Disclaimer: We are providing below information that may be useful to you as you care for your sterling flatware. This information was gleaned from several reliable sources but we make no claim regarding its validity. We assume no responsibility for any damage caused by using the techniques and materials described herein.
We recommend that you gather information from a number of sources before embarking on your own silver maintenance program. "Sterling" silver, by definition, is 92.5 percent pure. An item stamped "sterling" must contain 92.5 percent silver and 7.5 percent copper. When silver is exposed to air, it develops tarnish, or a dark film. If the air has a high sulfur content, the silver will tarnish faster.
The effect of sulfur can be demonstrated easily by eating a boiled egg with a silver fork. If the fork is not washed, the sulfur in the egg will cause the fork to tarnish dramatically within a few hours. Many silver enthusiasts, including us, believe that slight tarnish adds to the patina of a silver piece (See our earlier post, When is Tarnish a Positive Thing?). If a piece has an intricate design, tarnish deep in the pattern helps define the outline and depth of the pattern.
On the other hand, too much tarnish can detract from the beauty of a piece and make it look "dirty". In addition to the natural impact of air on silver, other "enemies" abound. One to watch out for is rubber. It can etch silver so badly that professional repair may be required. (See our earlier post, Avoid Rubber!). Don't store silver anywhere near rubber. Damage can also be caused by salt, olives, salad dressing, vinegar, fruit juices and, of course, eggs. Wash your sterling items as soon as possible after these foods have been served.
There are several methods for cleaning silver. We focus primarily on sterling flatware in this article but the methods may apply to other silver pieces as well. Hand rubbing develops patina on silver which adds to its beauty. Use plastic or cotton gloves when polishing your sterling. Remember, AVOID RUBBER GLOVES.
Routine Sterling Flatware CareSilver is easily scratched so never use harsh abrasives. Using your flatware frequently is a good way of deterring tarnish. After use, wash flatware as soon as possible. If it can't be washed quickly, at least rinse it. Don't let food stand on it.
Wash in warm sudsy water with a phosphate-free detergent. Rinse well and dry immediately. Do not let hollow handled pieces such as knives stand in water. The combination of heat, water, and detergent may loosen soldering. (See our earlier post, Washing Sterling Flatware in a Dishwasher).
Polishing Sterling Flatware
We use two types of commercial products to condition sterling flatware. We are not endorsing the products mentioned; they simply happen to be the ones we have used recently.
Light Duty Conditioning: For sterling flatware that has been well-maintained but has light tarnish or very light abrasions, we use a product like "Merit Silver Polish". Light rubbing with a product like this reconditions the flatware easily. We use this process for our personal flatware.
Heavier Duty Conditioning: For pieces that have heavy tarnish, more abrasions and perhaps some minor blemishes, we use a product like "Wenol Metal Polish". Heavier rubbing may be required to remove the blemishes but they disappear most of the time (See our earlier post, Cleaning: Chemical Dips).
StorageStore flatware in a chest lined with tarnish-resistant flannel. If you don't have a chest, you can use an air-tight plastic bag. Handle flatware with care to avoid nicks and heavy scratches; knife blades and other metals can do damage if they come in contact with sterling flatware.
Keep humidity levels low in your storage area by adding desiccated silica gel to your storage drawer or cabinet. To keep your storage area free of gases known to cause tarnish, add a few capsules or small dish of activated charcoal.
Pre-treat each piece with a tarnish-retardant polish when storing for long periods of time. Specially treated cloth bags or anti-tarnish strips work well, too. When a cloth bag is not an option, you can provide further protection to silver and silver plated items by wrapping your prized pieces separately in plastic cling wrap.
Add a single piece of white chalk to the drawer or cabinet where your silver is stored; white chalk prevents tarnish.
Use your sterling flatware frequently and care for it properly and regularly. It will please your family for generations.
Other Information Sources Regarding Care of SilverSociety of American Silversmiths
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