Caring for your Silver

The following silver-care information is copyright Jeffrey Herman, http://www.silversmithing.com/silver. This information cannot be published separately, in hardcopy, or electronically without the express written permission of Jeffrey Herman. Visit Mr. Herman's site for a more comprehensive silver care restoration and conservation information.

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With proper care your silver will stay as beautiful and precious as the day you received it and will become a precious heirloom that can be enjoyed by generations.  There is very little that can be done to damage silver that a good silversmith cannot repair. Scratches and marks can be buffed out, old and heirlooms pieces can/should be repaired by hand - a qualified silversmith should be consulted and will be able to restore most damaged silver and can even replace knive blades.

What causes tarnish: Humidity and chemicals in the air cause silver to tarnish.  The most common tarnish causing elements are food (onions, eggs, mayonaisse, salad dressing, salty foods) salt, wool, felt, rubber bands, latex gloves, carpet padding, sulfur in the air, oily residue from our hands and fingers.

Preventing tarnish and storing your silver: Tarnish can be minimized during storage. Place individual pieces of silver inside polyethylene plastic bags (Ziploc®. bags work great) then seal the bags. Wrap each piece with non-buffered tissue paper (acid-free and of archival quality) or soft, anti-tarnish tissue to guard against humidity and prevent contact with materials from the storage bag to the silver. Tarnish-absorbing cloths and Anti-Tarnish (look for 3M or Hagerty Anti-Tarnish strips) paper strips also work well for a limited time. An alternative choice is to place small containers or bags of desiccated silica gel and activated charcoal inside the bag (making sure each piece is individually wrapped). Storing silver in a special silver chest or box lined with with tarnish preventive fabric is also effective, and you can add a Anti-Tarnish strip into the box/chest and change it every few months. DO NOT use plastic cling wrap, newspaper or rubber bands. They have properties that react with silver causing damage that will require a silversmith to repair or polish it to remove the damage. Cardboard boxes that aren't archival have acids that will tarnish the silver very rapidly. DO NOT lacquer or wax your silver due to the difficulties in obtaining an even coating. Many times if the coating was not been applied well, it may be uneven, have streaks and/or small holes, so that when the object tarnishes, the end result is many times worse than if no coating had been applied at all.

When displaying your silver in an open display, you can apply a  micro-crystalline wax such as Renaissance®, or Hagerty's Silversmiths Spray Polish®  which contains R-22 Tarnish Preventative. Both are recommended. Also treated gloves are available and a good way to keep silver items on display clean.

Storing your silver jewelry: while the above storage tips are the optimal way to store fine silver, silver jewelry should be worn and easily accessible so you can enjoy it without inconvenience. If you keep a paper Anti-tarnish strip in your jewelry box, and occasionally wash in warm water with a phosphate-free detergent, then dry with a soft cotton cloth, that may all that is needed.   Or if in a rush when taking your jewelry off, just wipe clean with the cloth before returning to your jewelry box.  Remember to apply your hairspray and perfume BEFORE putting on any jewelry.

Cleaning Silver

These cleaning tips and hints are for the general public interested in maintaining the majority of personal silver, items that are silver or gold plated need the same type of care. Museum conservators use a different method requiring special chemicals, hours of time and special experience. Remember that the easiest way to keep your silver cleaning to a minimum is to store it properly.

1. If there is no tarnish on your silver, use a phosphate-free detergent to clean it after use. Silver that is used, then gently washed and dried immediately, will require seldom tarnish removal.

2. When first noticed (usually a yellowish-brownish tint), tarnish is easily removed. It becomes increasingly difficult to remove as it eventually turns to black. Frequent light cleanings, (washing the object with a phosphate-free detergent), then drying with a soft cloth is better than waiting until the tarnish gets so difficult to remove that more abrasive polishes would be needed.

3. When polishing or drying always use a clean, soft cotton cloth. Certain items may require a clean soft cotton ball.

4. Rub the object in a straight, back-an-forth manner so to maintain a uniform appearance. Avoid rubbing in a circular motion.

5. Dishwashers:  we recommend that you DO NOT put your silver in a dishwasher - dishwashers will often turn silver an odd color and remove oxidation from the pattern. The heat may also loosen knife blades. The detergent and high temperature used in dishwashers is too abrasive, and can leave a dull non-reflective surface, that will require a trip to a professional silversmith to restore.The same applies to silver dips and other "miracle" cleaners. Items with mother-of-pearl, bone or ivory handles should never go in the dishwasher. Rare, old pieces should never be put in the dishwasher or mechanically buffed.  Silver that touches stainless steel in the dishwasher can create a chemical reaction, producing black spots on the silver  requiring professional refinishing. These pieces routinely end up in a silversmith's shop for blade remounting, reoxidizing, and/or refinishing.

6. For objects WITHOUT porous parts:

    A. With a moist cellulose sponge apply Tarni-Shield™, Twinkle®, Goddard’s™ Silver Wash, Wright's® Anti-Tarnish Silver Polish or Wright's® Silver Cream sparingly. If you like to use gloves then use special anti-tarnish or cotton cloth gloves which contain no ingredients to tarnish silver. If using Hagerty Silversmiths Spray Polish®, lay object(s) on a cotton cloth then light spray (great for intricate items, filigree, or items with hard to reach spots), wait 30 seconds to dry. Use a clean part of the cloth in each time you dry or polish item. Rub the object in a straight, back-an-forth manner do NOT rub in a circular motion. Rinse the sponge regularly, for elements in the tarnish can be very abrasive. Flattened cotton swab heads with very little silver polish applied are excellent for cleaning between fork tines, run it parallel within each opening.

   B. Dried polish should be removed by patting the area with a warm, wet cotton ball or a wet horsehair brush. Rinse the object with warm water then dry with a Selvyt™ cloth or cotton dish towel immediately to avoid spotting.

   C. For pieces that have been dulled by heavy tarnish, use a rouge cloth to restore the original luster to silver and gold. Unlike the Selvyt™ cloth which is untreated, the rouge cloth contains a polishing agent, normally rouge. You can use untreated, heavyweight cotton inspection gloves (remember - never use rubber gloves with silver) to avoid finger prints when cleaning and storing your freshly cleaned objects. After using, if you prefer not to apply a tarnish protectant, wash all silver by hand with a phosphate free dishwashing detergent and warm water then dry immediately with a Selvyt™ cloth or cotton dish towel. Try not allow silver to touch a metal sink, as the sink itself can scratch. Remove food from your silver promptly.

7. For objects WITH porous parts, stones or amber:

  A. With the smallest amount of polish possible, use a large cotton ball and turn the surface being cleaned - avoid touching the non-silver portion, gemstone, or hollow part of the item with the polish. Wood, amber, precious stones, gems, ivory insulators, and felt used on the bottoms of candlesticks other pieces can be damaged when introduced to excess moisture, including water. Be careful not to allow moisture into hollow areas that will not dry (ex.handle sockets with minute holes) or if there is no source of water, use Goddard’s™ Long Shine Silver Polish or Hagerty Silversmith Spray Polish (apply Hagertys to the cotton ball then quickly apply to the item). These are the two polishes that are meant to dry then buff off. Let the polish dry and remove it with a Selvyt™ cloth (preferred) or cotton dish towel. Selvyt™ is a lint-free, untreated, 100% cotton wiping cloth which is also excellent for highlighting ornament. Always use the smallest amount of polish necessary.

  B. To remove grime and dried polish left on previously polished pieces use a dry horsehair brush.Then use a wet brush which will soften the bristles and aid in lifting the old polish from the object's surface with minimal abrasion. When used wet, the bristles alone will not scratch the silver. If necessary use a moistened toothpick to get into the smallest hard to get to spots.

8. Chemical Dips: These dips dissolve tarnish on an object rapidly. Generally dips are used by professional silver restorers when heavy, black tarnish cannot be removed with liquid or paste polishes. The dip is wiped over the object with a cellulose sponge or cotton ball to avoid over cleaning (as submerging the entire piece for long periods will damage the silver by pitting of the surface and remove factory-applied patinas, then the new surface will act like a sponge and more readily absorb tarnish-producing gases and moisture. The object may then require professional polishing to restore the original finish). The acid in these dips will damage, bronze, stainless stell, and many other materials, including the human body. When using dips you must work in a well-ventilated area and wear nitrile gloves. Also chemical dips should never be used anything with sealed components, like hollow feet, hollow handles (many pitchers, teapots, creamers, etc. contain hollow handles) candlestick or trophies.If the dip leaks into the cavity through small holes or imperfections in the joints, it is virtually impossible to wash the chemical out. Therefore we recommend that chemical dips only be used by professionals.

9. Electrochemical (Galvanic) Reduction: We do NOT recommend this cleaning technique. Items cleaned by this method may tarnish more quickly polished silver. The surface will act like a sponge and more readily absorb tarnish-producing chemicals and moisture. The solution used can alsocreep into hollow areas such as handles, weighted pieces with minute holes, and any porous attachments. Pitting of the object can occur if the aluminum plate is not periodically cleaned.

AFTER Cleaning - if you notice a purplish stain after cleaning your silver, DO NOT attempt to remove it. This stain, (oxidized copper), is called firestain and is commonly found on many colonial through nineteenth century pieces.  This process was used to leave the object with a pure silver surface which is more resistant to tarnishing. The stain develops in sterling silver and silver coins when oxygen penetrates the outer surface during brazing, oxidizing the copper content. Fine silver is left on the surface when acid chemically removes the oxidized copper (though copper may be oxidized below the surface). These pieces will show this stain after many years of polishing.

TIPS

1.  Don't use Toothpaste, ever, as a silver polish. Many toothpastes ingredients which even in trace amounts may cause serious damage. Only use silver polishes.

2. Don't use polishes that have dried-up (the abrasive particles are now much too concentrated and will harm your silver), don't use  steel wool,   Scotch-Brite™ or any type of scouring pads (too abrasive), or chemical dips (too toxic).

3. Removing Labels. Try using a hair dryer to soften the adhesive, then the label should come off easily. Remove any sticky residues with isopropyl alcohol. Any discoloration can be removed with a tiny bit of silver polish.

4. Always use the smallest amount of polish possible.

5. Never rub polish in a circular motion.

Our list of recommended polishes and cleaners, which can be found in your local jewelry shop, department store, hardware store, pharmacy, general store or listed distributors:
1. 3M's Tarni-Shield™ Silver Polish and Twinkle® Silver Polish are the least abrasive of the commercial cleaners, Tarni-Shield™ seems to have a more effective tarnish barrier than Twinkle.
2. Goddard’s™ Long Shine Silver Polish and Silver Wash. Meant to be applied, allow to dry, then buff & polish off.
3. Wright's® Anti-Tarnish Silver Polish and Silver Cream (this product offers no tarnish protection).  Especially recommended to remove stains on steel knife blades. If the choice is between a polish that protects better but is more abrasive, and one that does not protect as well but is far less abrasive, go with the less abrasive polish. Polishes that are meant to be washed off are less abrasive because they use a liquid to suspend the polishing ingredients.
4. Haggerty® Silversmiths® Spray Polish - particulary good for fine work, filigree, intricate and hard to reach spots.

 

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Some of the above silver care information is copyright Jeffrey Herman, http://www.silversmithing.com/silver