In my jewelry business, I specialize in designs using vintage medals, watch fobs and lockets. (See www.TamaraJewelry.com) I find these antique pieces, some of them well over a century old, at estate sales and auctions in Britain and throughout Europe. The sterling medals are often dirty and badly tarnished by the time they make it into my hands.
I’ve often been asked how I get them so shiny, so I thought I’d share my technique. To be sure, there are many commercial polishes available, and I’ve tried several of them with varying degrees of success. But they can be costly, messy and not only aren’t “green,” but can mar the finish of antiques. The method that has worked best for me uses items that you probably have in your kitchen right now. This process will work on any sterling or silver plated piece, including flatware, napkin rings, jewelry, etc., and is especially good for removing tarnish from chains and other intricate or difficult to polish pieces.
Using a heat safe plate or dish, place a piece of aluminum foil on the bottom. For larger pieces, use a Pyrex bowl.
Place the piece to be cleaned on top of the foil. Cover the piece liberally with baking soda.
Then pour very hot water (near boiling is okay) to cover the piece. It will bubble a bit and smell not so pleasant. It is important that the silver piece is completely covered with water and that it comes in contact with the aluminum foil.
If necessary, use a wooden chopstick to keep the silver in contact with the foil. The foil and baking soda create a chemical reaction that transfers the tarnish away from your silver and on to the foil. (Using a metal fork or tongs might cause the tarnish to transfer to the tool rather than to the foil.) Leave the silver in the solution for a few minutes, then rinse with cool water.
If your silver still looks grimy, use an old toothbrush and more baking soda to scrub away any dirt and tarnish in the nooks and crannies.
Take care when working with jewelry. For instance, never pour hot water over glass beads, which might crack or break in the heat. Also hot water can remove the pearly cover of faux pearls, as well as the glue used to adhere them, so be sure you know what you’re working with before you dip! And although it’s widely recommended to never get genuine pearls wet (wait, they were ‘born’ in water!), I have been known to use this technique with freshwater pearls on sterling chains. Be careful and test an area near the back of the necklace if you’re not sure.
Using baking soda is a very gentle and easy way to clean old pieces; it’s a good abrasive that won’t scratch silver. I’ve been using it for years, and now you can too!
EricSeptember 24, 2013 at 12:50 pm
I found a silver ring with gemstones at the beach with my metal detector. It is badly tarnished from sitting in the sand for so long. Will this damage the gemstones in the ring?
tamarajewelrySeptember 24, 2013 at 2:57 pm
Hi Eric! It shouldn’t damage the stones — if they’re indeed ‘stones’ and not glass or crystal. The one thing you might need to watch is the water temperature. Boiling water could crack the stone. So just to be sure, try hot tap water to begin with. It should work just fine. And congrats on your beach combing find!
EricSeptember 24, 2013 at 3:11 pm
They aren’t real diamonds. They are probably cubic zirconium. Is it still okay to do your process?
tamarajewelrySeptember 24, 2013 at 3:23 pm
Yep, I think you’re fine! CZs should be able to tolerate pretty hot water. Good luck, and let me know how it goes!