Cleaning

All the Ways to Clean Silver: Ranked from Worst to Best

From DIY lemons to store-bought cleaners, we did the scrub work for you.

December 14, 2020

If you’re lucky enough to have inherited a set of silver flatware or invested in some ornate candlesticks, you know that its shine can begin to dull and tarnish in as little as a few months. This is actually because household silver (used for jewelry, platters, tea sets, etc.) is a composite of pure silver, which is very soft, and other, stronger metals like copper to create a long-lasting final product.

Tarnish on sterling silver can appear in the form of a yellow-gray or almost black film on the surface of an item, but unlike rust which eats away at metal, tarnish is easily dealt with. Sterling silver, like many other metals, just requires a bit of upkeep to maintain a mirror-like shine. 

Lucky us, when we put out the call, you answered. Based on suggestions from our community, we tried six different methods—some store-bought, some DIY—all on one lucky spoon. Read through our findings below to find out which methods didn’t exactly stack up, and which was the clear winner.

How to Clean Silver Alpha Smoot

Least Effective: Toothpaste

Two readers, QueenSashy and Klrcon, suggested using toothpaste to clean silver—but Boulangere said that it's "abrasive and will scratch the silver, especially if it's not silver plate." Well, it didn’t do all that much. 

  • Definitely the least abrasive cleaner out of this lot, a whitening toothpaste only lightened the tarnish rather than removing it altogether—which, depending on your needs, might be enough.

  • Smell is great and it's not a very annoying thing to get on your fingers because it just rinses off.

  • Cost is minimal (and/or you probably already have it on hand).

Most Aggressive: Hubcap Cleaner

The man who sold me a set of silver-plate utensils (not mad at him, because technically I didn't ask) recommended hubcap cleaner as the best way to get them squeaky clean. 

  • Far and away the most aggressive of the cleaners we tested, hubcap cleaner left the most silvery, shiny section—but stripped away all the good tarnish and even left a strange splotch.

  • Dug up on a back shelf at Home Depot, this wasn't the easiest bottle to source in New York. 

  • Something about rubbing hubcap cleaner on a utensil you wish to eat off of later just feels...wrong. 

Great in a Pinch: Lemon Juice & Baking Soda 

"Oxidation on silver can be cleaned off with lemon juice and baking soda," Rebecca Harvey shared. Easy enough to just reach in the fridge and pantry for these supplies, we set to work. 

  • Relatively abrasive, especially for an all-natural cleaner, this combination removed almost all of the tarnish (even some of the good kind) and left a slightly dulled sheen. 

  • Made by mixing up two common pantry items, this one is something you'll always have on hand—and very easy to come by if you don't.

  • The fizzing effect was great fun. 

How to Clean Silver 

Best Store Bought: Tiffany Silver Polish Spray 

User Claire Smith recommended jewelry cleaner, and others got specific: "I think Wright's silver polish is the best," said Molly Fuller (who was seconded by Boulangere). Chocolate Be raised the bar with her recommendation: "Each and every time you polish silver with anything but Tiffany silver polish (which is very expensive and I don't know if it is still even available) you will be taking some silver off your piece." 

  • Both highly effective and gentle, this silver cleaner removed the brown tinge of tarnish without getting rid of any of the good stuff. 

  • Obtaining it was easy in New York City, where you can just swing by the Tiffany's store even if you're wearing sneakers, but wouldn't be as simple to come by in other markets.

  • Spray feature made it easy to coat a piece quickly, and would have been really nice if you were cleaning a lot at once. 

  • At $20 a bottle, it was the cheapest item in the Tiffany's store, but pricey comparatively. Wright's Silver Cream.

  • With a strength comparable to the Tiffany's cleaner, Wright's was very effective right from the bottle—though it did require a little more time to get a high shine. 

  • Sponge applicator doesn't make total sense when you're cleaning forks rather than earrings, but did the great work of keeping it mostly off your hands. 

  • One of the lower-priced off-the-shelf cleaners, Wright's is easy to obtain at any drug store or pharmacy and consistently low in cost.

Best Overall: Aluminum Foil, Baking Soda & Hot Water

Klrcon insisted that "for silverware the easiest method is the aluminum foil and baking soda trick," which is something we heard from a number of users. "You just dump it in the sink and let it soak and it does a darn good job of getting even heavily oxidized tarnish off if you leave it long enough... Then you just give it a good rinse." 

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Others suggested variations on this solution, ranging from Pegeen's tip "to fill an aluminum pan (or one lined with aluminum foil) with hot water, add salt and baking soda, and stir to dissolve. When you add the silver pieces, a chemical reaction occurs, removing tarnish." to our creative director Alexis' version, which called for just baking soda, stirred into hot water in a pan lined with aluminum foil.

  • A short soak in this solution loosened the dark tarnish so that it rubbed right off, but left just the right amount of lighter coloring that we love.

  • Being mostly water based, it was the least gunky solution to deal with.

  • As the baking soda and foil reacted with the silver, the whole bath gave off a slightly strange, dirty scent.

  • Though it required a bit of set-up—lining a dish with foil, then dumping in baking soda and hot water—we could see how this would be the easiest way to polish a mess of silverware by far.

How to Clean Silver

The Verdict?

While true silver polishes, such as both Tiffany's and Wright's, cleaned the spoon very much to our liking (meaning thoroughly but without excessive abrasion), nothing compared in ease, effectiveness, and lack of mess than the combination of baking soda, hot water, and aluminum foil. It's all-natural, effective because of a chemical reaction (which we geekily love), and seemed impossible to mess up. We also loved how simple it would be for cleaning a whole pile of silver. 

If you happen to live near a Tiffany's and don't mind forking over for a bottle, or have a tub of Wright's on hand for cleaning earrings, they wouldn't be bad in a pinch. Our tube of toothpaste didn't seem very effective, but the real concern would be that every tube is different so the potency would be hard to moniter. Both lemon juice + baking soda and hubcap cleaner were so powerful we'd be scared to try them on good silver—and the latter was just a little gross to consider for untensils.

Here's How to Do It:

  • Line a casserole dish or shallow vessel with aluminum foil (or obtain an aluminum dish).
  • Sprinkle in a generous amount of baking soda.
  • Add the silver pieces, being sure that each piece touches the foil. 
  • Pour hot water on top, wait until it cools, and then remove each piece and rub clean with a rag. 

First photo by Bobbi Lin; all others by Alpha Smoot.

This article has been updated in December 2020 to provide even more (!) silver-cleaning tips. 

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Amanda Sims

Written by: Amanda Sims

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25 Comments

Beverly C. January 5, 2021
This is a fairly comprehensive list that I have relied on. I have silver from the 1700's and 1800's and was caring for it incorrectly, including using Tarn-x. (stupid me).
https://www.hermansilver.com/silver-polish-abrasion-ratings.htm
 
Penny H. January 5, 2021
When I downsized I gave my silverplate to my daughter. Now I have "stainless" steel but some of the pieces have turned almost black. It doesn't come off and I have now idea how it happened. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
 
Hedy January 5, 2021
My husband the physicist says the aluminum foil method deposits aluminum film on a dirt spoon. This is not cleaning the silver. This method when it's promoted makes him mad. I'm fairly neutral :)
 
[email protected], December 26, 2020
I tried the foil lined pyrex and soda. I find that Hagerty Silversmiths wash OR Magic Wadding is superior and faster
 
susan N. December 22, 2020
Store your silver with camphor blocks. (i found mine at the pharmacy in 5 points Raleigh NC.) And i keep all my silver- candlesticks, serving pieces in one of those clip-lock plastic boxes.(The smell will clear your sinuses!)
 
potstirrer December 20, 2020
I’d love some tips for polishing copper cookware - I’ve tried everything on my Mauviel and find the only thing that works is bringing a dish in the deepest pot to dinner at my mother’s house. It comes back shiny and spotless!
 
Cgraeff December 19, 2020
I’ve been using the hot water aluminum foil baking soda and in my case white vinegar for many years and it is just great. For large pieces and small. Are usually do the large pieces before the holidays in the fall and then every 3-4 months, polish lightly with Wright’s silver polish just to keep them from getting too tarnished. A couple times a year I will do small pieces that we use throughout the year and even things like belt buckles and some jewelry. You can’t beat it.
 
Cgraeff December 19, 2020
And, I should mention, I have used disposable aluminum turkey roaster pans and filled them with hot water, soda and vinegar. That way you just throw away the whole pan when you’re done and it works for larger pieces with less mess. Don’t try boiling the water in the pan on the cooktop though. They are not that sturdy.
 
potstirrer December 17, 2020
I am a collector of old silver - including antique serving pieces, Revere bowls, candlesticks and flatware - in addition to the many sterling snowflake ornaments my mother has passed down to me from The Met and Tiffany (most marked by date in the '70s). My mother swears by Twinkle. I can occasionally coerce her to come over and polish if there is a good bottle of Sancerre involved, as she kind of likes the process of elbow grease, wine and gossip. However, I decided at Thanksgiving that 2020 is the year of tarnished silver and I'm not even polishing the ornaments. I feel like this is on par with what Alison Roman said in her most recent email: "Who the F cares at this point?" It feels almost weird to set a table with sparkling flatware and candles...THIS is what "Good Tarnish" means....
 
elizabethcollins December 14, 2020
what is this "good tarnish" you keep mentioning?
 
carswell December 17, 2020
If you have vintage pieces you don't really want to strip them of ALL their patina. It's nice to leave a little dark in the crevices if your piece is heavily chased in order to emphasize details.
 
Ellen B. April 5, 2017
I use this method for all my silver. However, I use washing soda, not baking soda. I never add salt because that pits the silver.
 
tnypow January 15, 2017
OMG! I've got to try the baking soda + hot water + aluminum method. I have two "chests" worth of silverplate that were my mom's and grandmom's.
 
Ann L. March 10, 2016
My longtime favorite for sterling and antique silverplate (I collect both) is Maas metal polish, available on Amazon. An antique dealer in California put me on to it to clean carbon steel knives, and after that I used it for everything metal. It is a messy job, but I use disposable robber gloves, old undershirts, and an apron reserved for that task. The silver in my dining room gleams afterwards!
 
John K. March 10, 2016
Save the soft sponge that is inside your Dobie pad after the plastic mesh wears out. Stop at your local motorcycle shop and get tubes of Wenol and Simichrome. Wenol is slightly more abrasive than Simichrome so use that to remove heavy tarnish and then Simichrome afterwards when your silver needs repolishing. If you have really heavy dark tarnish on an intricate gadroon silver piece and the sponge just isn’t cleaning everything, carefully use a high-speed Dremel tool with a felt point while always moving quickly to avoid buffing too much silver plate off. Be sure to wear safety eye protection too as the Wenol flies off the spinning Dremel tool if you smear too much polishing paste on the silver piece.
 
fitzie January 9, 2016
The more you use sterling the less often you will need to polish it. Its the pieces left in the drawer that tarnish.
 
Mahananda L. January 6, 2016
I have a set of brass utensils! that need to be polished! I don't care for the oil based cleaners! Would soda and aluminum foil do the trick? Thank you for sharing the cleaning tips for silver, which will serve me well! when needed!
Happy New Year to the kitchen lovers! My personal joy where herbal recipes for food to baths keeps me cleaning and organize driven! ?
 
Picholine January 6, 2016
Why shouldn't we use Tarnex?
 
tinybrown January 6, 2016
There is a product called "Nevr-Dull" that is not abrasive, but gently dissolves tarnish. Available at hardware stores, comes in a black tin, and works on any kind of metal. Cape Cod Silver Polish is another non-abrasive type. Both are excellent.
The aluminum-baking soda method works best if the aluminum is not smooth, so crumpling the foil a bit helps the tarnish adhere to it during the process. Also, this is a GREAT method to clean old metal kitchen utensils, not just silver. It really dissolves grease and crud on antique spatulas, etc.
 
Jessica October 2, 2015
What is "good" tarnish?
 
Patricia F. August 21, 2015
I used this method 50 years ago. I learned it in my high school Home Ec class. Mom was hesitant for me to use it again as she thought it may take away too much silver from our inexpensive silver-plate. I'm glad to hear it is the best method. One tip: In class, we were told to put silverware in a pot that would accommodate the largest silver piece, cover with water, loosely roll aluminum foil into a few balls, and when water boils, add baking soda. I can't remember the measurement of baking soda but a tablespoon would be plenty. I think I'll go "polish" some silverware right now!
 
Renee Z. August 21, 2015
The foil and baking soda, hot water method you posted I have been using for years but my "recipe" also includes liquid fabric softener! Just a capfull!