How to clean silver

Want to know how to clean silver? Follow our tips to take off the tarnish and have it sparkling again

How to clean silver: polish up your tarnished silverware and restore its shine
(Image credit: Jody Stewart)

Confused about how to clean silver? If you lived in Downton Abbey, cleaning the silver might once have been a task assigned to someone below stairs. But as most of us don’t own a stately home where we're waited on by fleets of staff, polishing our tarnished silverware is a chore we must tackle ourselves.

You might be surprised by how much silver you actually possess: from silver jewellery to the cutlery you save for best, a vintage tea service to your favourite dinner party candlesticks, the silver salver and tankards on your cocktail bar to a silver vanity set on your dressing table. 

Use this guide to find out how to clean silver – we've offered lots of different ways to do so with silver cleaners and homemade remedies. As always when cleaning something for the first time, do a patch test first to avoid damage. Then, for a comprehensive guide to cleaning, with tips, hacks and advice, go to our dedicated hub page.

1. Know when to stop cleaning silver

Silver: sterling, real, gilt or plate?

Not all silver is the same or has the same amount of the precious metal. Sterling silver is 92.5 per cent silver with 7.5 per cent other metals. Real silver will usually have a hallmark (or sterling mark). Silver gilt is silver that has been gilded with gold to give it a golden hue. Silver plate is where a thin layer of silver is bonded – through a process known as electroplating – to another base metal, such as copper or brass. Silver plate can be prone to the silver flaking off or turning green.

When cleaning silver, you need to be careful that the method you choose to remove the tarnish doesn't also leave you with a piece that looks flat and dull. Sometimes a little dark tarnish can help to define a delicate pattern. Be gentle and stop occasionally to see how the metal is faring under your ministrations.

If you are concerned about damaging a valuable piece when cleaning it, you can check with an expert, such as a jeweller or antique dealer, as to whether you should go ahead and what method you should use.

2. How to clean silver with silver polish

The most straightforward method is to buy a silver polish, apply then use a little elbow grease. Something like Goddard’s can be used on sterling silver or silver plate. Silvo silver polish wadding has a rough, fibrous quality so is abrasive enough to clean but won’t scratch. But If you prefer not to use store-bought cleaners, there are plenty of products that you can find around the home to polish up silver to a shine.

3. How to clean silver with baking soda

Line a plastic container with aluminium foil. Boil enough water to cover the items you want to clean. Put the water in the container and add bicarbonate of soda (see our clever baking soda cleaning hacks for more ways to use this magical product). You'll need about two tablespoons of bicarb per litre of water. Place the silver into the container so it is touching the foil. The tarnish should bubble and lift away. 

After a few minutes, take out the silver (use tongs to avoid burning your fingers with hot water, not rubber or latex gloves as these can tarnish the metal) and dry with a soft cloth. You can also make a thick paste from bicarb and a little water, then use this to rub the tarnish off the silver with a cloth. Rinse with water and dry. 

4. How to clean silver with tomato sauce

Get your trusty bottle of ketchup and squirt a generous amount into a bowl. Submerge the item. Take it out after a few minutes (the acid in the vinegar and tomatoes could harm it if it’s left in too long), then use a small brush to work the sauce around. Rinse with warm water and dry.

5. How to clean silver with toothpaste

Not only good for polishing your pearly whites, a non-gel, non abrasive toothpaste can also restore the lustre to your silverware. Squeeze some on to a soft cloth. Rub into the silver. Leave for five minutes then rinse off with water. Dry with a clean cloth.

6. How to clean silver with coke

This will work best for smaller items. Simply pour the coke into a bowl and submerge your silver into it. The acid in the coke will quickly remove the tarnish. Keep an eye on it – just a few minutes should be enough. Rinse with warm water and dry carefully with a soft cloth.

7. How to clean silver cutlery

What is the best homemade silver cleaner?

As you'll see below, we recommend the baking soda/bicarbonate of soda and water combination as the best homemade silver cleaner. It's gentle but effective, eco-friendly and affordable!

The baking soda in a foil-lined plastic container works well for cleaning silver cutlery. If the tarnish is particularly marked, add a sprinkle (a tablespoon to half a litre of water will do) of salt to the bicarbonate of soda/water mix. If this isn't strong enough to remove the tarnish after a few minutes, add a half cup of white vinegar. Leave for three minutes – five at the most, then remove the silver and rinse in warm, soapy water, before drying with a clean, soft cloth. Find more ways to clean your home with vinegar with our guide.

8. How to clean a silver teapot

Use the same technique as we have talked about above. If you're worried about leaving a silver teapot to soak for longer than the prescribed three minutes, remove it from the water carefully and buff at the tarnish with your soft cloth. What's not immediately removed by the bicarbonate/water mix can be with the help of a gentle rub.

9. How to clean a silver necklace

If you've bought a heavily tarnished piece of silver jewellery – whether a necklace, bracelet or earrings, you can use the warm water/baking soda combination to clean them. If there are no precious stones, you can add some white vinegar to the mix to speed things up. Don't worry about the fizzing noise the mix makes – this will help remove the tarnish effectively. Keep an eye on the pieces you're leaving to soak – it could take minutes to clean them properly or some hours. Once clean, remove them, rinse under clean water then dry carefully. 

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