Jeffrey Herman
Silver Restoration & Conservation
Silver Care © Jeffrey Herman

Jeffrey Herman disclaims any responsibility or liability for damages or injuries as a result of any construction, design, use, manufacture, restoration & conservation advice, or other activity undertaken as a result of the use or application of information contained on this Web site.

Cleaning Silver
Chemical Dips
Electrochemical Reduction
Silver Storage & Display
3M Anti-Tarnish Strips

Sterling & Dishwashers
Salt Shaker Corrosion
Monogram Removal
Leveling a Hinged Lid

Cleaning Silver

Silver, when properly maintained, will yield generations of enjoyment. The following cleaning instructions have been tried and proven in my restoration/conservation studio. These instructions are for those individuals who are maintaining the vast majority of antique and new silver (fine silver, coin, sterling, Britannia, and other alloys) in the world. Gold will be mentioned occasionally because it is generally cared for in the same way as silver. Objects that are silverplated or goldplated over precious metal or basemetal must also be cleaned with the same care as solid metals. Museum conservators generally clean silver and gold in their collections by using a calcium carbonate/denatured alcohol mixture which will not be discussed here, for most individuals would prefer not to spend hours cleaning a teapot! Also, the more technical aspects of silver care have been kept to a minimum and is more appropriate for a general audience. The below polishes are the least abrasive of all commercial polishes on the market and can be found in your local hardware store, department store, pharmacy, or listed distributors.

Silver is tarnished by sulfur-containing materials, particularly hydrogen sulfide (H2S). The most common tarnish-causing elements are wool, felt, food (eggs, onions), rubber bands, latex gloves, and certain paints. Tarnish is accelerated in a humid environment.

3M's Tarni-Shield™ Silver Polish and Twinkle® Silver Polish are the least abrasive of the commercial polishes and Tarni-Shield™ has a more effective tarnish barrier than Twinkle. Goddard's Long Shine Silver Polish and Silver Wash, and Wright's® Anti-Tarnish Silver Polish and Silver Cream (this product offers no tarnish protection) are all recommended in removing heavier tarnish and residue from both silver and gold. If the choice is between a polish that protects better but is more abrasive, and one that does not protect as well but is far less abrasive, go with the less abrasive polish. Polishes that are meant to be washed off are less abrasive because they use a liquid to suspend the abrasive particles.

Use this technique if you are polishing an object WITH porous attachments. Wooden handles & finials, ivory insulators, felt used on the bottoms of candlesticks and compotes can become damaged when introduced to excess moisture. Also, hollow areas that will not dry (beaded rims, handle sockets with minute holes, etc.) or if there is no source of water, use Goddard's Long Shine Silver Polish. Of the polishes listed above, this is the only one that is meant to be allowed to dry and buffed off. A cotton ball should be used and rotated regularly to expose unused surfaces, for elements in the tarnish can be very abrasive and actually scratch the object. Let the polish dry and remove it with a Selvyt cloth (preferred) or cotton dish towel. Selvyt is a lint-free, untreated, 100% cotton wiping cloth which is also excellent for highlighting ornament. Always use the smallest amount of polish necessary. A horsehair brush can also be used in removing dried polish and grime from crevices and ornament on previously polished pieces before repolishing, and after polishing with Goddard's Long Shine Silver Polish. Do this under running water when possible to soften the bristles and aid in the lifting the polish from the object's surface.

Use this technique if you are polishing an object WITHOUT porous attachments. If you are cleaning a piece with no porous attachments, apply Tarni-Shield , Twinkle®, Goddard's Silver Wash, Wright's® Anti-Tarnish Silver Polish or Wright's® Silver Cream with a moist cellulose sponge. If you feel it necessary to protect your hands from moisture, use disposable Nitrile gloves which contain no ingredients to tarnish silver. Rinse the sponge regularly, for elements in the tarnish can be very abrasive. Rinse the object with hot water then dry with a cotton dish towel immediately to avoid spotting.

Use a rouge cloth to restore the original luster to silver and gold which has been dulled by heavy tarnish. Unlike the Selvyt cloth which is untreated, the rouge cloth contains a polishing agent. We advise using untreated, heavyweight cotton inspection gloves to avoid finger prints when cleaning and storing your freshly cleaned objects. After dinner, wash all utensils by hand with liquid detergent and hot water then dry immediately with a cotton dish towel.

Chemical Dips
by Canadian Conservation Institute & Jeffrey Herman

Chemical dips work by dissolving the tarnish on an object at an accelerated rate. Dips are only recommended when heavy, black tarnish cannot be removed with liquid or paste polishes. Chemical dips should be wiped over the object with a cellulose sponge or cotton ball to avoid over cleaning, for submerging the entire piece for long periods will cause pitting of the object's surface and remove factory-applied patinas. This surface will act like a sponge and more readily absorb tarnish-producing gases and moisture.

These dips are made up of an acid and a complexing agent. Acids are corrosive and will damage niello, bronze, stainless steel knife blades, and organic materials such as wood and ivory. These ingredients can be harmful to the user, so be sure to work in a well ventilated area and wear disposable Nitrile gloves. Chemical dips should never be used on objects that have sealed components, such as candlesticks and trophies with hollow feet or teapots with hollow handles. Once the dip leaks into the cavity through small holes or imperfections in the joints, it becomes virtually impossible to wash the chemical out. For these reasons, this cleaning technique is not recommended.

Electrochemical (Galvanic) Reduction
by Canadian Conservation Institute & Jeffrey Herman

This process uses an aluminum or aluminum alloy plate and warm solution of sodium carbonate (washing soda). When the object comes in contact with the plate in the solution, it removes only light tarnish, not the thick, black tarnish produced by years of neglect.

Pitting of the object can occur if the aluminum plate is not periodically cleaned. Another not-so-obvious problem is scratching of the object when in contact with the plate.

Objects cleaned by this method may tarnish more quickly than silver that has been polished, for the object's surface will act like a sponge and more readily absorb tarnish-producing gases and moisture. The solution can also seep into hollow areas such as coffee pot handles, unsoldered spun beads around the tops of lightweight holloware, weighted pieces with minute holes, and any porous attachments. For these reasons, this cleaning technique is not recommended.

Silver Storage & Display
by Canadian Conservation Institute & Jeffrey Herman

All silver objects should be kept clean and free from dust and surface grime.

Tarnish need not be removed from an object before storing, for eliminating heavy blackened tarnish ultimately reveals fresh sterling or fine silver electroplate to be exposed to the elements. The formation of tarnish inside display cases can be kept to a minimum by using water absorbing desiccated silica gel to keep the relative humidity low. Activated charcoal or similar commercial product will also remove tarnishing gases. Certain paints and oils within the case can accelerate the formation of tarnish. For this reason, it is best to seal the interior wood surfaces with lacquer or polyurethane. Latex paint can be used but should be allowed to dry for at least four months.

Tarnishing can be minimized during storage by placing individual silver objects inside polyethylene bags then sealing the bags. It is best to first wrap each piece with non-buffered tissue paper (sulfur-free and of archival quality) to guard against changes in humidity and to prevent transfer of harmful materials from the storage environment to the silver. Tarnish-inhibiting cloths such as Pacific Silvercloth™ are also excellent for wrapping before placing the object in the polyethylene bag. Another approach to protection against tarnish can be achieved by placing small containers of desiccated silica gel and activated charcoal inside the bag. 3M Anti-Tarnish Strips can also be inserted to absorb tarnish-producing gases.

Lacquering or waxing is not recommended for silver because of the difficulties in obtaining an even coating. If the coating has not been applied well, it may be uneven or have streaks and small holes., so that when the object retarnishes, the end result may be worse than if no coating had been applied at all. However, in an open display where surface protection of the object is necessary, a micro-crystalline wax such as Renaissance® Wax is recommended. Keep in mind that this wax will impart a very slight dulling effect on the piece.

3M Anti-Tarnish Strips

3M Anti-Tarnish Strips can also be used to absorb tarnish-producing gases. The strips are made from a 45-lb. paper containing activated charcoal. They guard against corrosion, tarnish, and discoloration, not by emitting fumes or vapors, but by absorbing the airborne pollutants that cause the problem. Because it removes harmful chemicals from the air, rather than giving off gases of its own, objects containing silver, copper, brass, solder, gold, and tin are given excellent oxidation protection. Unlike similar products, the 3M absorbs on both sides of the strip.

Protection time depends on the nature and permeability of the storage container and on the pollution level of the surrounding atmosphere. For normal atmospheres, one 3M Anti-Tarnish Strip in a container will provide the following protection: loosely sealed container (cardboard box, china cabinet, and flatware chest): 6 months; moderately tight seal (lightweight polybag): 12 months; and those containers with a tight seal (low permeability polybag): up to 24 months. A 2"x7" strip will protect an area up to 422 cubic inches, the approximate size of a flatware chest). The strips should be replaced using the above guidelines, for once they are fully saturated with pollutants, the strips themselves will become inactive.

The above topics on Chemical Dips, Electrochemical (Galvanic) Reduction, and Silver Storage & Display were referenced from articles supplied by the Canadian Conservation Institute, Department of Canadian Heritage, 1030 Innes Rd., Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1A OM5, 613/998-3721, Fax: 613/998-4721, Web site:

The articles:

"Silver - Care and Tarnish Removal," CCI Notes No. 9/7 (Ottawa: Canadian Conservation Institute, 1993). This article is not technical. To order this Note, please for current pricing.

"Historical Silver: Storage, Display and Tarnish Removal" by Lyndsie S. Selwyn, Journal of the International Institute for Conservation - Canadian Group, volume 15, 1990, pp. 12-22. To order this Journal, please for current pricing.

"Evaluation of Silver-Cleaning Products" by Lyndsie S. Selwyn and Charles G. Costain, Journal of the International Institute for Conservation - Canadian Group, volume 16, 1991, pp. 3-16. To order this Journal, please for current pricing.


Silver Polishes

3M Tarni-Shield™ Silver Polish & Goddard's Long Shine Silver Polish

Herman's Best Silver Care Products
PO Box 3599
Cranston, RI 02910
800/584-2352, 401/461-3156, Fax: 401/461-3196

Wright's® Silver Polish
J.A. Wright & Co.
PO Box 566
Keene, NH 03431-0566

Twinkle® Silver Polish
S.C. Johnson Wax
Racine, WI 53405

W.J. Hagerty & Sons Ltd, Inc.
PO Box 1496
South Bend, IN 46624
800/348-5162, 219/288-4991

Horsehair Brushes, Heavyweight Cotton Inspection Gloves, Nitrile Gloves, 3M Anti-Tarnish Strips, Flannel Flatware Bags & Rouge Cloths

Herman's Best Silver Care Products
PO Box 3599
Cranston, RI 02910
800/584-2352, 401/461-3156, Fax: 401/461-3196

Selvyt Cloths

Allcraft Tool & Supply Co.
666 Pacific St.
Brooklyn, NY 11217

Sassounian, Inc.
404 W. 7th St., Suite #614
Los Angeles, CA 90014
800/544-4419, 213/627-1206

T.B. Hagstoz & Son, Inc.
709 Sansom St.
Philadelphia, PA 19106
800/922-1006, 215/922-1627

Non-Buffered Tissue Paper

Conservation Materials Ltd.
240 Freeport Blvd.
Sparks, NV 89432
800/733-5283, 702/331-0582, Fax: 800/654-5358

Renaissance® Wax

Cutlery Specialties
22 Morris Ln.
Great Neck, NY 11024
516/829-5899, Fax: 516/773-8076

Pacific Silvercloth Flannel Holloware & Flatware Bags and Drawer Liners

Eureka Manufacturing Co.
47 Elm St.
Norton, MA 02766

Cleaning Silver, 3M Anti-Tarnish Strips, Salt Shaker Corrosion, and Sterling & Dishwashers were authored by Jeffrey Herman.

Sterling & Dishwashers

KEEP SILVER OUT OF THE DISHWASHER! It's that simple. There are two major reasons for keeping your prized sterling and silverplate out of the "chamber of doom:" (1.) Any factory-applied oxidation (the black patina) will eventually be removed, leaving a dull, non-reflective surface. The harsh detergent, combined with the washer's high cleaning temperature, is much too abrasive for silver. (2.) Most older and some repaired hollow-handled knives are repaired with pitch. This low-melting cement will expand with heat, possibly forcing open a thin solder seam, or exploding the knife blade out of the handle. These pieces routinely end up in a silversmith's shop for blade remounting, reoxidizing, and/or refinishing. Sterling, like a fine automobile, must be handled with "TLC." You certainly wouldn't drive your Rolls Royce through a car wash, would you?

Salt Shaker Corrosion

Those crusty corrosion marks on and in your salt shaker can be a real annoyance. One way to avoid this problem from the very start is to empty the shaker after a dinner party and thoroughly wash it; this way the salt doesn't have time to do its damage. Heavily gold plating the interior is the only other way to preserve the finish because gold is impervious to the effects of salt. It is still wise to clean out the shaker at least twice a year and inspect the plate to make sure it has not being abraded by the salt's coarseness.

There is a simple way to remove the corrosion yourself. Do this in a well ventilated area since you will be using ammonia. Silver dips will not perform as well as ammonia. If you are removing corrosion from a salt shaker, pour ammonia into a container, place the shaker inside and cover the container. Let the shaker set for ten (10) minutes, then remove from the container and inspect. If the black corrosion spots remain, place the shaker back in and let stand for another ten (10) minutes and inspect again. Do this until all corrosion is removed.

You may notice a slight graying of the silver. If this occurs, use Hagerty's Silversmiths' Wash, or, if you need something a bit more abrasive, try Bon Ami, which are both more abrasive than the Tarni-Shield , Twinkle®, Goddard's , Wright's®, polishes. First try a generous amount of Hagerty's Silversmiths' Wash on a damp sponge to bring back the surface, inside and outside of the shaker. If Hagerty's is not abrasive enough, try a small amount of Bon Ami cleanser on a wet sponge and lightly rub the inside and outside of the shaker to renew the silver luster. Remember, as in polishing silver, always use the smallest amount of compound to do the job. You should perform the Bon Ami procedure under trickling water in your sink, this way the abrasive qualities of the cleanser dissipate, leaving the silver brighter than if you were to maintain the full strength of the cleanser.

After the corrosion has been satisfactorily removed, use a rouge cloth to bring back the silver's luster, then use Tarni-Shield , Twinkle® Silver Polish, Goddard's Long Shine Silver Polish, or Wright's® Anti-Tarnish Silver Polish on the exterior for protection against the elements. And as stated earlier, the less contact silver has with salt the better.

Monogram Removal

A hand engraved monogram or any type of decorative engraving is part an object's history and unique to that piece. Removing engraving does not always make a piece more salable, especially if the engraving is of high quality--quality seldom seen today with the declining number of outstanding engravers.

Some tips for collectors and antique dealers debating whether or not to have engraving removed: (1.) If it is a tray or hollow piece, rub your fingernail under or inside to determine if the metal is thick enough to have the engraving removed. If you see a slight wave develop as you move your fingernail, the piece is probably too thin. Remember, if the engraving is removed you run the risk of caving in that area with very little pressure. Can you imaging setting a coffee pot on a footed salver and having it sink into the center? (2.) If you have never used a repair service, test the reliability of the silversmith with a small piece of damaged flatware first. A competent smith will do a great job or suggest that the repair not be attempted at all. (3.) If engraving is removed from a hollow form or tray and you would like it reengraved, have it done in a different area where the material is thicker. An engraved area, especially on a thin piece, will be rather weak.

If you must have engraving removed, take the piece to a competent smith, otherwise it may be ruined and the piece devalued. Engraving that has been expertly removed will be undetectable on the surface. Upon removal of deep engraving, on a coffee pot for example, the metal may have to be pushed out from the inside to develop a level surface.

Leveling a Hinged Lid

Teapots, coffeepots, boxes, ink wells, and anything with a hinged top, may become unsettled in the way they sit due to rough treatment. Perhaps you have a piece with a springy top that simply won't sit level. You may be able to rectify this problem yourself. Cut to length and place a flat toothpick between the entire length of the two hinge plates and push, ever so gently, on the sides of the lid with your fingers. Take notice of any movement on the back side of the lid where the hinge palate is attached. If the lid still doesn't sit level, repeat the process by stacking additional toothpicks between the hinge plates.


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