My Favorite Things – A Magical, No-Toil, No-Trouble Way to Rid Sterling Silver of Tarnish

Even though my New York life doesn’t allow for making jewelry any more, I’m still passionate about jewelry and remain interested in metal techniques.  Therefore, when I came across a handy tip for silver polishing in one of my jewelry magazines, I figured I should give it a try.  According to Designer Peggy Li of Peggy Li Creations in San Francisco, all it takes to rid silver of unwanted black tarnish is a plastic dish large enough to hold the jewelry items, a piece of aluminum foil, baking soda and boiling water.

When I tried her method on a tarnished silver napkin ring, I was astounded at how fast and effective it was.  Here’s the tarnish-free napkin ring after I used Peggy’s process:

silver napkin ring

Of course, after I witnessed the miracle above, I realized that I should have taken a before and after picture.  So, this morning, I went rummaging for more silver to clean.  While my upbringing was far from the silver spoon kind, I did receive this silver-handled spoon when I was very young and we still lived in Portugal.  (Judging from the look of it, it was probably last polished in the 70s, too!)

tarnished spoon

Peggy’s tarnish removing “recipe” follows…

Ingredients

plastic container

aluminum foil

baking soda

hot water (heated to almost boiling)

the tools

1. Place silver items to be cleaned in a plastic or Tupperware container big enough to hold them.

2. Place a piece of aluminum foil inside the container so that it completely covers the bottom.

3. Place silver items to be cleaned on top of the foil.

4. Add 2 to 3 Tablespoons of Baking Soda (use more if you are using a large container with more silver items.)

5. Heat water to almost boiling and pour it over the silver items to just cover.  The mixture will begin to bubble and foam as the chemical reaction binds the aluminum to the sulfur oxides.  Swirl the silver in the mixture for a few minutes, or let it soak longer if the tarnish is significant.  Remove pieces and rinse.  (You may need to repeat the process to remove black oxides from more heavily tarnished items.)

Here’s my spoon “in process”:

in process

And the now tarnish-free spoon:

cleaned spoon

In the case of this spoon, I did follow up with a very quick rub with my jeweler’s rouge cloth to bring back the shine to the silver (however the napkin ring above needed no further treatment):

shiny spoon 2

You can clean your sterling silver jewelry using the above method, too.  Only please don’t put items containing gemstones, pearls, turquoise, or other soft porous stones into the bath as the heat may damage the stones.

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7 Comments

Filed under Influences, My Favorite Things, techniques, Tool Box

7 responses to “My Favorite Things – A Magical, No-Toil, No-Trouble Way to Rid Sterling Silver of Tarnish

  1. I’ve been doing something similar to this for years. I boil water with salt and baking soda in a coffee mug, in the microwave. When it’s boiling, I quickly take it out, throw in the silver and the aluminum foil, and the same thing happens, it usually works really well. Also great for delicate, hard to clean items, like certain kinds of chains.

    • Wow, this was the first I’d heard of the technique…interesting to know that you’ve been doing it all along. The napkin rings I cleaned were rid of the tarnish in seconds…and to a gleaming shine. The spoon took longer (and did require the quick buff with the polishing cloth.) I’m not sure why, but it could have something to do with the purity of the silver, or that the silver spoon handle was attached to a stainless steel spoon shank.

      What do you think the salt does?

      Ciao – Joana

      • I dunno, I lost the piece of paper with the recipe long ago. Something about ions? Maybe it just speeds up the boiling of the water, or is that an old wives tale?

        • Sounds plausible, Helen! I add lots of salt to the water when I’m making hard-boiled eggs. Supposedly, that’s supposed to help when you go to peel them…doesn’t always seem to help, though. Another old wive’s tale?

          Ciao – Joana

  2. are you planning to share some of your design (jewelry and other) techniques in future posts?
    glaudius

    • Hi Glaudius,

      After I moved to NYC in 2010, I had to sell most of my jewelry making equipment (no room, and it’s also illegal to have soldering equipment in a NYC residential apartment), so I no longer am making jewelry. Instead, I’ve built on my love of designing to branch off into more fashion-inspired character illustrations. However, I blogged for about 3 years pretty much exclusively on jewelry, rendering and techniques. If you search my blog archives and go back to the beginning of the blog (@ Feb.2007), you’ll find lots of designs, jewelry and techniques. I also did a 365 day project (A Design a Day) project on my blog which featured my jewelry renderings. Those designs are all still on my blog. Finally, please be sure to check out the “Treasure Chest” page on my blog for a slideshow of some of my designs. I hope this helps!

      With all best wishes,
      Joana

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