How to Clean and Polish Silver In 4 Easy Steps

(With stuff you already have.)

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 you’ve been bequeathed by Her Majesty 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. Cleaning and polishing silver is quite easy, and 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’ll need to make your silver shine. 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. Irreplaceable heirlooms 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. 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!
  • It’s worth repeating: use store-bought silver cleaners sparingly (preferably not at all), especially if you’re dealing with antique silver.

How to clean silver at home in 4 easy steps

Getting your silver to shine is a two-step process: first you clean, then you polish. As mentioned above, no matter what silver piece you’re focusing on, the cleaning phase should always be a simple hand washing. Here’s a refresher, just in case you need it.

  1. Using warm water, wet the item to be cleaned.
  2. Apply a small amount of hand soap (Dawn is our favorite) to a clean sponge or soft cleaning cloth.
  3. Gently wash the item clean. To keep the silver intact, do not apply force or do heavy scrubbing. Remember, silver is delicate and doesn’t take much effort to truly clean.
  4. Dry your items thoroughly with a clean cloth to prevent water marks.

How to polish silver at home in 4 easy steps

Now that your silver is clean, it’s time to really make it shine. Note: you do not need to polish your silver after every use. Most items only need polishing a few times a year. . As you notice your silver beginning to tarnish, the answer is likely waiting for you in the pantry. No matter which at-home polishing agent you choose (and we’ll get to that list shortly), the method for each will be the same.

  1. Put a small amount of polishing agent on a clean cloth.
  2. Rub the polish onto your silver in an up-and-down motion. Avoid cleaning in a circular motion as this can highlight fine scratches already present in your item.
  3. As you rub the agent onto your silver, tarnish will begin to come off, revealing the shine beneath. Turn your cloth frequently, to prevent re-applying the tarnish to your silver.
  4. When you’ve finished, wash the item thoroughly in warm water, then buff to a sparkling shine with a dry cloth.

Other at-home silver polishing tricks (with step-by-step instructions)

Silver-polishing home remedies abound (one even involved rubbing your silver with ketchup. Gross.). We’ve narrowed the wide field down to our five favorites. These polishing agents are effective, easy, and you likely already own them. Choose one, then use the step-by-step instructions to bring the sparkle back to your silver.

1. Cornstarch

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

You’ll need:

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

Step-by-step:

  1. Combine 2 parts water and 1 part cornstarch in a bowl until you have a thick paste.
  2. Using a soft, damp towel, apply the paste all around your silver, focusing on the parts that are tarnished.
  3. Let it dry completely (about 15 minutes).
  4. Use a clean corner of your damp cloth to rub off the dried paste.
  5. Finish by using a dry cloth to buff the cleaned surface, bringing out the shine.

2. 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 cloths (microfiber or 100% cotton flannel)

Step-by-step:

  1. In a glass bowl, mix 1 part activated charcoal and 1 part water to form a paste.
  2. Dip a soft cloth into your paste, gently rubbing it on the tarnished silver in an up-and-down motion.
  3. Continue to gently rub until you start to see the shine coming through (it may take a few minutes, but avoid the temptation to scrub faster or harder).
  4. Simply rinse with water, then dry with another soft cloth.

3. 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
  • Soft cleaning cloths (microfiber or 100% cotton flannel)

Step-by-step:

  1. Put lemon-lime soda into the bowl or basin.
  2. Place your silver into the bowl and make sure it’s completely covered..
  3. Let it sit for at least 1 hour.
  4. Rinse your silver with warm warm, dry with a soft cloth… and voila, the shine is back!

4. Baking soda

For particularly pesky build-up and tarnish, this might be the method for you.

You’ll need:

  • Baking soda
  • Warm water
  • Large glass bowl
  • Soft cleaning cloths (microfiber or 100% cotton flannel)
  • Soft-bristled toothbrush

Step-by-step:

  1. In your glass bowl, make a thick paste by mixing two parts baking soda to one part water.
  2. Using a damp cloth, gently apply paste to the tarnished spots on your silver.
  3. Let the past rest for about 3 minutes, then gently rub with a clean corner of your soft cloth. (Emphasis on the gently, as baking soda is slightly abrasive).
  4. If your silver has small details, use a soft-bristled toothbrush to get them shining.
  5. Finish by rinsing with water, and buffing dry with a clean cloth. Rinse your silver with cold water, and buff it dry with a soft cloth.

5. Hand sanitizer

Have some extra hand sanitizer lying around from the dog-days of the pandemic? It just might be what you need for a quick and easy fix. 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 cloths (microfiber or 100% cotton flannel)

Step-by-step:

  1. Pump one squirt of hand sanitizer on a soft cleaning cloth, and gently rub your silver.
  2. Moving in an up-and-down motion, 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

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 a gentle dish soap (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—just in case Her Majesty pops over for a visit.

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