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Shining Brightly: Silver Care and Display Caring for, Storing and Using Your Sterling and Silverplate Wares: Pamela Wiggins

Decorative sterling silver and silverplated wares can add beauty and elegance to a table or buffet. But what about caring for those pretty
candlesticks, serving trays and chafing dishes? Won't they just tarnish
and become a burden that you'll never use?

Believe it or not, whether you inherited them from a family member or
received them as wedding gifts long ago, those intricately decorated
silver pieces were meant to be used. With regular and proper care, most
silver pieces will stay beautiful for years and years so you can enjoy
them for holiday gatherings, bridal showers, and other occasions where
you want to dress up the table for your guests.

Tarnish: Curing the Culprit

Many people shy away from collecting and using sterling and silverplated
wares due to a fear of tarnish without realizing they can make an
effort to avoid it. What's the most common culprit when it comes to
tarnishing that prety silver? That's an easy answer: humidity.

The ideal level of humidity for storing and displaying silver, according to Caring for Collectibles
by Ken Arnold, is 45 to 50 percent. Since most of us don't live in
museums, it won't always be possible to maintain a constant humidity
level. Making an effort, however, to keep silver out of unusually damp
environments such as attics and basement will certainly help if you live
in a damp climate.

Tips for Storage to Avoid Tarnish

If you're storing silver in a display cabinet, camphor blocks can be
added to help prevent tarnish, but don't let them actually touch the
silver pieces. Special anti-tarnish papers and cloths containing
activated carbon or silver salts can be placed in display cases as well.
You can purchase these items from jewelers or department and specialty
stores where new silver pieces are sold.

There are also special anti-tarnish bags you can buy to place individual
pieces inside. While these do work for the short term, you'll probably
still have to do a little polishing here and there when you take the
pieces out to use them. It won't be nearly as extensive as if you hadn't
taken any measures to prevent tarnish at all, however, so it's worth
the effort.

Avoiding excessive tarnish buildup in the first place is a good idea. This makes cleaning occasionally much easier. However, excessively polishing silver can wear down the finish, especially on silverplated
pieces, so take care not to overdo it.

Steps for Cleaning Silver and Silverplate:

Dusting - First, use a soft-bristled brush or clean cotton cloth
to dust the piece. While this may seem unnecessary, it's important
since dust can easily turn into an abrasive and scratch the finish if
not removed before applying cleaning solutions.

Removing Candle Wax - Candle wax can be removed from a silver
holder by simply running hot water over the area containing the wax. The
softened wax should be easy to pry out with a finger. Never risk
scratching the piece by using a knife or other sharp object.

Washing and Drying - Once all dust and wax are removed, wash the
item by hand with warm water and a gentle dishwashing soap to remove any
food and gunk, but don't soak the silver in water for any length of
time. Rinse the piece well with clean water, distilled is best, and dry
immediately with a soft, lint-free cloth. A hair-dryer set on warm helps
to dry hard-to-reach places.

Prepare for Polishing - Wearing plastic gloves rather than rubber
(rubber can react adversely with the silver), lay the item on a soft
towel work surface. Use a soft cotton cloth or sponge and a good
non-abrasive commercial silver cleaner or polish. Arnold mentions
Goddard's, Gorham's and Wright's as possibilities in his cleaning guide.
Some people find foams and liquids easier to manage than pastes, but
it's really a matter of personal preference.

Applying the Polish - Apply the polish in a gentle circular
motion. For intricate areas, use a cotton-tipped swab to apply the
cleaner. Make sure all polish is removed when you're finished, using
additional cotton swabs if needed. Once the piece looks clean and shiny,
stop polishing even if you're still seeing dark residue on your cloth.
Taking heed of this advice will help you preserve the plating on
silverplated pieces.

Wash Again - Wash the piece again as noted above and dry with a
lint-free cloth. Items not used for food consumption can be waxed with a
thin coat of microcrystalline wax to further protect against
tarnishing, if desired.

An Alternative Cleaning Method

For smaller pieces of silver, like flatware or jewelry, some people
swear by a non-chemical cleaning method accomplished using common
household ingredients. By combining liquid fabric softener, salt and tepid water in an aluminum pan, a solution can be concocted to soak silverware clean.

The amount of ingredients used depends on the size of the pan you are
employing. For a 9 x 13-inch pan, add a couple of inches of water first,
sprinkle enough salt to cover the bottom of the pan (about 1/4 cup) and
then add about half a capful of liquid fabric softener. The water
should be a little cloudy after you add the fabric softener. (My mother
tried this omitting the fabric softener using just salt in a glass pan
lined with alumuinum foil, and that worked pretty well too.)

After soaking for about 15 minutes, check your progress. Soak for
another 15 minutes if needed. Remove each piece from solution as soon as
the tarnish dissolves, rinse with clean water and thoroughly dry with a
soft cloth. Any residual tarnish can easily be removed using a silver
polishing cloth available at most drug and grocery stores.

You can try this cleaning technique on something you do not mind
experimenting with first (a cheap piece of tarnished silver jewelry
works well) to see if you like the result. If you do, move on to other
silver items you'd like to brighten up.

Just keep in mind that you don't want to remove all the patina from
silver jewelry, especially if you want to sell an item any time soon.
Collectors value pieces that show a little age without being totally
consumed by tarnish.


More on Silver and Silverplate from Your Antiques Guide
From Other About.com Guides

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Replies to This Discussion

This is all great information! I'd like to add that candle wax can also be removed by putting the candlestick in the freezer for twenty minutes or so. After that, the wax will come right off. Also, my favorite way to clean sterling silver i to immerse it in sour milk overnight. Rinse and wipe dry the next morning - gorgeous!


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