the more you know the less you need

the more you know the less you need

Tackling Tarnish

Tackling Tarnish

This is the time of year that you get out the good china, and the silver.


Most likely the silver has been passed down through the generations of your family. Perhaps the china, as well.

Unquestionably beautiful and fine, but both have fallen out of favour because neither are compatible with our most cherished kitchen appliance: the dishwasher.

Washing dishes! Polishing silver!  A deal-breaker for many modern women. We’re too busy, busy, busy.

Or perhaps you once were, but aren’t so anymore—the children are grown and gone; you’ve retired, or life has just slowed down. Perhaps its time to live a bit more elegantly, take those heirlooms down from the top shelf, and use them instead of look at them.

And really, you should—here’a a little secret about silver: the more you use it, the better it behaves. In fact, silver flatware used on a daily basis will require little or no polishing.

Silver has one inherent flaw: it tarnishes. And, unless you have a Downton Abbey-esque staff to undertake the polishing, you’re going to have to do it yourself.

Image via The Telegraph
Downton Abbey; Image via The Telegraph

But how? And do you even know the difference between sterling silver, fine silver, and silver plate?

Nowadays, when faced with a question, you ask Google. But in the case of cleaning silver, you would be well-advised NOT to follow the advice of the masses. I can tell you from experience that subjecting your precious silver to a foil-lined/baking soda/boiling water bath causes your silver to tarnish more quickly, utterly ruins the patina, and erodes the silver layer. Baking soda is much too abrasive, and even trace amounts can cause serious damage. This method may look cool on YouTube, but don’t try it.

To keep silver in good condition and to maintain it’s brilliant lustre, here are a few guidelines to follow:


  • Gently hand-wash silver flatware with a non-lemon-scented phosphate-free detergent and towel-dry immediately with a soft cotton dish towel or silver cloth to avoid water spots.
  • While washing, do not place the silver in a metal sink, as this can cause scratching. Use a plastic dishpan or line the sink with a dish mat or a towel.
  • When using your flatware, rotate the pieces so they wear uniformly.
  • Store silver in treated flannel bags which draws the sulfur away from the silver. Or, wrap it in acid-free tissue or paper then place in a Ziploc bag with an anti-tarnish strip. Or in chests or drawers lined with a tarnish-resistant flannel.
  • Place in a dry, well-ventilated area. Silica gel absorb dampness. Wrap cutlery pieces individually and lay side by side, rather than stacked up.
  •  Do not wrap silver in plastic wrap or secure with rubber bands. Do not wrap silver in newspaper.
  • Salt is extremely corrosive to silver; always empty vessels and wash them immediately.
  • Do not use any piece of silver you drink from or flatware you eat off if you see any exposed base metal. This will require re-plating.
  • Do not cut food on a solid silver or silver-plated tray.


  • Tarnish is caused by contact with sulfur compounds, mainly hydrogen sulfide in the air. Tarnish forms more quickly in a humid environment.

  • Regular cleaning is preferable to waiting until heavy tarnish forms
  • Use untreated cotton or nitrile gloves when handling silver – finger prints contribute to tarnishing.

  • Always clean your silver on a sturdy work surface. Cover with a cotton towel, or if the surface is made of wood or other porous material, lay a piece of plastic beneath the towel.

  • Take care while cleaning, and don’t try to rush. When cleaning objects such a candelabrum, support the base from underneath to avoid distortion or breakage of the arms. 

  • To remove tarnish in crooks and crannies, use a Q-tip or wrap a wooden chopstick, Popsicle stick or skewer with a cotton makeup pad or cotton ball.


  • Old toothbrushes and paper towels are not recommended as they may mar the surface. Use cotton balls or cotton makeup pads, the foam sponges that come with many cleaners, or a soft horsehair brush.


So take a little time to make your silver sparkle. In the process, you may gain a newfound appreciation for its beauty. And keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be perfect—in fact a deep tarnish in crevices on ornate silver is considered a mark of character.

Even one piece of silver serving ware will make your Christmas table special. The crested Georgian serving spoon gleaming beside the pudding will be a tradition you’ll want to keep.



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