Here’s an easy and quick method that shows how to clean silver naturally in about 5 minutes, and without harmful chemicals.
This post was originally published in 2013. It’s been completely updated with new images, more details, and additional information.
Several years ago, I inherited a set of vintage twin silver urns, or as they are sometimes called, ice buckets. They belonged to my in-laws, and when I brought them home, they were dirty and tarnished. So, I briefly considered leaving them as is, but that thought was short-lived. I know it’s trendy to display tarnished silver, but I just couldn’t. Call me crazy, but I wanted them to be shiny and clean.
Plus, I wanted to clean them without using chemicals that make it difficult to breathe. Thankfully, I was able to do so…and they turned out so well that I wanted to share this method with you, too!
You only need a few supplies – and they are probably already in your cabinets.
- Baking Soda
- Soft Towel Or Cloth
- Aluminum Foil
- Toothpaste (optional)
Steps for Cleaning Silver
- Cover your kitchen sink with aluminum foil, and fill the basin with HOT water.
- Add 1/2 cup kosher salt and 1/2 cup baking soda. Swish the water around until the salt and soda are dissolved.
- Then drop your silver pieces into the water.
- Allow your silver to soak for 3 – 5 minutes.
- Next, remove and rinse well.
- Finally, buff dry with a soft towel or cloth.
Pictured above is the first urn halfway through the cleaning process. When I rolled it over, I was amazed at how quickly the tarnish and dirt had been removed.
Silver Cleaning Tips
- Use more salt & soda for larger pieces – you will need more water and a longer wait time, so more salt & soda will speed up the process.
- Wrap pieces in foil – loosely wrap the silver pieces in foil before you set them in the basin. This will help the baking soda lock in to do its work.
- Buff tough spots with toothpaste – use toothpaste on a soft rag to clean stubborn spots and streaks. Surprisingly, it really does work on silver.
- Soak again if needed – badly tarnished silver may need to be soaked a second time.
- Follow The Size Of Your Sink – I changed the foil and bath after the first urn, but if your pieces aren’t badly tarnished, You can do more than one piece at a time. My kitchen sink has 2 sections, one bigger than the other. I use the small side which measures 15 x 12 x 6. If your sink is larger, I would recommend using more salt and soda, at least a cup each.
Not A Polish – Just A Cleaning Method
This method is for cleaning only. It doesn’t polish silver…but I’m not sure that’s even necessary. Polishes have chemicals, and sometimes silver tarnishes faster when it’s polished.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, vinegar is another safe and natural way to clean tarnished silver. It is acidic, so it easily buffs out those spots.
If you want to use vinegar, completely soak your silver in undiluted vinegar first. (For bigger pieces this may be impractical.) Next, after about 15 minutes, move it to another sink with baking soda and follow my cleaning steps. It will make those really hard spots much easier to remove. I have heard of other people using a reactive combination of baking soda and vinegar together. But in my experience, baking soda and salt were enough to make my silver nice and shiny.
Generally, baking soda is safe to use on most silver pieces. Some jewelry or antique dealers warn not to use baking soda on really old and valuable silver pieces because it could be too abrasive and ruin the finish. However, for most items, baking soda is completely safe to use on your silver.
Oxidized silver happens when silver is exposed to the air for too long. Getting technical, a compound called silver sulfide forms, and darkens the finish.
Some types of jewelry are made this way on purpose, and they have a darker look.
If your silver is severely oxidized, please talk to someone that specializes in silver restoration. Unfortunately, if you use chemicals that are too abrasive, you could damage your silver.
That being said, my method will work on cleaning tarnished silver that isn’t badly oxidized. Keep in mind that old silver that’s been around a while will not only have tarnish, but other spots and marks. Sometimes these can be removed, and sometimes they can’t. The secret is to embrace the imperfections, and appreciate the beauty of your vintage item.
Cleaning silver can be a really fun and rewarding experience. Plus, it’s amazing how exhilarating it is to bring a dirty and tarnished piece of silver back to life! Learning about this process has enabled me to bring my silver out of hiding. For years and years, I didn’t use it because I didn’t have the time to clean it. Finally, now I can easily maintain it, so it can be used and enjoyed.
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