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How Does Silver Cloth Work?

Updated November 21, 2016

Silver cloth is a fabric material used to prevent tarnish on sterling silver and silverplate items while they are in storage. According to the Society of American Silversmiths website, tarnish occurs when sulphur compounds in the atmosphere, principally hydrogen sulphide, chemically react with the silver. Other common sources of sulphur compounds include wool, felt, gasoline, motor oil, latex gloves or carpet padding, and certain foods such as eggs, onions and mayonnaise.

What Silver Cloth Does

Silver cloth is impregnated with microscopic particles of silver or zinc. The metal particles in the cloth attract and absorb sulphur compounds before they can reach the silver item being stored, said the silversmiths’ society website.

Long Lasting Stuff

In a tight-fitting storage chest, silver cloth will stay effective for about 20 years before it becomes saturated. Silver cloth, a flannel-like fabric, is sold by the yard to line drawers and chests or to make silver storage bags and wraps. As of 2010, it retails for around £9 a yard.

Part of a System

Silver cloth by itself is only one part of a comprehensive silver protection program, said the silversmiths’ society. Moisture accelerates the tarnishing process, so you should put a drying agent, like silica gel, in your silver storage bags or chests, along with activated charcoal to absorb acidic airborne pollutants that can damage silver.

Widely Available

Silica gel is widely available in small canisters that turn colour when saturated with moisture. Baking the canisters in an oven drives out the moisture so they can be reused. Activated charcoal is the active ingredient in commercial anti-tarnish strips.

Avoid These Things

Some things should not be used to store silver, said the silversmiths’ society. Newspaper and rubber bands should be avoided because they contain sulphur compounds. Plastic food wrap contains chemicals that can damage silver and over time may adhere so tightly that you’d need strong solvents to remove it. Lastly, ordinary cardboard boxes contain acids that aggressively attack silver. Only acid-free archival boxes should be used to store silverware.

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About the Author

Herb Kirchhoff has more than three decades of hands-on experience as an avid garden hobbyist and home handyman. Since retiring from the news business in 2008, Kirchhoff takes care of a 12-acre rural Michigan lakefront property and applies his experience to his vegetable and flower gardens and home repair and renovation projects.