Cleaning sterling silver involves removing tarnish and then polishing the piece to bring out the shine. Tarnish is the oxidization that occurs when air-borne sulfurs and chlorides are present, causing a yellowish cast on the sterling silver. If left without being cleaned, the tarnish becomes brown and eventually turns a dark and iridescent purple/black. It's best to remove tarnish in its early stages with frequent, light cleanings. Silver that's used frequently and washed carefully will require infrequent tarnish removal. Remember to treat your silver gently, as it's a soft metal [source: BishopMuseum].
Here are some ways to clean sterling silver:
- Remove gritty or greasy dust and dirt by gently washing your silver with a non-lemon-scented dish soap. Dry and buff the silver with a soft, clean cloth.
- Remove light tarnish with a liquid non-abrasive, unscented aloe-free hand sanitizer, such as Purell, or Windex with vinegar. Moisten a large cotton ball and rotate it regularly as you clean the tarnish. Dry the silver with a cotton dish towel.
- Remove light tarnish, with a special "polishing cloth."
- Remove darker tarnish with a commercial silver cleaner. Don't use a product for copper or brass, as it might be too abrasive and leave scratches on the silver [source: BishopMuseum].
- Remove tarnish via electrochemical (galvanic) reduction. Submerge aluminum or an aluminum alloy plate in a warm baking soda solution. When the silver comes into contact with the plate in the solution, the tarnish vanishes. This method may scratch your silver, and silver cleaned this way may tarnish more quickly than silver that's polished.
- Remove tarnish inside a teapot or coffeepot with a five-minute denture cleaning tablet. Fill the teapot or coffeepot with two cups of warm water and add the denture cleaning tablet. Submerge your tarnished silver, and let it stand for ten minutes. Rinse the silver with warm water [source: Herman].
Keep your silver clean by avoiding contact with salt, lemon, egg, mustard, mayonnaise and rubber. Wrapping sterling silver in acid-free tissue and storing it in silver cloth or a sealed polyethylene plastic bag will help prevent tarnish [source: estes-simmons].