as many foil sheets as you need to cover the bottom of the bowl.

  2. Fill the bowl with hot water

    You need enough water to wholly cover your silver items.

  3. Add one tablespoon of laundry detergent

    Regular laundry powder or liquid works fine. Give it a stir with the tongs.

  4. Soak your silverware

    Leave your items in the mixture for a couple of minutes.

  5. Remove the silverware

    Use the tongs if the water is still hot. If there is any tarnish remaining, put it back in the bowl for a further minute or two. Repeat as necessary.

  6. Rinse with clean water

    When all the tarnish has gone, run under a tap, ensuring you remove all traces of detergent.

  7. Leave to air-dry

    Lay out your items on a teatowel, keeping them separate so they don’t scratch each other.

Top tip: The method above also works great if you’re trying to figure out how to clean tarnished sterling silver.

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8 home remedies for cleaning tarnished silver

You don’t need specialised cleaning products to get tarnished silver clean. There are a number of items you probably already have around your home which will do the trick. Try one of these easy methods for how to clean tarnished silver.

1. Washing-up liquid

A simple process that works great on jewellery. Remember to check whether it’s okay to wash any precious stones in the jewellery before you get started. Instead of washing-up liquid you can also use baby shampoo.

  1. Add a couple of drops of washing-up liquid to a bowl of warm water.

  2. Soak your jewellery.

  3. If you need to get into any gaps or crevices use a soft toothbrush.

  4. Rinse the items in warm water.

  5. Dry by rubbing gently with a soft cloth.

2. Ketchup

Do you like dipping your chips into ketchup? Tomato sauce can also be put to good use cleaning silver as well. Here’s how to do it.

  1. Add a small drop of ketchup to a soft cloth.

  2. Rub the tarnished areas gently.

  3. For more stubborn tarnish, allow the ketchup to sit for 15 minutes or so.

  4. Rub away the ketchup using a soft cloth.

  5. Rinse thoroughly to clean away ketchup residue.

  6. Air dry on a tea towel.

3. Lemon and olive oil

Another easy one – you’ll need the juice of about four medium-sized lemons.

  1. Mix 125ml of lemon juice with one teaspoon of olive oil.

  2. Dip a clean cloth into the solution and gently rub into the silver.

  3. Repeat until your item is shiny all over.

  4. Rinse in warm water.

  5. Dry with a soft cloth.

4. Hand sanitiser

So we know hand sanitiser is great for fighting germs on our hands, but It is also a useful method for removing silver tarnish. Just squirt a few drops of hand sanitiser onto a soft cloth and use it to rub the tarnish away.

5. Toothpaste

Toothpaste isn’t just for cleaning teeth. Here’s how to clean tarnished silver with toothpaste:

  1. Use a soft cloth and a drop or two of toothpaste.

  2. Polish your silverware with the cloth.

  3. Rinse under warm water to remove all traces of toothpaste.

  4. Air dry on a tea towel.

6. Vinegar

Vinegar is a highly versatile ingredient which can be used for many things in your home from cooking to cleaning. It also works a treat when it comes to cleaning silver.

  1. In a bowl, mix 250ml of distilled white vinegar and two tablespoons of baking soda.

  2. Place silver items into the mix to soak.

  3. Leave for two to three hours.

  4. Remove and rinse using cold water to thoroughly remove any residue vinegar and baking soda.

  5. Dry with a soft cloth.

We have some more uses for vinegar around the home – learn how to disinfect with vinegar and lemons here.

7. Lemon-lime fizzy drink

One of the more gentle methods, but useful if you’re only removing a thin layer of tarnish.

  1. Soak your silver items in a bowl filled with a lemon-lime soft drink.

  2. Leave for an hour.

  3. Rinse thoroughly in warm water.

  4. Dry with a soft cloth.

8. Ammonia

Ammonia is effective but can be harsh, so don’t use it on antiques or jewellery. (It can also be smelly, so make sure you use it in a ventilated space).

  1. Make up a solution of one part ammonia to two parts warm water.

  2. Soak your silverware for 10 to 15 minutes.

  3. Rinse with warm water.

  4. Dry with a soft cloth.

How to clean tarnished silver plate

Items made of silver plate have an outside layer of sterling silver with another metal, like nickel, underneath. The best way to clean it is with a variation on the foil soaking method outlined above.

  1. Cover the bottom of a bowl with sheets of aluminium foil (shiny side up).

  2. Sprinkle on equal amounts of salt and baking soda (the ratio is 250ml of each to seven litres of water, but you may need less if only cleaning small items).

  3. Bring the water to a boil and pour into your bowl (wear rubber gloves for this). Watch out for the fizzing as it hits the salt and baking soda.

  4. Place your plate silver items in the bowl and let them soak for up to half an hour, depending on how tarnished they are.

  5. If the water is still hot, remove with tongs; if there is some remaining tarnish, put back in the mixture.

  6. When done, wipe down with a soft cloth.

Answers to your top questions on cleaning tarnished silver

What is the tarnish on silver?

Silver items discolour (tarnish) because they are actually alloys. What’s known as sterling silver has a small percentage of other metals to make the item stronger and more durable (silver is way too soft to be of much use in its pure form). It’s the other metals – typically copper – that react with the air and moisture to tarnish. Chemicals, such as hair spray and suntan lotion, also cause tarnishing.

How do you clean heavily tarnished silver?

If your silver is excessively tarnished you don’t need to use a special cleaning method – one of the above will work – but you might need to clean your items more than once. We like the soaking method as you can just pop your silverware back into the solution if it requires further cleaning.

Is tarnished silver worth anything?

Just because a silver item is tarnished doesn’t mean it loses its value. Generally, tarnish can be removed. If you have antique silver consult an expert before cleaning it yourself as you may damage the item.

How do you get silver to shine?

Here’s a neat trick: make up a paste of cornflour and water and gently apply it to your silverware. After it has dried, rub off the mixture with a soft cloth, buffing as you go. Your silver will be back to its former shining glory.

How do you prevent tarnishing?

You can’t stop silver from tarnishing eventually, but you can slow down the process and minimise the discolouration. Air, moisture and sunlight are bad for silver. Put a silica gel or chalk stick in your silver drawer to help with humidity. If on display, make sure your silverware isn’t in cabinets in direct sunlight.

Wrap your silver in unbleached cotton muslin and store in a box or drawer – keep pieces apart so they don’t scratch each other. You can use tissue paper, but make sure it is acid free, or buy anti-tarnish bags (available from department stores, jewellery retailers and online specialists).

Try to avoid wearing silver jewellery when you apply aerosol deodorant or hairspray. Also, remove silver from your skin if you have applied suntan lotion or strongly scented body moisturiser. And remember to take off rings when you do the washing up.

Looking to clean your silver cutlery? Check our guide on how to clean silver and stainless steel cutlery.

Originally published