Silver objects, whether made from sterling silver or silver plate require polishing to maintain their shine. Over time, silver becomes tarnished and scratched. Tarnish is a dark grey or black corrosive coating caused by humidity and sulphides in the air. Polishing removes the tarnish and fades scratches. Expect, however, your silver to acquire some amount of scratches over time. This is part of the patina, a surface coating created from an accumulation of oxidation, cleaning, handling, and even scratches. A well-aged, even patina is considered part of the history and aesthetic appeal of silver.
- Skill level:
- Moderately Easy
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Things you need
- Silver objects of your choice
- Mild soap
- Soft cloths
- Calcium carbonate
- Denatured or ethyl alcohol
- Distilled water
- Cotton swabs
Clean your silver item with soap and water and a soft cloth. Then dry it completely. This initial wash removes any possible accumulation of food, old polish and oils from hands.
Create a runny paste using fine calcium carbonate, also called "whiting," mixed with equal amounts of ethyl or denatured alcohol and distilled water, as recommended by the Benson Ford Research Center.
Rub the polish mixture onto the silver in gentle circles.
Use cotton swabs to polish corners, crevices and other hard to reach areas.
Wash and rinse carefully. Residual polish left on silver will cause deterioration and corrosion.
Rinse one additiona; time. For this final rinse, the Benson Ford Research Center recommends using ethanol or ethanol mixed with distilled water.
Tips and warnings
- Contact a conservator if, after polishing, scratches remain or there are areas with extreme wear or weakness. Professional conservators have the training and specialised equipment to care for your silver. Call your local museum and ask for names of conservators specialising in metals.
- Polish your silver objects gently and infrequently. Over-polishing can degrade the surface, especially if your piece is silver plated, and the details of the decoration.
- Do not handle your polished silver with bare hands. The oils and salts on your fingers will smudge the surface, etch into the surface, and may cause long-term damage. Use gloves or a rag to handle your silver.
- Do not use commercial silver dips. The chemicals in these dips will damage your silver over time.
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