Polishing silver

As the Thanksgiving holiday is approaching, you’re undoubtedly starting to think about setting a pretty table for your family meal. In many homes, this means using the heirloom china and silver. In fact, this is one of our favorite things about holiday meals – carrying on those traditions from generation to generation. The people around the table grow up, move away, move back home (oops!), etc., but great grandma’s china or great aunt Blanche’s beautiful antique silver remains on the table, year after year, connecting us to Thanksgivings past.

With all that sentimentality and history, it would be a shame to open up the silver drawer to set the table for Thanksgiving dinner, only to discover that the silverware is all black and tarnished! Don’t let this happen to you! Make this the year you have all your silver polished and ready to go before the turkey is even in the oven!

Tips for polishing silver from the Society of American Silversmiths:

  • Gently wash and dry your silver immediately after use. Use a non-lemon-scented phosphate-free detergent and, to avoid water spots, towel-dry using a soft cotton dish towel. Silver that is used frequently and washed in this manner will require infrequent tarnish removal.
  • While washing, do not allow silver to come into contact with a metal sink, as that can cause scratching. Line the sink with a towel for protection.
  • Tarnish is easily removed when first noticed (usually as a yellowish tint), and will become increasingly difficult to deal with as it turns to light brown and eventually black. Occasionally washing an object with a non-lemon-scented phosphate-free detergent is preferred to waiting until tarnish forms and gets so stubborn that polishes have to be employed. (All polishes have some degree of abrasion.) If you start to see very light tarnish that can sometimes only be detected when the object is viewed against a white piece of paper, Windex with vinegar or a liquid, non-abrasive, unscented, aloe-free hand sanitizer, such as Purell, may remove the tarnish. Use a large cotton ball and rotate it regularly to expose unused surfaces, as elements in the tarnish itself can be very abrasive; then dry the piece with a cotton dish towel. Try this technique first, as it is the least abrasive of all silver cleaning methods.
  • If your piece is more tarnished, use one of the commercial silver cleaners, some of which provide tarnish protection. Use the least abrasive product possible. Polishes that are meant to be washed off are less abrasive because they use a liquid to suspend the polishing ingredients.

More tips for silver polishing:

  1. To avoid damaging your silver, clean it only when you don’t feel rushed. This can prevent accidental damage and ensure everything is completely clean.
  2. Use gloves when handling silver – finger prints contribute to tarnishing.
  3. Always support a teapot or coffeepot by the bottom when holding it by the handle.
  4. Use only polishes made specifically for silver. Never use toothpaste to polish silver.
  5. Cleaning silver in a dishwasher is not advised, as the heat and harsh detergents will eventually whiten the silver, causing it to require professional refinishing. In addition, dishwashers can damage hollow-handled utensils.
  6. Salt is extremely corrosive to silver; always empty shakers and wash them when not used on a regular basis.
  7. When cleaning or inserting a candle into a candelabrum, support the arms from underneath to avoid bending or breaking the arms.

Here’s to your pretty holiday table, gleaming with silver!

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