Whether you want to keep or sell your set, it should be clean, shiny, and well organized. Here’s how to properly clean and care for a sterling silver flatware set.
Sterling silver, and other metals, including copper, brass, and aluminum, require regular cleaning and tarnish removal. Tarnish is a thin layer of corrosion that forms over time from the metal’s exposure to hydrogen sulfide, normally present in the air. Tarnish can also develop after contact with wool, felt, or certain foods. That electrochemical process is called oxidation.
Tarnish usually forms as a dull grey or black coating over the silver. Interestingly, tarnish is self-limiting, which means it only affects the top few layers of the metal. The outer layers of tarnish actually seal and protect the underlying layers, which is why a good cleaning can restore silver to its shiny original state.
Before you begin
You want to clean your silver, not damage it. To avoid doing so, use a non-abrasive silver cleaner that requires rinsing after use. Silver cleaners that require rinsing are usually less abrasive, so look for brands that state the cleaner is "non-abrasive."
Do not use chemical dips for cleaning sterling silver flatware, as they contain corrosive acids. Also, do not put your sterling silver flatware in the dishwasher.
For supplies, you’ll need a plastic dishpan, soft cotton dish towel, cotton balls, non-lemon-scented, phosphate-free hand dishwashing liquid, white vinegar and/or non-abrasive silver cleaner, silver polishing rouge cloth, and a dry artist’s horsehair paintbrush.
- First, place the flatware in the plastic dishpan. Add a teaspoon of non-lemon-scented, phosphate-free hand dishwashing liquid and fill the pan with warm water. Wash the flatware with a soft dish towel and remove oils, fingerprints, and debris.
- Rinse the flatware with warm water and dry with the soft cotton towel.
- Next, clean light tarnish by wiping the area lightly with a cotton ball moistened with white vinegar or non-abrasive cleaner. Dry the flatware with the towel.
- To remove heavier tarnish, apply a small amount of non-abrasive silver cleaner to a soft cloth and rub the flatware gently from side to side, or up and down. Do not use circular motions, and do not apply an excess amount of cleaner to the silver—use only the amount needed to remove the tarnish.
- Rinse the cleaner off the flatware, and wipe off any dried cleaner with the towel. To remove residual cleaner from nooks or patterns, use a dry artist's horsehair paintbrush.
- Rinse the cleaned flatware with warm water and dry with a soft cotton towel.
- Polish the sterling silver dinnerware with a silver polishing rouge cloth to restore the silver's shine and luster.