How to Clean your Pewter

Written by sandra corbitt-sears
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How to Clean your Pewter
Antique pewter is heavier than modern pewter due to its lead content. (Hemera Technologies/ Images)

Modern pewter is a soft metal, an alloy made with tin that is hardened with the addition of copper and antimony. Originally, pewter was hardened with lead. After long-term exposure to lead was discovered to cause brain disorders, its use in making pewter was discontinued. Antique pewter pieces continue to be in demand as collectibles. Lead-based pewter pieces, which become very dark as they tarnish, and lead-free pewter, which tarnishes slowly, have different cleaning requirements.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Dish pan
  • Dish soap
  • Soft cloth
  • Whiting
  • Boiled linseed oil
  • 4/0 steel wool
  • Rottenstone
  • Denatured alcohol
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 cup vinegar

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    Lead-Based Pewter

  1. 1

    Clean the pewter in a dishpan filled with warm, soapy water to remove dirt and oil. Blot it dry with a soft cloth.

  2. 2

    Clean darkly tarnished pewter with a paste made from whiting and boiled linseed oil. Rub it onto the surface with a piece of 4/0 steel wool. If the pewter has a dull finish, make a paste from rottenstone (decomposed limestone) and boiled linseed oil. Rub it onto the pewter with a soft cloth. Polish brightly finished pewter by using a soft cloth to rub a paste of whiting mixed with denatured alcohol onto the surface.

  3. 3

    Wash the pewter piece in hot, soapy water to remove all traces of the polishing paste. Rinse the item in hot water and dry it thoroughly.

    Lead-Free Pewter

  1. 1

    Gently dust the pewter item with a soft cloth. This step is often all that is needed to keep lead-free pewter in good condition.

  2. 2

    Wash pewter in warm, soapy water if it has been used with food. Dry gently with a soft cloth.

  3. 3

    Mix 1 tsp salt, 1/2 cup flour and 1 cup vinegar into a paste. Rub the mixture into the pewter and rinse.

  4. 4

    Wash the pewter piece in warm, soapy water once more, and dry it thoroughly.

Tips and warnings

  • Make only enough polishing paste for one use. Place a small amount of the dry ingredient in a small bowl and mix in small quantities of the liquid ingredient until a paste forms.
  • Rub pewter in only one direction when polishing.
  • Some pewter enthusiasts suggest that the best way to clean pewter is to rub the surface with a fresh cabbage leaf.
  • Do not use silver polish to clean pewter.
  • Use caution in deciding whether or not to remove the dark patina of antique pewter, as it may decrease the value of the piece to collectors.
  • Do not use lead-based pewter for serving or eating food or drink.
  • Do not leave acidic food in or on pewter pieces for more than six hours, as it can cause discolouration.
  • Do not soak pewter pieces in water for long periods of time, and do not wash them in a dishwasher.

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