Could your silver use a little more shine? Are you reviving your mother’s, grandmother’s, or great-grandmother’s silver jewelry collection? With a little knowledge, you can get your real silver coin pendant collection, or really, any silver collection looking fantastic. Repeat after me; Identify, Clean, and Polish.
Three Steps: Identify, Clean, and Polish
Is your silver “Fine silver” “Sterling silver” “plated silver” or “alloy?” Look for hallmarks stamped into the silver. Silver jewelry will likely have one of the following stamps:
.999 is Fine silver
.925 is Sterling silver
.925 P and “SP” items are Sterling silver plated,
no stamp? Then you probably have a silver alloy.
English silver items have a language of symbols, and copy-cat symbols making it difficult to decipher plate silver from Sterling silver at a glance. You can learn more about the alphabet of symbols used on English Silver from the What is ? Silver Dictionary.
Once identified, provide the right kind of care for your silver to keep it clean and reduce tarnishing.
Fine silver and Sterling silver – Store in a dark place away from other items. Wash and polish as needed. Watch for oil-caused darkening. If the patina is caused by skin oils, wash the jewelry with a mild degreaser (dish detergent) first. You may not need to polish it at all. Be careful, as polishing can cause scratches. This is especially true of proof coin pendants. Polishing a proof coin will scratch it. Do not polish, or rub clean, proof coins.
Thick silver plating – Store in a dark place away from other items. Protect from the elements. Do not shower or sleep in plated silver jewelry. Clean and dry as needed. Polish sparingly. The plating may be thick at the time of purchase but thins with each polishing session.
Thin silver plating – Store in a dark place away from other items. Wipe clean with a soft cloth after wearing. Protect from the elements. Do not shower or sleep in plated silver jewelry. Clean if necessary. Polish rarely.
German silver and old Tibetan silver – Store in a dark place with similar items. Wash and polish as needed. These alloys are more resistant to scratching but they will scratch under enough pressure. Take care when polishing.
How to Clean Silver Jewelry
Except for proof coins and mirror finishes*, wash your silver with warm water and a gentle degreaser. Do not touch or rub mirror finishes*, instead use canned air to remove dust from mirror finishes, and stop there. For all other silver finishes, washing removes dust, oils, and grime that collects on silver jewelry over time. No matter what kind of silver it is, dust can scratch it, oil can darken it, and grime can cause permanent damage. Use comfortably warm water, a degreasing dish-washing liquid, and your fingers to wash the silver. Do not let the silver soak. Dry it with a soft, lint-free, cotton or soft microfiber cloth.
Using the right cloth can mean the difference between success and failure. A soft cotton cloth or a soft microfiber cloth are appropriate choices for cleaning silver jewelry. Wool, denim, and other heavy fabrics can scratch your silver. Other synthetic fabrics, no matter how soft or smooth do not absorb water or hold polish as well as cotton or microfiber.
Use the right pressure. Have you ever scooped really cold ice cream with a spoon? Chances are the pressure you used to scoop the ice cream bent the spoon. Silver is softer than stainless steel flatware, and too much pressure may damage the silver jewelry.
When cleaning silver a certain amount of pressure is required. You need to press your fingers into the pieces or squeeze a necklace with just enough gentle pressure to cause friction.
Friction creates heat. That tiny amount of heat helps the degreaser and polishing compound work.
How to Polish Silver Jewelry
Step one: Use the right cleaner. Scroll up to read more. Don’t skip that step!
Each kind of Silver or silver responds to different polish.
How to Polish Fine Silver and Sterling Silver
WARNING: Polishing ruins mirror finishes and silver-proof coins. Do not polish mirror finishes.* For all other finishes: In a small dish mix equal parts toothpaste (paste not gel) and lemon juice. Then add half as much salt.
1 tsp toothpaste
1 tsp lemon juice
½ tsp salt.
Mix well, until all the salt dissolves. Use the cloth to scoop a small amount of polish from the dish and start gently rubbing the silver jewelry between your fingers. If there are long stretches of silver, like on the neck of a silver spoon, apply the polish in long strokes in one direction to avoid scratches.
How to Polish Thick Silver Plating
Thick silver plating can be cleaned with the same silver polish used for Fine and Sterling Silver.
How to Polish Thin Silver Plating. In a small dish mix one part vinegar with two parts toothpaste. Then follow the directions for Fine and Sterling Silver.
How to Polish German Silver and Old Tibetan Silver
In a small dish mix equal parts toothpaste (make sure it is a paste) lemon juice and salt. Mix well, until all the salt dissolves. Use the cloth to scoop a small amount of polish from the dish and start rubbing the silver jewelry between your fingers. If there are long stretches of silver, like on the neck of a silver spoon, apply the polish in long strokes in one direction to avoid scratches.
How to Polish New Tibetan Silver
Mix two tablespoons of vinegar, two tablespoons of flour and 1/8th teaspoon of salt. Wear waterproof gloves and polish gently, following the lines and curves of the piece. New Tibetan Silver has a lower silver content than Old Tibetan Silver. The waterproof gloves are an extra precaution because some New Tibetan Silver contains lead, much like Pewter.
How To Polish… A Bonus Tip!
Take your time. When cleaning silver, especially silver jewelry, it is tempting to let an item soak in warm soapy water, to scrub a little harder, or to leave an item sitting in a magic solution. With silver jewelry, you find the greatest rewards through diligence and patience.
How to Clean and Polish Difficult Items
* Mirror Finishes are notoriously difficult to care for, to clean, and cannot be polished. If your mirror finish jewelry has developed a patina and no scratches do not fret. Any patina increases the value of the piece. Do not attempt any washing or polishing to remove the patina. The value of the mirror finish will be lost in your attempt.
Sometimes, Fine Silver and Sterling Silver jewelry seem like they are beyond repair. They are not! If you have an exceptionally tarnished, or dirty item you can bring it back to life. You may find that an extra soft toothbrush can help remove caked-on grime from fine scroll work. That same toothbrush can hold more polish and create greater gentle friction, but you must be careful. Even an extra soft toothbrush can damage the flat surfaces of Fine and Sterling silver.