If you’re lucky enough to have inherited a set of silver flatware or invested in some ornate candlesticks, you know that its shine can begin to dull and tarnish in as little as a few months. This is actually because household silver (used for jewelry, platters, tea sets, etc.) is a composite of pure silver, which is very soft, and other, stronger metals like copper to create a long-lasting final product.
Tarnish on sterling silver can appear in the form of a yellow-gray or almost black film on the surface of an item, but unlike rust which eats away at metal, tarnish is easily dealt with. Sterling silver, like many other metals, just requires a bit of upkeep to maintain a mirror-like shine.
Lucky us, when we put out the call, you answered. Based on suggestions from our community, we tried six different methods—some store-bought, some DIY—all on one lucky spoon. Read through our findings below to find out which methods didn’t exactly stack up, and which was the clear winner.
Least Effective: Toothpaste
Two readers, QueenSashy and Klrcon, suggested using toothpaste to clean silver—but Boulangere said that it's "abrasive and will scratch the silver, especially if it's not silver plate." Well, it didn’t do all that much.
Definitely the least abrasive cleaner out of this lot, a whitening toothpaste only lightened the tarnish rather than removing it altogether—which, depending on your needs, might be enough.
Smell is great and it's not a very annoying thing to get on your fingers because it just rinses off.
Cost is minimal (and/or you probably already have it on hand).
Most Aggressive: Hubcap Cleaner
The man who sold me a set of silver-plate utensils (not mad at him, because technically I didn't ask) recommended hubcap cleaner as the best way to get them squeaky clean.
Far and away the most aggressive of the cleaners we tested, hubcap cleaner left the most silvery, shiny section—but stripped away all the good tarnish and even left a strange splotch.
Dug up on a back shelf at Home Depot, this wasn't the easiest bottle to source in New York.
Something about rubbing hubcap cleaner on a utensil you wish to eat off of later just feels...wrong.
Great in a Pinch: Lemon Juice & Baking Soda
"Oxidation on silver can be cleaned off with lemon juice and baking soda," Rebecca Harvey shared. Easy enough to just reach in the fridge and pantry for these supplies, we set to work.
Relatively abrasive, especially for an all-natural cleaner, this combination removed almost all of the tarnish (even some of the good kind) and left a slightly dulled sheen.
Made by mixing up two common pantry items, this one is something you'll always have on hand—and very easy to come by if you don't.
The fizzing effect was great fun.
User Claire Smith recommended jewelry cleaner, and others got specific: "I think Wright's silver polish is the best," said Molly Fuller (who was seconded by Boulangere). Chocolate Be raised the bar with her recommendation: "Each and every time you polish silver with anything but Tiffany silver polish (which is very expensive and I don't know if it is still even available) you will be taking some silver off your piece."
Both highly effective and gentle, this silver cleaner removed the brown tinge of tarnish without getting rid of any of the good stuff.
Obtaining it was easy in New York City, where you can just swing by the Tiffany's store even if you're wearing sneakers, but wouldn't be as simple to come by in other markets.
Spray feature made it easy to coat a piece quickly, and would have been really nice if you were cleaning a lot at once.
At $20 a bottle, it was the cheapest item in the Tiffany's store, but pricey comparatively. Wright's Silver Cream.
With a strength comparable to the Tiffany's cleaner, Wright's was very effective right from the bottle—though it did require a little more time to get a high shine.
Sponge applicator doesn't make total sense when you're cleaning forks rather than earrings, but did the great work of keeping it mostly off your hands.
One of the lower-priced off-the-shelf cleaners, Wright's is easy to obtain at any drug store or pharmacy and consistently low in cost.
Best Overall: Aluminum Foil, Baking Soda & Hot Water
Klrcon insisted that "for silverware the easiest method is the aluminum foil and baking soda trick," which is something we heard from a number of users. "You just dump it in the sink and let it soak and it does a darn good job of getting even heavily oxidized tarnish off if you leave it long enough... Then you just give it a good rinse."
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Others suggested variations on this solution, ranging from Pegeen's tip "to fill an aluminum pan (or one lined with aluminum foil) with hot water, add salt and baking soda, and stir to dissolve. When you add the silver pieces, a chemical reaction occurs, removing tarnish." to our creative director Alexis' version, which called for just baking soda, stirred into hot water in a pan lined with aluminum foil.
A short soak in this solution loosened the dark tarnish so that it rubbed right off, but left just the right amount of lighter coloring that we love.
Being mostly water based, it was the least gunky solution to deal with.
As the baking soda and foil reacted with the silver, the whole bath gave off a slightly strange, dirty scent.
Though it required a bit of set-up—lining a dish with foil, then dumping in baking soda and hot water—we could see how this would be the easiest way to polish a mess of silverware by far.
While true silver polishes, such as both Tiffany's and Wright's, cleaned the spoon very much to our liking (meaning thoroughly but without excessive abrasion), nothing compared in ease, effectiveness, and lack of mess than the combination of baking soda, hot water, and aluminum foil. It's all-natural, effective because of a chemical reaction (which we geekily love), and seemed impossible to mess up. We also loved how simple it would be for cleaning a whole pile of silver.
If you happen to live near a Tiffany's and don't mind forking over for a bottle, or have a tub of Wright's on hand for cleaning earrings, they wouldn't be bad in a pinch. Our tube of toothpaste didn't seem very effective, but the real concern would be that every tube is different so the potency would be hard to moniter. Both lemon juice + baking soda and hubcap cleaner were so powerful we'd be scared to try them on good silver—and the latter was just a little gross to consider for untensils.
Here's How to Do It:
Line a casserole dish or shallow vessel with aluminum foil (or obtain an aluminum dish).
Sprinkle in a generous amount of baking soda.
Add the silver pieces, being sure that each piece touches the foil.
Pour hot water on top, wait until it cools, and then remove each piece and rub clean with a rag.
First photo by Bobbi Lin; all others by Alpha Smoot.
This article has been updated in December 2020 to provide even more (!) silver-cleaning tips.