12 Easy Ways To Clean And Polish Silver At Home (With Stuff You Already Own)

We all know tarnished silver isn’t a good look.

Maybe it’s the good flatware you save for special dinners. Maybe it’s that cute little candy dish you inherited from Great Grandma Gladys. Or maybe it’s the diamond-encrusted tiara that you’ve been bequeathed by her HRH The Queen of England (please, please, let this be the reason you’ve come here).

Whatever silver object you want shining bright, you might be wondering: How do I clean it? How do I polish it? What do I need to buy? How do I start? Can I do this before tonight’s royal state banquet?

Well, good news. You might not need to buy anything. Yes, really. While there are tons of products out there (many of them rather unpleasant to smell), your pantry or cupboard is likely stocked with everything you need for both cleaning and polishing. In fact, antique experts tell us you should use store-bought silver cleaners sparingly—or avoid them altogether—because the chemical makeup could be potentially damaging to your heirloom.

Silver cleaning tips

Before we dive in, a couple of things to remember:

  • Consider taking your precious jewelry or other valuable silver items to a professional. That may not be the thing you want to DIY for the first time.
  • Don’t put silver flatware and other silver items in the dishwasher. However tempting, it usually makes it tarnish worse—this is one case where you definitely want to hand wash.
  • Avoid abrasive materials, like bristle brushes (and certainly no scouring pads!).
  • Avoid abrasive cleaners, like bleach or chlorine.
  • Note the gemstones. If your silver is encrusted with jewels, there might be certain methods that aren’t recommended. In particular, keep them away from the recipes that involve lemon juice.
  • Most of these methods involve using bowls. Try to use glass bowls if you can (an exception being when you’re dealing with boiling water). We want to avoid creating chemical reactions with other metals, like stainless steel.
  • All methods call for a couple of soft cleaning cloths (microfiber, or 100% cotton flannel). Make sure to have one or two on hand!
  • And, it’s worth repeating, as it’s not an intuitive rule: use store-bought silver cleaners sparingly (preferably not at all), especially if you’re dealing with antique silver.

How to clean silver at home

Without further ado, here are some of the best DIY tricks we’ve discovered.

1. Dish soap

If your silver forks are only a wee bit tarnished, roll up your sleeves. This simple tactic might be the only thing you need to do.

You’ll need:

  • Dish soap (Yep, think something classic, like Dawn)
  • A sink or a large bowl
  • 2 soft cleaning cloth (microfiber, or even just old 100% cotton shirts)
  • Warm water

Mix up a few drops of dish soap into a basin (or bowl) of warm water. Dip one soft cloth into the mixture, and gently rub it on your silver to remove the tarnish until it shines. Rinse with cold water, and use the second soft cloth to dry and buff it until it shines brightly.

2. Cornstarch

If you’re looking for a straightforward spot treatment, look no further.

You’ll need:

  • Corn starch
  • Water
  • A bowl
  • Soft cleaning cloth (microfiber or 100% cotton flannel)

Combine 2 parts water and 1 part cornstarch, until you have a thick paste. Using a soft, damp towel, apply the paste all around your silver, focusing on the parts that are tarnished. Let it dry completely (about 15 minutes). Use your wet cloth to rub off the dry paste and your dry cloth to buff the surface to make it all polished and shiny.

3. Cream of tartar

Use the exact same directions as above, except use cream of tartar instead of cornstarch. In this case, you can use 3 parts water and 1 part cream of tartar.

4. Activated charcoal

Activated charcoal has become quite trendy, and it’s obvious why—it's so versatile. In this case, it might make your silver shine even brighter than your teeth.

What you’ll need:

  • Activated charcoal
  • Water
  • A glass (or nonmetallic) bowl
  • Soft cleaning cloth (microfiber or 100% cotton flannel)

Take 1 part activated charcoal and 1 part water, and form a paste in a glass bowl. Then dip a soft cloth into your new solution, and gently rub the tarnished silver until you start seeing results. Then simply rinse with water, and dry with another soft cloth.

5. Lemon-lime soda

Though not the quickest method listed, this might be the easiest. Truly, 99% of this is just letting it sit. If you have gemstones (particularly opaque ones, such as pearls) do not use this method, as citric acid is hard on them.

You’ll need:

  • Lemon-lime soda
  • A large bowl or basin
  • A soft towel

Put lemon-lime soda into the bowl or basin. Then put your silver into the bowl or basin. Wait 1 hour. Rise your silver, and dry with a soft cloth … that’s it.

6. Lemon juice and dry milk bath

Citric acid has superpowers. The kind in lemon, in particular, has a natural chelating agent, which means it traps (and removes) heavy metal ions. For silver, it’s particularly effective at removing oxidation. Just pick up some dry milk, and give this a try. Note: Don’t use this method if you have opaque gemstones.

You’ll need:

  • 2 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup of instant dry milk
  • 3 cups of water
  • One large bowl
  • Soft cleaning cloth (microfiber or 100% cotton flannel)

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Soak your silver overnight. When you wake up in the morning, rinse with cold water, and wipe dry with a soft microfiber or cotton flannel cloth. If you have larger silver pieces, just double (or quadruple!) the recipe.

7. Lemon juice and olive oil

It may feel like you’re making a minimalistic dressing, but this combo can be rather effective, thanks to the grime-fighting powers of lemon juice.

You’ll need:

  • ½ cup of lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon of olive oil
  • 1 large glass bowl or surface
  • 2 soft cleaning cloths (microfiber or 100% cotton flannel)

Mix the olive oil and the lemon juice together. Then saturate one of the cleaning cloths with the mixture. Wring it out, and start buffing the silver. Rinse with cold water when you’re done, and then dry with the other soft cleaning cloth.

8. Ketchup

Ew, okay. I know what you’re thinking. This one feels kinda gross. That may be true, but it can be effective, and it smells a heck lot better than your typical store-bought silver cleaner. It works because the acid in tomatoes reacts with the oxidization on the tarnished silver.

You’ll need:

  • Ketchup
  • A large plate or tray (nonmetal is best)
  • Soft cleaning cloth (microfiber or 100% cotton flannel)
  • Old toothbrush (optional)

First, pour ketchup on a plate. Submerge the silver in the ketchup, and rub it all around the item with an old toothbrush or your hands. Let it rest for 10 minutes. Simply rinse the silverware with warm water, and buff it with a soft rag.

9. Window cleaner

This is another quick one. Window cleaner is dirt’s #1 enemy. However, don’t use this method on antique silver or jewelry with gems—it may be too harsh.

You’ll need:

Simply hold your silver and spray it like you would your window. However, instead of using a paper towel, buff it clean with a soft cleaning cloth.

10. Toothpaste

Okay, before we begin, it’s critical to note: the type of toothpaste will make a big difference. Be sure to use something basic (think plain and solid-colored) with tartar-control ingredients (something with hydrated silica). This works because the same ingredients that fight tartar will work well on the silver. Definitely spot test a tiny part of the silver before you begin—and don’t make this method a habit, as it’s slightly more abrasive.

You’ll need:

  • Basic white toothpaste
  • Water
  • 2 soft cleaning cloths (microfiber or 100% cotton flannel)

Apply a wee bit of toothpaste to your soft cleaning cloth. Rub it on the silver until the tarnish disappears. Finally, rinse with warm water, and dry with your other soft cloth. Ta-da!

11. Just baking soda

This works best if you have buildup that’s particularly pesky.

You’ll need:

  • 1/4 cup of baking soda
  • 1/2 cup of warm water
  • Large glass bowl
  • Soft cleaning cloth (microfiber or 100% cotton flannel)
  • Toothbrush

Make a thick paste of baking soda and warm water. Gently apply it onto the tarnished spots with your damp cloth. Let it rest for about 3 minutes, and gently rub with a soft cloth. Emphasis on the gently, as baking soda is slightly abrasive. Use a toothbrush (again, gently) if the piece of silver has small details. Rinse your silver with cold water, and buff it dry with a soft cloth.

12. Baking soda + vinegar

Who knew that your kids’ science project could also clean grandma’s silver? If the baking soda isn’t enough, try this. As usual, you can double or triple this recipe if you need to.

You’ll need:

  • 4 tablespoons of baking soda
  • 1 cup of vinegar
  • Large glass bowl
  • Soft cleaning cloth (microfiber or 100% cotton flannel)

Mix the baking soda and the vinegar together, and reminisce on your elementary school days. Then gently place your silver into the bowl. Let it sit in the mixture for 1 hour. Rinse with cold water, and gently dry with a soft cotton cloth.

13. Hand sanitizer

Finally, we’ll end on a more bizarre silver cleaning trick we’ve found: hand sanitizer. If you have some of this precious bounty hanging around, it’s an easy, quick solution and could help tackle any lingering germs. Note: Don’t use this method on jewelry with encrusted gemstones, as the sanitizer might be too harsh!

You’ll need:

  • Hand sanitizer
  • Soft cleaning cloth (microfiber or 100% cotton flannel)

Pump one squirt of hand sanitizer on a soft cleaning cloth, and gently rub your silver. As you rub in circular motions, you’ll notice that the discoloration and tarnish will disappear in front of your very eyes. Your silver is clean and shiny again!

How to maintain silver

Now while these methods are easy, it’s a heck of a lot easier just to keep silver shiny. Here’s some easy reminders.

If it’s jewelry, simply wear it a lot. Your body’s oils will keep your silver shining bright. So if you need an excuse to take out the family’s gems, consider dressing up as necessary maintenance.

Store silver the right way

  • Humidity levels: The key to keeping silver shiny is to keep it in a controlled environment where humidity levels are about 50%. However, not all of us live in environments where we can control this—so just be careful to keep it away from areas that are likely to be exposed to damp conditions.

  • Store your silver in soft, sealed bags to prevent exposure to the elements. Preferably use undyed cotton fabric or in acid-free tissue paper. DO NOT store it using newspaper or rubber bands, even if that’s how it was given to you.

  • Basic upkeep doesn’t need to be hard. Dust your silver every so often using a soft cloth—it will help keep the tarnish away. And whenever you start to see it slightly tarnish (which will vary depending on the piece and how pure the silver is—less sterling tarnishes more quickly), simply give it a light cleaning using some dish soap (we like Dawn).

While there’s a lot of methods to keeping your silver clean, it shouldn’t feel too intimidating. Routine care and preventative measures can go a long way to making your life easier and keeping your tiara gleaming like you were born into royalty.

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