Photograph courtesy I-K Silver
Silver tarnishes when exposed to air. Sulfurs are the strongest tarnishing agents as anyone who has eaten an egg with a silver spoon or fork will know. Even normal handling of silver leaves only salts from our fingers, which then develop into distinct corrosion patterns.
Tarnish is first visible on silver as a yellowish cast which over time deepens to brown and eventually becomes dark iridescent purple/black. Tarnish is easy to remove in its early stages but gets difficult to remove once it has reached the black stage.
IS CLEANING YOUR SILVER FLATWARE A CHORE YOU HATE?
The best way to keep your silver flatware clean and to avoid tarnish is to use your silver! Its beauty increases with use, which causes a patina or soft sheen to form. There are, however, some basic points you may keep in mind:
Tarnish is caused by certain foods that contain sulfides such as eggs, fruit juices, tomatoes, vinegar, ketchup, salt, salty foods, mustard, salad dressings and olives. Do not let silver stand with food on it. Rinse well and dry immediately.
If you use your silverware regularly, store it in a clean drawer free from moisture. If you store your silver for a length of time, place it in either flannel flatware rolls, or in a wooden storage chest with protective lining like silvercloth or seal the interior surfaces of the cabinet with two coats of water-based polyurethane. Avoid using storage cabinets or chests with rubber seals, rubber floor coverings, rubber bands. Any type of plastic (except polyuthylene plastic bag—Ziploc type), tissue paper or newspaper are a strict NO!
Serve foods containing salts and sulfides in china or glass containers. Although flowers and fruit look lovely in the silver containers, the acid produced as they can cause serious damage.
For washing, use a mild, phosphate-free dishwashing liquid and dry and buff your silverware with a soft flannel cloth. No touching please! Always wash your sterling and stainless silver separately, and only store silverware after it has cooled. When dishwashing, avoid lemon-scented detergents, remove the silverware after the last rinse cycle and hand-dry with the soft cloth.
Do not immerse silver pieces with wooden or ivory attachments such as handles or finials as water will harm these materials.
Do not let hollow-handed silverware or hollowware stand in water as a combination of heat, water, and detergent may loosen soldering.
Cleaning or polishing silver while wearing rubber gloves promotes tarnish. Instead, choose plastic or cotton gloves.
Removing tarnish, usually by means of an abrasive polish means removing some of the silver itself. Since silver is softer than many other metals and therefore scratches easily, the trick here is to be gentle.
For silver, which is only lightly tarnished, a polishing cloth is gentlest, as it does not contain a high concentration of abrasives. It ca be used on a regular basis to maintain a shiny appearance.
Home Remedy—To clean off tarnish, coat the silver with Colgate powder kneaded into a thick paste, leave it for 20 minutes, work it into a foam, rinse it off and wipe it clean with a soft cloth. For stubborn stains or intricate grooves, use an old soft-bristled toothbrush. Avoid using pastes which are old or dried out.
After cleaning, unsightly polish residue will be left on the surface unless the object is carefully washed; a soft toothpick or a soft horse hair brush can be used to dislodge residue from crevices.
Silver with deeply "carved" patterns that are enhanced by an oxide or French gray finish should be hand polished with a high quality silver cream or polish. Hand rubbing develops patina on silver, which adds to its beauty.
Ornamental silver pieces that have been lacquered may be washed in lukewarm water; hot water could remove the lacquer.
Whatever product you choose for your silver, don't make the mistake of trying to remove all tarnish; in decorative areas it is meant to enhance texture and relief, and contributes to the aesthetic appearance of the piece. Your silver will continue to give you pleasure if you take proper steps to maintain it by preventing tarnish as much as possible.