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So many people would love to collect and display silver objects, but they shy away from silver because it's such a pain to keep it looking good. There are, of course, tricks to keep your silver looking great, with minimum effort.

First, let's explore tarnish. Oh, ha ha, what fun! There are a couple of very easy ways to get rid of tarnish on silver. My favorite one involves no work at all. You'll find that I'm really enamored of solutions that involve no work. So, my number one favorite is the sour milk method. You take a sizable bowl, fill it with milk (no, it doesn't matter whether the milk is whole, 2% or skim), and wait for it to sour.

No, that was a joke.

I'm from New York City. We have no time to wait for the milk to sour. Just squeeze some lemon juice into the milk and the milk will curdle before your eyes. It doesn't even matter how much juice you put in - when you see the milk curdling, you're done. Now, submerge the silver object(s) in the milk so it is completely covered. Now, leave it alone, preferably overnight. In the morning, take it out, rinse it off, dry it and - voila' - you have shiny silver!

My second favorite method of getting tarnish off silver involves a little more work, but it's great when you have a load of flatware to clean. Use your sink or your bathtub, or one of those disposable aluminum foil pans. Line the sink or tub with aluminum foil. Put the silver objects on top of the foil or in the pan in a single layer, so that each piece is touching the foil. Add some baking soda (if you're using a foil pan, dump some baking soda into the pan. Now add very hot water (it doesn't have to be boiling water, but boiling water is okay, too). There will be some great bubbling action when the water hits the baking soda, and it'll all be over in a few seconds. When the bubbles clear, you should see clean shiny silver. Wipe it dry and you're done!

Now, I have to tell you about a popular misconception involving tarnish removal from silver. I was at
an antiques show, speaking on the topic, when an elderly dealer raised her hand and said, "I would never, ever use your methods because they remove a layer of silver from the item!"

So! Someone flunked chemistry in high school, eh? Tarnish is actually a chemical compound formed when the surface of the silver combines with the sulphur in the air. It's called silver sulphide (Surprise!). When you remove the tarnish (the silver sulphide), you MUST remove the silver that is combined with the sulphur, no matter what method you use. So there, Elderly Antiques Dealer Who Probably Funked Chemistry in High School!

So, stop worrying about this, and enjoy your silver. But, don't try this with silver plate. That really is only a fine layer of silver and it will eventually come off, and the underlying base metal will show through. Which is why I never buy silver plate.

Next time, we'll talk about keeping your silver from re-tarnishing so quickly.

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Replies to This Discussion

I really love some of my silverplate items though. Do you have any cleaning recommendations for them?
Crystal,
You're always taking a chance when you clean silver plate. The layer of silver is very thin. I wouldn't try the baking soda method because there's no way to stop the reaction. You could try the sour milk, but keep checking the items so you can pull it out as soon as the tarnish is gone. You could also try the traditional silver polish method, but don't use anything too abrasive.
I can't wait to try your milk method. Sure sounds quick and easy. I like silverplate too, but I also like tarnish on some of my pieces. But for those pieces I prefer to have no tarnish, I look forward to hearing how to keep it from re-tarnishing!!
It's true that some items look better with patina on them. That's why I love the sour milk method. You can pull things out of the milk before the patina is gone from the crevices.
Added a message by mistake, sorry.

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