Could your silver use a little more shine? Are you reviving your mother’s, grandmother’s, or great-grandmother’s silver jewelry collection? These tips can get any silver collection (even the silverware) looking fantastic. Repeat after me; Care, Clean, and Polish.
Caring for your silver jewelry
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 cause by skin oils, wash first. You may not need to polish it at all. Be careful, as polishing can cause scratches.
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 still remember to take care when polishing.
Cleaning your silver jewelry
Except for 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 other finishes, washing removes dust, oils, and grime that may have collected on the silver jewelry. 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, Dawn dish-washing liquid, and your fingers to wash the silver. Do not let the silver soak, and dry it with a soft, lint-free, cotton 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 similar heavy fabrics can scratch your silver. Other synthetic fabrics, no matter how soft or smooth do not remove water or hold polish appropriately and will increase the time it takes to maintain your silver jewelry.
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.
Polishing your silver jewelry
Use the right cleaner. Each kind of Silver or silver responds to different polish.
➡️Fine Silver and Sterling Silver. WARNING: Mirror finishes will ruin with polishing. Do not polish mirror finishes.* For all other finishes: In a small dish mix equal parts toothpaste (make sure it is paste not gel) and lemon juice. Then add half as much salt. For example, one teaspoon of toothpaste, one teaspoon lemon juice and ½ teaspoon 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.
➡️Thick silver plating. Thick silver plating can be cleaned with the same silver polish used for Fine and Sterling Silver.
➡️Thin silver plating. In a small dish mix one part vinegar with two parts toothpaste. Then follow the directions for Fine and Sterling Silver.
➡️German silver and old Tibetan silver. In a small dish mix equal parts toothpaste (make sure it is a paste) lemon juice and salt. For example, one teaspoon of each. 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.
➡️New Tibetan silver. Mix two tablespoons of vinegar, 2 tablespoons of flour and 1/8th teaspoon of salt. Wear waterproof gloves and polish gently, following the lines and curves of the piece.
Bonus tip? Take your time. When cleaning silver, especially silver jewelry, we are all tempted to let an item soak in warm soapy water, to scrub a little harder, or to leave an item sit in some kind of magic solution. With silver jewelry you find the greatest rewards through diligence and patience.
* Mirror Finishes are notoriously difficult to care for, to clean, and cannot be polished. If your mirror finish jewelry has 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.
Other pieces of Fine 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.
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