Twin Silver Urns

I’d like you to meet my twins.

At the moment, they aren’t really dressed for company.

In fact…before anyone arrives I need to give them a complete makeover.

These twins have beautiful bones but the dirt and tarnish are hiding their true personalities.

Here’s the problem…how in the world do I get them clean?

There is Moni’s method that she explained on her blog not too long ago. I like the fact that baking soda is used.

Then there is always the old Tarn-X and elbow grease method. For some reason that’s not exactly what I had in mind.

Any advice on how I can give these twins a whole new life? I’d love to hear…

Today in Ohio the temperature is going to be almost 70. I have a feeling this is our last hurrah. No matter where you are I hope you enjoy this beautiful Sunday.

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Thoughts from my friends...

  1. says

    Recently I used MAAS metal polish which I bought on Amazon. I have a lot of silver plate and this is by far the best cleaner I have ever used. Less elbow grease is necessary and the shine lasts longer before tarnishing again. I had given up on polishing some items that I thought were beyond repair. I used MAAS and they look like new.

    I agree that some silver looks good with a patina but others look great with a brilliant shine.

  2. tanna says

    Oh, they are gorgeous, Ann!! I have a weakness for silver. ;) I use the elbow grease method with commercial silver cleaner. Though it does sound tempting to try the foil and salt method, I’m probably too chicken. blessings ~ tanna

  3. says

    Ann, I’m in love.♥♥♥ Those are gorgeous.

    I’m old-fashioned about polishing. For me nothing beats a good polishing cloth and polishing cream. Like Hagerty’s.

  4. Nancy B says

    Ann, your silver pieces are just gorgeous. Years ago,I worked in a jewelry store, in the silver department. They polished their silver only with Hagerty polish. The advantage to this polish is that it contains a tarnish preventative. I polished my silver serving pieces with Hagerty almost a year ago and they are just now needing to be polished again. It is important to remember that each time you polish your silver a little teensy bit of the silver is rubbed off so you don’t want to do it too often. My personal opinion on silver is I like the sparkly of polished silver but not to polish deep in the design of the silver. The “tarnish or patina” sets off the pattern against the shine of the silver. It is this contrast that make older pieces so beautiful.

    PS I do not have any association with Hagerty. Just love the product. Sorry I went on so long.

  5. says

    I don’t have any ideas on how to clean the urns, but I wanted to say that they are beauties!

    The weather is pretty remarkable here too. Tomorrow as well. We had better enjoy every second of it, because it’ll be cold & snowy before we know it!

  6. Sherrie says

    Forgive me if this is over kill. These are beautiful and I am so crazy about making sure things are done right so you won’t damage them. This was the best out of a hundred I read and gives you the whys and why nots.

  7. Sherrie says

    I can see why your so confused. Heck usually about cleaning I can find the answer. After googling it I came up with hundreds of answers.
    But I chose a few for you.
    Tere are are some suggestions from the historic silver society

    Historical Silver
    Clara Deck, Senior Conservator, The Henry Ford

    Historical silver can be maintained for years of use and enjoyment provided that some basic care and attention is given to their preservation. The conservation staff at The Henry Ford has compiled the information in this fact sheet to help individuals care for their objects and collections. The first step in the care of collections is to understand and minimize or eliminate conditions that can cause damage. The second step is to follow basic guidelines for care, handling and cleaning.

    Identifying Silver Objects
    Causes of Damage
    Abrasion, Denting
    Cleaning Silver


    Most people know that silver is a white, lustrous metal. Pure or “fine” silver is called “Sterling” if it is not less than 925 parts silver to 75 parts alloy. Silver objects, especially coins and jewelry, contain copper as an alloying metal for added hardness. The copper may corrode to form dark brown or green deposits on the surface of the metal. Silver is usually easy to differentiate from lead or pewter which are generally dark gray and not very shiny. If your object forms a white powdery substance anywhere on the surface, it indicates lead corrosion. This proves that the object is either not silver, or that it is silver-plated.

    Silver is often plated (deposited) onto other metallic alloys, almost always with an intermediate layer of copper in between. The earliest plating process, “Sheffield Plate” was developed in England in 1742. By the mid-19 th century, the process was largely replaced by electroplating (which used less silver). The base metal in plated artifacts may consist of any of the following metals or alloys: copper, brass, “German silver” or “nickel silver” (50% copper, 30% nickel, 20% zinc), “Brittania metal” (97% tin, 7% antimony, 2% copper), or a “base” silver containing a high percentage of copper. Hallmarks or other stamped marks on the underside can usually aid in determining the composition of silver or silver-plated artifacts.

    Tarnish (silver sulfide) is a form of corrosion characterized as a dense, thin, black layer that disfigures the surface of an artifact. Silver will tarnish on exposure to air containing sulfide gases. Humidity in the air is also required for the corrosion to progress. Since the Metro-Detroit area has heavy industry and elevated pollution levels, as well as hot, humid summers, both the criteria for tarnish are met in this area.

    Tarnish does not itself pose a threat to artifacts. Most damage to silver occurs as a result of the required polishing to remove the tarnish. Over-polishing results in a loss of detail definition in raised areas of design over time. On plated objects, frequent polishing can actually remove the silver plating, leaving dull areas of exposed base metal that may be mistaken for stubborn areas of tarnish.

    In rare cases where the silver object has been exposed to high airborne salt concentrations, “horn silver” may develop on the surface. This corrosion, silver chloride, is characterized as dirty purple or slate gray. It is dense, compact and usually quite difficult to polish off.

    Old lacquers, applied in the past to protect the piece, may wear or peel off in some areas. This leaves the exposed silver to tarnish, while the rest may remain bright.

    Objects made of silver, a relatively soft metal, could be damaged by rough handling. Raised areas and handles are especially susceptible to denting and joint failure. Display pieces should be handled with care, lifting from the center of gravity, never by the handle or lip. If historic silver serving pieces are being used, their owners should accept a certain amount of wear and tear from handling and more frequent cleaning.

    Repairs to valuable silver, which may involve soldering or raising and reshaping dents, should be done by a qualified metalsmith familiar with historical techniques or an art conservator. In some cases, jewelers may be willing to do small repairs on silver artifacts.

    Old lacquers must be removed prior to cleaning. This is best done with acetone, preferably by immersion. Acetone is a volatile solvent that should never be used in poorly ventilated conditions. (Please consult the manufacturer or Material Safety Data Sheet for complete safety requirements.)

    Polishing with a mild abrasive is the only safe cleaning method conservators can recommend for most historic silver artifacts. Commercially available “silver dips” may contain undesirable components such as hydrochloric or sulfuric acid that act too quickly and remove more metal than simple polishing does. Conservators do resort to special dips in certain, extreme cases, but for most tarnished silver, this method is too aggressive. Silver which has been dipped usually requires further burnishing to restore luster to the surface. Some commercial paste polished (i.e. “Duraglit”) are quite abrasive and may scratch your fine silver. “Hagerty’s Foam” polish and “Twinkle” for silver are thought to be somewhat less abrasive than others. Light polishing may be done using jeweler’s cloth containing rouge (i.e. “Birk Cloth”, “Hagerty Glove”). A museum-proven, safe polishing method is as follows:
    For most polishing, we use fine calcium carbonate, CHALK (“whiting”), worked into a slurry or runny paste with equal amounts of ethanol (denatured alcohol or ethyl alcohol) and distilled water. The paste is rubbed across the surface working a small area at a time with cotton balls or clean, cotton rags. Detailed areas may be polished with Q-tips or with cotton wadding on the end of a sharpened bamboo skewer. Depending on the design of your object, it may not be desirable to OVER-CLEAN every crevice, as this decreases the overall contrast of the detailing. It is important to remove all residual polish with distilled water. Drying may be accelerated by adding ethanol to the rinse water, or by giving the object a final wipe with ethanol.

    Polishing exposes fresh, reactive metal to the atmosphere and, therefore, to further tarnishing. Objects that will not be used can be lacquered for protection. This process involves the use of solvents to clean the metal properly (acetone or tri-chloroethane). It also requires spraying on the lacquer. In general, spray lacquering is a task best left to qualified individuals with the background and equipment necessary to do a good job. Poorly applied lacquers can actually cause more severe corrosion if small areas are left exposed. However, if you wish to attempt to lacquer your artifact, guidelines can be found on U.S. General Services Administration web site in the Historic Preservation Technical Procedures Database at It is not advisable to wax polished silver because the effect is too variable. It is difficult to achieve a continuous, even coat of wax. Most people who do not have access to professional services must accept the fact that they will have to polish their silver as often as is needed.

    Polished silver should not be handled with bare hands. Salts and oils from your skin can etch into any polished metal and may even cause permanent damage. Soft, cotton gloves, or any clean glove or rag may be employed for this purpose.

    A simple way to preserve fine silver, and to reduce the necessity for polishing, is to store silver properly. Maintaining an even, low humidity where metal objects are kept (ideally below 50% Relative Humidity) will help. In most homes, this is difficult to ensure, but generally speaking, basements are often damp in the summer and, therefore, should not be used for silver storage. Humidity sensors are available through the suppliers listed for those who wish to check conditions near their collections.

    Silver Tarnish Inhibiting Cloth (not the polishing kind) is available from better fabric stores for storing silver. It should be wrapped around the silver piece; it protects the object by absorbing tarnishing pollutants. The wrapped silver may then be placed in a clear bag, preferably made of “Mylar” (turkey baking bags are good) or “polyethylene” clear plastic. Never use “polyvinyl chloride” plastic bags to store artifacts. Silver kept wrapped and stored properly can be taken out and enjoyed as often as you like with the minimum amount effort.

  8. says

    ‘At the moment they aren’t really dressed for company’ :) I love them as they are, but please post an update if you decide to clean them up a bit! We had 22 degrees here today with snow flurries, so I’m jealous of the urns AND your weather!

  9. Donnamae says

    How funny, I just polished some silver today! I used flitz…it’s my hubby’s…shhh…don’t tell him, but it works great. I don’t have any other ideas. Interested to see what you do with them. It’s gonna be 30 tomorrow in Wisconsin…brrr! ;)

  10. says

    I’ve used the baking soda, tin foil and hot water trick. Only thing, I’ve used them on small pieces. Those urns are pretty big!

    And we too have been enjoying a last hurrah — well, right up until a few hours ago when the wind picked up and the temps starting falling fast …



  11. elaine says

    Hi ann. these are so pretty. not an expert on cleaning silver though. good luck. tarnished or untarnished they are beauties. where did you find them?

  12. says

    I have enjoyed the warm temps yesterday and today! And I don’t mind a bit that there is cooler weather headed our way – I’ll just kick the thermostat up! :) I love having a furnace!
    Don’t sue me but I kind of like those urns the way they are! Just wash with soap and water so they aren’t actually germy and go with it! ;) But I understand if you want to polish them up – my hubby always polishes the silver stuff i bring home!

  13. says

    Wonderful pieces and the patina IS nice as they are.

    I use an imported silver polish that isn’t stinky but holy moley it’s messy, and horrible to one’s hands so I have a special set of rubber gloves used just for polishing my silver.

    Good luck – wonderful urns, Ann!!

  14. says

    Ann the salt bath really does work, I used it on some silverware and Voila!! Shiny and new. I love the ice buckets, by the way, they are gorgeous, what a treasure you found! xo Kathysue

  15. says

    They are gorgeous pieces. I was wondering how they would look unpolished for a more homespun look. If you want to polish them you can immerse them in boiling water with tin foil and baking soda (you can get the recipe here: and loads of other places on the internet). It doesn’t take all the tarnish off though – you still have to do some work yourself if you want them to really gleam, but it gives you a good head start.

  16. says

    I’ve tried so many methods and posted about one of them, then found out aluminum foil did the same thing that the “gadget” I bought claimed to do. For me, the stinky ole’ liquid tarnex is the fasted and easiest…just hold your nose!
    They are beautiful urns and look nice now, but a little more sparkle is always nice :)

  17. says

    Hi Ann, these two are a real find. Looks to me like maybe the copper underplating may be showing thru due to wear. Sometimes these vintage pieces just don’t “clean up”. but the good news is that they are fabulous just the way they are. I’d do what I could, then just love ’em to pieces as is!

  18. says

    Ann, It is 75 here today, and so windy. My laundry is on the line, and I have to keep going out and tracking it down. It is crazy out there.
    Are you keeping the urns silver? If not a coat of paint will always cover whatever you need to hide. Can’t wait to see what you come up with.

  19. says

    Salt , hot water and aluminum foil! Really! It works!

    Place a piece of aluminum foil at the bottom of your kitchen sink, and fill the basin with HOT water. Then, sprinkle in two tablespoons of table salt; and drop your silver pieces into the water. Allow your silver to soak for 2-3 minutes; then, remove and rinse. The tarnish will be gone! More salt needed for larger pieces, as you will need more water and longer wait time. You can also loosely wrap the urns in foil before you set them in the basin.
    Badly tarnished silver may need to be soaked a second time.



  20. Donna says

    They are gorgeous Ann. I have often used the tinfoil and salt water method which is ultimately a home version of a silver bath. You always need to be careful as to the length of time you leave silver in the bath as ultimately you may remove more than you wish…. such as the patina.

  21. says

    There is silver cleaner out there that would work. Honestly, Ann, I think the beauty of those is the tarnish..I would not clean them. I can see them filled with natural greens and berries for the holiday…oh so beautiful.

  22. says

    Anne ~ your twins are just beautiful, but alas ~ no advice on how to get them clean and shiny other than tarnex and elbow grease.
    Enjoy the 70 degree weather. Here in Ontario, it’s going to be 67 ;-)