Richard’s Method for cleaning badly tarnished Sterling Silver

Occasionally we get a sterling silver piece in that is not old enough to have “earned” the distinction of patina yet looks so tarnished that it just doesn’t look good……………that’s when Richard uses this method to brighten up the piece.

I’m talking mainly about solid sterling silver pieces. When a piece has stones, although the method might not hurt the stones per se, soaking might loosen the setting, so would not be recommended.

Cleaning Tarnished Silver

This is the best method we have found for quickly and easily cleaning tarnished silver items. (Many jewelers have reported that this method will not harm turquoise and other gemstones, although steel and hematite may be affected. Do not use this method on items that should not be submerged in water.)

  1. Place a double layer of aluminum foil in the bottom of a non-metallic container

  2. Add enough hot water to cover the item

  3. Add 2 heaping tablespoons of washing soda (sodium carbonate) or baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) (stores stock washing soda with laundry supplies – it works a bit faster than baking soda)

  4. Place the tarnished item in the water to soak in contact with the aluminum foil for a few minutes (heavily tarnished items may take two or three treatments – if the water turns grey and the item is sitll tarnished, replace the solution)

  5. When tarnish is gone rinse item thoroughly under running water

  6. Buff dry with soft polishing cloth or towel to restore luster – the solution removes the tarnish, but buffing brings out the shine

For chains and liquid silver, you can make a thin paste of baking soda and water and rub it gently onto the piece with your hands and then place the item in the aluminum-lined tray with the very hot water.

After using this method, the items are so shiny that they really reflect the light !

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20 thoughts on “Richard’s Method for cleaning badly tarnished Sterling Silver

  1. I sometimes buy old sterling silverware to use in crafts…I don’t really mind some tarnish, but sometimes they are just terrible. I can’t wait to try this! I have some old Navajo Beads too that could use this. Thank you so very much for sharing.

    Karyn

    • See the updated post Jesse. Although this method is reported on the jewelry forums to not hurt the stones themselves, I would never soak any piece with a stone setting because, remember there is a bumper underneath of sawdust or leather than would swell and perhaps pop the stone out………or soften the adhesive…….so no swimming, dishes or soaking in the tub with that watch on !!

  2. Hi Paula,
    We love this technique for cleaning heavily tarnished silver. Tide detergent (without bleach – that’s important!) is our favorite cleaner. It’s a terrific way to clean your Sterling silverware for the Holidays. However, we would never consider putting anything set with any kind of stones into a hot detergent solution to soak. Too much can go wrong!
    A good alternative to clean silver set with stones is to spritz the piece with a liquid ammonia glass cleaner, such as Windex, and then wipe with a paper towel. You can aim the spray to avoid the stones, but some overspray won’t hurt them. This works best to shine jewelry that is just beginning to tarnish. It’s also a great way to clean older pieces that have a beautiful patina that you want to maintain.
    If the piece is heavily tarnished and you want it to look shiny and new, bench polishing by a professional jeweler is the best way to go.
    Thanks for all you do!
    Diane

  3. Hi Diane,
    Thanks for the tips and great to see you ! I keep thinking about the article we are going to do together ! Soon !
    I was visiting a friend a number of years ago and she dipped her 10 strand, badly tarnished, liquid silver necklace into a bottle of Windex, then rinsed it off in cold water and patted it dry and that certainly perked it right up !!
    I was hesitant to recommend it as I had only seen that one example but it seemed to work just great – she is still wearing that necklace these days so it didn’t damage it at all……….something to try…..or your spritz method.
    Thanks and talk soon !
    Paula

  4. I got a very nice tip from the gentleman at the David Yurman counter in Bloomingdales for cleaning the tarnish out of the grooves in DY sterling bracelets. This works great for Sterling/turquoise pieces also because of the grooves in the design. He recommended regular toothpast ( not gritty ) with a soft toothbrush, brush gently so as not to scratch, wash with soap and water then polish with Simichrome, a German metal polish that can be found on ebay. It makes everything shine like a mirror, this is for silver that is not so heavily tarnished, but will work on heavy tarnish with some work. Also, not a problem with stones.

  5. I was given my grandmothers silver creamer, sugar bowl and try. They were so tarnished they were black. Using Wrights silver polish several times reduced the tarnish a little but I knew it wouldn’t clean it all the way. I saw this post and tried it. I had heavy duty foil and washing soda. It worked! I even took other silver articles out and dipped them as they needed a little cleaning. This is such a good formula.

  6. I collect squash blossom necklaces and so many of them are being sold with “original patina”, which means crudey with dirt and tarnish. Just how clean should an old piece be so as not to reduce its value? I prefer tarnish in the recesses but shiny otherwise. Is this the wrong way to go? Thanks to any of you who can

  7. Carolina….I have a watch cuff piece that was made in the 60′s that I keep shiny like new because I like the way this particular one looks clean. I also have a piece that is very detailed and is a lot older than the 60′s as far as I can tell.. The nooks and cranny’s are very black and “dirty” but I lightly polish a little of the raised parts of the details. I think it still retains the look of age without looking “cruddy”. In a nutshell, I “clean” my pieces based on how they appeal to me. I don’t worry too much about the value as much as how much I enjoy wearing them. If you bought your piece for you to wear and enjoy, lightly clean a less noticeable area and see if you like the way it looks. If it is for resale I would leave it alone because most collectors desire the patina and would like to clean it to their particular taste.

  8. Pingback: Cleaning Vintage Native American Jewelry « Native American Jewelry Tips

  9. SADYL, I ALREADY TRIED THAT… when I put disnes in the sink, if a glass or cup is there, I stick the silverware in the water… well, I had a stained cup and FORGOT that I put bleach in it.. I had NO idea it was beach, so over night the silver stayed and the silver is so tarnished it is miserable to clean! I bought the great dip I’ve used for years… NOTHING..just like the above… the pink cream cleans but it takes FOREVER, surely there is a safe way to use an abrasive of some kind that won’t scratch the silver.. it is my Rose Point dinner ware… and suggestions? Ann

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