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How to Clean & Buff Silverware, Silver Plate Tableware

Cleaning Silver Tableware

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How to Clean & Buff Silverware, Silver Plate Tableware

Silver Tableware (Before)

Photo © Mifflin
How to Clean & Buff Silverware, Silver Plate Tableware

Silver Tableware (After)

Photo © Mifflin

Sterling silver, silver and silver plated tabletop pieces and silverware need to be cleaned and 'buffed' occasionally if you want them to look nice displayed in a buffet or case, or to be table-ready for your next special dinner.

Storing silver in protective paper or bags does help to reduce the risk of tarnish, but just handling your favorite pieces occasionally or exposing to air, can cause tarnishing. So though you can reduce tarnishing with care, it's mostly impossible to eliminate it altogether.

Sometimes we can find some beautiful silver pieces at a flea market or yard sale for bargain basement prices, just because they look dark, dingy and tarnished, badly in need of a cleaning and shining. Understand that you cannot restore areas where the silver plate has worn off, but you can usually remove tarnish and restore the original gleam with a cleaning.

However, good silver cleaning results are dependent on using the right cleaner, a certain amount of scrubbing and a good buffing. And if you defer cleaning for extended periods, the tarnish just gets darker and usually requires a much longer cleaning time. Cut the cleaning time by being proactive and keep your heirlooms and treasured silver pieces gleaming.

If unsure what your silver pieces are, check the bottom. Sterling silver will be clearly engraved on the bottom. Higher quality silver plated items usually have the manufacturer's name along with the letters 'S.P.'; cheaper pieces may have no markings. In the absence of any markings, you can probably assume your tableware is low quality silver plate, which can still be cleaned with satisfactory results.

Here's what you need to get started:

  • Silver cleaning cream. I like the Weiman® or Wright's® brands, but there are others. Read the label to ensure it is safe for silverware, antique silver, fine silver and silver plate. Ensure you have enough cleaner for the task, so you don't have to halt the process to shop for more.
  • Soft rags. You'll need one for applying the cleaner and a clean one for buffing later. Do not use any type of fabric or scrubbers that could scratch your silver items. Old cotton diapers are excellent for this, as is a soft flannel material.
  • Plastic or paper to cover your table or work surface. Cleaners can be harsh on finishes and you do get messy, so wear old clothes too.
  • Plastic gloves are recommended - surgical/medical type are good. These can be found at most hardware or renovation stores.
  • Wear eyeglasses or protective safety glasses to protect your eyes from cleaning formula.
  • You'll need access to warm, soapy water to wash each item (see caution below) and rinse off the cleaner.
  • A soft dry cloth for buffing.

Allow sufficient time for this cleaning task depending on how many pieces you have to clean and the severity of tarnish build-up. That can take anywhere from two hours to a whole evening or afternoon to clean/buff several items. Some cleaners like the Weiman® Silver Cream comes with a sponge to apply the formula (see caution below). You can more easily get the solution into crevices around handles and hinges and into lacy or finely engraved details with a sponge rather than a cloth.

Use a gentle circular scrub action and apply the solution liberally with sponge or soft cloth. Be sure to shake the bottle well before using. You should see tarnish being removed slowly as you scrub. A reapplication or repeated scrub may be necessary. You can usually tell how well the tarnish is removing. Once satisfied with the cleaning, wash the item (see caution below) in warm, soapy water, dry well and shine with a clean, soft cloth.

With care and avoiding leaving fingerprints, return your treasured items to their protective cases or closed cabinet or buffet. Some materials will wash out after cleaning silver, but some rags do not come very clean and must be discarded. A soiled sponge can be returned to the cream container for future application. Alternatively, silversmith's gloves can be used to handle your silver pieces and give them a quick buffing to remove light tarnish build-up.

Gleaming silverware and silver tabletop pieces rarely go unnoticed on a formal table. You can take price of ownership knowing you have taken excellent care of your grandmother's silver tea set or your anniversary serving plate. If you're looking for replacement pieces to complete an old silver set, check www.replacements.com.
Read Reviews of Weiman® and Wright's® Silver Polish & Cleaner

Update January 2014:

After receiving an email from a professional silver cleaner and restorer, I've made some edits to the above, namely replacing my incorrect use of the word 'polish' with the correct term 'buff'. I stand corrected in the use of that word.

He also went on to mention some notable cautions which I believe are important to share and I do respect his professionalism and desire to ensure that consumers get the correct information when it comes to silver care.

The following notes were received from Herman Silver Restoration & Conservation:

  • You wouldn't "polish" with a clean cloth, you would "buff" (edits were made above).
  • Polishing is actually an abrasive technique in removing tarnish. Remember, EVERY silver
    polish abrades to a different degree.
  • If you wash an object that has tarnish protectant built in, it will be removed.
  • You also mention using the sponge that comes with silver polish. I don't because it's synthetic and can scratch. I recommend a cellulose sponge. (excellent recommendation)
  • It's ALWAYS better to take more (time) in removing tarnish with a mild polish than removing it too quickly with a harsher one. Once a polish with course abrasives is used, they will not disappear with a more mild one.
  • You can also find more silver care tips at: Herman Silver Care Tips and resources at: Herman Silver links
  • Find answers to questions at: Herman Silver FAQ's
  • Check out Herman Silver's Abrasion Ratings

Many thanks to Jeffrey for adding professional advice for how to clean silver. And remember, when in doubt - let the professionals like this firm handle it.

If you'd prefer to have a professional restorer handle your priceless silver items, contact Herman Silver Restoration & Conservation. You'll find contact information on their site.


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