Restore shine to your silver pieces using a few household items. Follow our easy tips for the best way to clean, polish, and care for silver.

By BH&G Editors
Updated May 06, 2020
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Silver is used to create beautiful, heirloom-quality pieces such as vases, serving platters, cutlery, and candlesticks. These elegant metal accessories lend a luxurious touch to table settings and display shelves, but over time, exposure to light and air can make the shiny finish appear dull or tarnished. Since these pieces are meant to be displayed or used, silver items periodically need a little upkeep. Fortunately, cleaning silver doesn't have to be tedious. With a few pantry ingredients, such as salt and baking soda, you can make easy work of removing tarnish from silver items. Use our easy tips on how to clean silver (plus steps for how to polish silver and prevent tarnish) to get your accessories sparkling again.

Anthony Masterson

How to Care for Silver

For routine care, a quick wash in soapy water can be a sufficient way to keep silver shiny. Mix a few drops of mild dishwashing soap in warm water and gently wash silver pieces. Rinse and buff dry with a soft cloth. In between cleanings, store silver in a cool, dry place to prevent excess tarnish.

How to Clean Silver Naturally

Cleaning tarnished silver (even heavily tarnished pieces) can be achieved with a simple homemade solution, and you likely already have all the ingredients that you need. Cleaning silver with a combination of aluminum foil, baking soda, and salt does the trick for both small and large silver pieces. Try these easy techniques to clean tarnished silver and watch grime wash away before your eyes.

What You'll Need

  • Boiling water
  • Aluminum foil
  • Pan or pot
  • Baking soda
  • Kosher salt
  • Soft cloth

How to Clean Small Silver Items:

  1. Line a pot or roasting pan with aluminum foil. Make sure the foil covers the entire surface.
  2. Fill the pan with boiling water.  
  3. Add 1/4 cup baking soda and 2 teaspoons of kosher salt to the water and stir. You should see bubbles form.
  4. Place silver pieces in the solution and mix gently so that pieces don’t ram into one another or the sides of the pan.
  5. Let sit for up to 5 minutes.
  6. Once cool, remove and dry thoroughly with a soft cloth.

How to Clean Large Silver Items:

Use your sink as a vessel for cleaning larger silver items, such as bulky trays, candlesticks, and serving dishes.

  1. Line your sink with foil. Again, make sure to cover the entire surface, including the edges.
  2. Pour boiling water into the sink. Use enough water so that your pieces will be fully submerged.
  3. Add 1 cup baking soda and 1 cup salt to the water. Stir the mixture. Bubbles will form.
  4. Place silver pieces in the solution.
  5. Allow pieces to soak for up to 30 minutes.
  6. Remove items when cool and dry them off with a soft cloth.

Your silver pieces should now be shinier and free of tarnish. They're all set to use or display proudly, and you'll never be left wondering how to clean silver again!

How to Clean Silver with Vinegar

For a more vigorous silver polishing, incorporate the cleaning power of vinegar, too. This method works especially well for cleaning silverware. After lining your pan or sink with foil, add 1 tablespoon baking soda and 1 tablespoon kosher salt to the aluminum-lined dish. Pour 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar into the dish and the mixture will begin to bubble. Add 1 to 2 cups boiling water (you'll need enough liquid to completely submerge your silver pieces). Place pieces into the dish in a single layer. Soak lightly tarnished pieces for 30 seconds or up to 3 minutes for more heavily tarnished pieces. Remove items with tongs, dry, and buff.

More Tips and Tricks for Cleaning Silver

There are many home remedies for cleaning silver. As with any new cleaning method, you should test these techniques on an inconspicuous spot first before diving in.

Polish Silver with Ketchup

For extra sheen, try cleaning silver with ketchup. The condiment can be used as a paste to polish tarnished metals including brass and silver.

Remove Water Spots from Silver with Lemon Juice

Lemon is a cleaning powerhouse and can be used on silver, too. Remove water spots from silverware by dipping a microfiber cloth in a bit of concentrated lemon juice and polish away. When storing, keep silver in a dry, cool spot and give delicate pieces some space so they aren't prone to running into one another.

Restore Shine to Silver with Toothpaste

Cleaning silver with toothpaste can produce sparkling results. Dilute toothpaste with a little water, polish the silver with a soft cloth, and rinse. Don't use toothpaste on silver-plated items, as it can corrode the finish.

Cleaning Silver-Plated and Antique Silver Items

Knowing how to clean silver-plated items, such as silver necklaces, rings, and other jewelry, can be a little tricky. Because these pieces only have silver plated over the surface of another metal, vigorous cleaning or submerging items in a liquid solution, along with regular wear and tear, can cause flaking. Test methods in an inconspicuous spot before proceeding with a deep clean. And if your silver jewelry has gemstones or other embellishments, simply use a few drops of mild soap or even baby shampoo mixed into water to wipe down before storing. Use cotton swabs or a soft bristle brush to get into nooks and crannies. If you use a brush, use a light hand so you don’t unintentionally scratch the surface.

For antique silver or pieces with a high value (whether real dollars or sentimental), you may want to consult with an antique dealer, jeweler, or professional restoration company before cleaning silver. A pro can give you pointers specific to your piece and advise on how to best clean your silver.

How to Polish Silver

While the natural silver cleaning methods outlined above will help restore shine, you'll also find plenty of commercial silver polish products online and in stores. Be sure to choose a cleaner that's specifically intended to clean sterling silver or silver-plated items. Some are formulated for specialty applications, while others are more general purpose. Always read the instructions before using silver polish products and follow all instructions carefully.

Knowing how to clean sterling silver, silver antiques, and silver jewelry isn’t something that takes hours to learn. Routine care, preventative maintenance, a simple silver cleaning method, and a little polishing will help keep your silver pieces shining for years to come.

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