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Caring for Silver: Do's and Don'ts

March 2012

Silver is a soft metal; it is easily dented, scratched or damaged. Always take care when handling it.

Touch your silver pieces as little as possible as fingerprints accelerate tarnishing.

All silver exposed to air will tarnish over time. Sulphur compounds - mainly hydrogen sulphide in the atmosphere – react with the metal and cause the surface to darken. Certain substances, however, cause tarnish to develop more quickly; these include wool, newspaper, rubber, paint, velvet, carpet padding and felt.

 

 

Silver is also tarnished by certain foodstuffs; including vinegar, eggs and brussell sprouts. Salt is particularly corrosive. Always wash silver saltshakers after use.

Every time a piece of silver is cleaned or polished a very small layer of the silver is removed. Minimizing the need for cleaning will therefore help preservation. Keeping silver in acid free tissue paper reduces the buildup of tarnish.

Dust, dirt and light tarnish can be removed by washing in soapy water; however pieces must then be thoroughly rinsed and immediately dried with a soft cloth or a hair dryer on a very low heat. Gentle buffing with a Silver Cloth will also remove light tarnish. (Never use a metal sink to wash pieces as the metal can scratch the silver.)

There are numerous silver cleaners available on the market for the removal of more stubborn tarnish; however, they are all abrasive to greater and lesser degrees, so if your piece is precious or you are concerned about damaging it, then consult an expert for advice.

Conservation Housekeepers and conservators will often use a calcium carbonate mixture to clean precious silver items. Although this method is quite time consuming – because it is so gentle - it causes the least damage to the silver itself and is recommended for fragile of valuable pieces.