The Secret to Polishing Silver Quickly + Safely

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I’m sure you’ve seen it on Pinterest or in your Facebook feed… quickly polish large quantities of silver using household ingredients.  But, does it work?

I first tried this project around a year and a half ago when, while unpacking, I had set aside my few meager pieces of silver, mostly jewelry and a bowl or two, and set about polishing them with boiling water, baking soda, and aluminum foil.  You can find out about the result of that project in my Pinterest Pipe Bomb post in the archives.  Yep.  It was literally a disaster and a quite dangerous one at that.  My husband and father shook their heads at me saying “that’s literally how you make a pipe bomb”.  They weren’t impressed.

Well, we recently came into some silver in varying shades of tarnish and after staring at them for a few weeks (and wanting them pretty for Chloe’s Royal Ball Birthday Party) I got brave.  I did a bit more research and the results were great this time.  No damage, just gleaming silver with minimal effort.  Take a look at the sparkly results.  The pitcher at the right hadn’t been turned yet for this photo so you can get a great comparison.

The secret to polishing silver with household ingredients

Here’s how to polish silver with household ingredients without blowing up your kitchen:

  1. Boil a large pot of water –– or 4 if you have large pieces like I did.
    Tip: Put a lid on them to make them come to a boil more quickly.
  2. While the water is coming to a boil, line a sink or another large pot with aluminum foil (for the sake of this tutorial, I’ll describe using a sink).  Don’t skip this step, it sounds silly but it’s crucial.
    Tip: Don’t skimp for large pieces, you’ll need to use plenty for a tea set like mine. 
  3. Put your silver pieces into the sink.
    Tip: You’ll want water to get into as many crevasses as possible so place your pieces strategically.  Skip pieces with delicate stones or other finishes, like opals or enamel.  The heat may damage delicate materials.
  4. Once your water is boiling (or very warm), carefully pour it into the sink, making sure to get as much covered in the water as possible.
    Tip:  If your pieces are large like mine, you may need to do one side at a time and rotate them later.  I used tongs to rotate pieces.
  5. Then, add baking soda to the water.  This is the dangerous part where a violent chemical reaction can occur so go slowly until you get the hang of it.  I’ve seen recipes with measured amounts, but basically, if you don’t get much of a reaction through bubbling water and brightening silver, add more.
    Tip: for large batches like mine, you’ll need a lot of baking soda.  I used a large bag instead of the little boxes and added scoops at a time with a 1/2 cup measuring cup.

Rotate pieces to get each side.  You may need to add new aluminum foil or baking soda as you add or rotate pieces.  The water will need to be warm to work well.  The warmer, the more effective.

What’s happening:  Tarnish occurs when silver reacts with air and chemically changes.  That tarnish is a coating of chemically altered silver which has become silver sulfide.  When silver is in contact with both baking soda and aluminum in a warm solution (like water), the sulfur transfers from the silver to the aluminum.  In short, his nifty little science experiment converts your tarnish back into silver.

You’ll make your chemistry teacher and your grandmother happy with this trick.  Just be sure to go slowly and pay attention.  Add the hot water first and baking soda second.  Do not add the baking soda to the pot of boiling water!  Kids tend to be very interested in projects like this.  Make sure you have the hang of it before inviting them over.

Don’t forget to upload your photos in the comments below if you try this project!

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