When I was a kid, we would clean our grandmother’s antique water pitchers and silverware before every holiday dinner. I remember using some funky smelling cream that we’d rub on the silver until the black tarnish moved onto the cloth. We’d wash the silver before we used it, but who knows how much of the polish was left behind.
We didn’t use that same polish for our jewelry, though. We used a really strong-smelling liquid instead. You just dip the jewelry for a few seconds, pull it out, and voila! It was clean. It burned the hell out of my eyes, but that meant it was really working, right?
Actually “stealing” might be a better word than “working”. Those chemical creams and dips are not only toxic, but they’re also thieves. You think they’re doing you a favor by removing the tarnish and making your silver all shiny, but they’re really pinching some of the silver molecules while they work.
Reversing the silver tarnish
Instead of removing silver along with the tarnish, you can simply reverse the tarnish with baking soda, water and aluminum foil.
Aluminum foil is immersed in a mix of baking soda and water. When the silver touches the baking soda and aluminum, a natural reaction happens… a very cool and completely safe natural reaction that transfers the tarnish — and only the tarnish — from the silver to the aluminum foil.
The silver molecules remain completely intact, so your jewelry and fine dining pieces do not degrade over time. Here’s how you do it.
Polishing silver naturally
First, line a glass baking pan with aluminum foil and lay it in the kitchen sink to avoid spills. Then line the pan with flatware, jewelry, coins or other silver, ensuring that each piece of silver physically touches the aluminum.
For small pans, add four cups of boiling water followed by a quarter cup of baking soda. You can double or triple the recipe, as needed, to ensure the silver is completely covered with water.
Once the mixture is added to the pan, it will begin to foam. This is normal and safe. The tarnish will rapidly begin to disappear and you may see the resulting aluminum sulfide form yellow flakes and stick to the foil.
Lightly tarnished silver will be restored in several minutes, while heavily tarnished silver may require a few treatments. Once the silver is clean, remove it from the pan, rinse it with clean water and dry with a soft cloth. Rinse the used baking soda down the drain and put the foil in the recycle bin.
It’s best to only use this cleaning method on plain silver that does not have any stones or gems, because over time the reactions can loosen the glue or resin that hold them in place.