How to Polish Silver

Charlotte@Living Well on the Cheap  —  January 24, 2012 — 6 Comments

Vintage silver is one of my favorite things. I find it all the time at thrift stores and estate sales. It’s pretty much always silverplate, or at least if a real piece of sterling has ever made it into my thrifting bounty I wasn’t astute enough to realize. I don’t mind the lower quality of silverplate. In fact, I kinda like the warm patina it develops over time when the base metal is copper.

I bring home a lot of tarnished silver, but for some reason I have never actually obtained a bottle of silver polish. To be honest, I usually just use toothpaste. True story. Toothpaste does an excellent job of gently polishing silver and I don’t have to worry about the fumes. I didn’t take any “before” pictures for this post because I didn’t realize until I was well into plan B that it might be worth posting about. I bought this silver bowl with the intention of selling it in my shop, but it was badly tarnished. I figured some toothpaste, maybe some baking soda, and some elbow grease would do the trick, but after what seemed like quite a long time of working on it all I had to show was some sore muscles and a minty-fresh smelling bowl.

I turned to my old friend google and came up with this non-toxic solution: aluminum foil, salt, baking soda, and very hot water. So I lined the bottom of my sink with tin foil and sprinkled a generous amount of salt and baking powder into the bowl.

Then I filled up the biggest pot I own with water and waited a loooong time for it to come to a boil.

It barely filled the bottom of the sink. But what it lacked in volume it made up for in dramatic steam.

I filled the sink the rest of the way with the hottest water I could get from the tap and it was still pretty hot. Then I left it to sit for a while, using tongs to tilt it around periodically so I could check the progress.

It seemed like the inside and top edges were not really coming clean as quickly, so I wrapped them in extra tin foil. Seemed like a good idea at a time.

I started to worry about the silver on the outside bottom half coming off entirely, so I took it out of the water and sat it in the empty side of the sink with the water/salt/baking soda/tin foil mixture sitting inside. I left it like that for another several minutes, checking periodically. I was totally just winging it at this point.

And I guess it worked, because by the time I finally freed the bowl of its aluminum wrapping it was looking perfectly imperfect, just the way I like it.

Look how pretty it looks now, inside and out!

I totally want to try this now on some other pieces that I could never get polished as nicely as I wanted.

Charlotte@Living Well on the Cheap


6 responses to How to Polish Silver

  1. I’ve used this method to clear silver jewelry for years! It’s totally not worth the money to buy silver polish, this trick works too well to bother!

    • Charlotte | livingwellonthecheap January 24, 2012 at 4:24 pm

      Isn’t it amazing? I usually use toothpaste for small pieces of jewelry but I will definitely try this out if I come across any bigger or really badly tarnished pieces.

  2. Janet (Country Mouse January 25, 2012 at 12:13 am

    My grandparents (Your Grandma Sandy’s parents) and my Dad owned and ran a jewelry store for years. I have polished a lot of silver in my day. My Dad would have a fit about the toothpaste or baking soda. He would say it is too abrasive. He loved the patina that silver polish left and we used special soft cloth. That said, if there is an easier way, I am all for it. If I never have to polish another piece of silver, it fine with me. In fact, when I worked at the store, I learned to look busy all of the time so I wouldn’t have to polish the silver. I would rather dust the crystal.

    • Charlotte | livingwellonthecheap January 25, 2012 at 2:27 pm

      I never knew about the jewelry shop! I definitely would be way more careful with anything more valuable, but since most silver/silver-plated items I own are in the under-$20 category and already showing quite a bit of wear I don’t stress too much about it.

  3. Janet (Country Mouse January 25, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    Your Grandma Sandy’s maiden name is Holland. Holland Your Jewelers was a well known store in Springfield. It brought in customers from St. Louis and Chicago even. My Dad, Sandy’s brother ran it for years after my Grandparents retired.

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  1. Oh Vintage Silver, How Do I Love Thee? | Living Well on the Cheap - May 7, 2012

    [...] listed in a timely manner. As far as cleaning goes, I usually use a combination of toothpaste and this method. Do any of you love buying vintage as much as I do, or even have your own shop? Is there a special [...]

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