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How to Clean Tarnished Silver

The easiest way to clean tarnished silver is to line a pan with aluminum foil, place the silver on top, and pour boiling water. Add baking soda and salt, which will react with the foil to remove silver tarnish. Another quick option is to spray the silver with WD-40 and buff it with a cloth.

The tarnished silver can look dull and dirty, but you can make it shiny and new again with the right cleaning. However, you must be careful when cleaning, especially for old or valuable silver items.

Pure silver Tarnishing

Pure silver is a very soft and reactive metal. When exposed to air, the silver reacts with sulfur compounds and other chemicals in the environment, causing a chemical reaction that tarnishes the surface.

This tarnish appears as a dull, dark gray or black discoloration on the silver. The tarnish is a thin layer of silver sulfide that forms on the metal’s surface.

How to Clean Tarnished Silver

Silver cleaning options

More aggressive tarnish removal, such as polishing or dipping, should be used with caution as it can remove the natural patina. Gentle cleaning and maintenance are often preferable to preserve the beneficial aspects of tarnish on silver.

Silver Polishing

Use a gentle silver polish and soft cloth. Avoid harsh chemicals, abrasives, and vigorous rubbing. Gentle polishing preserves the beneficial patina. Alternative tarnish removers include corn starch, hand sanitizer, and ketchup. Always wash and dry silver completely after cleaning.

Silver Dipping

Put silver on foil in a pan with aluminum foil and pour boiling water over it. Add 2 tablespoons each of baking soda and salt, then stir until dissolved. The chemical reaction will cause the tarnish to transfer to the foil within 5-10 minutes. Rinse the jewelry with water and dry it completely with a clean, soft cloth.

Use WD-40 Spray

WD-40 multi-use spray is an effective way to clean and shine tarnished silver. Simply spray the WD-40 directly onto the tarnished silver jewelry or items. Then, use a soft microfiber cloth to gently polish the surface in circular motions. The tarnish will quickly disappear, leaving the silver with a fresh, shiny appearance. WD-40 works by dissolving and lifting away the oxidized layer on the silver’s surface.

Make Your Own Cleaner

There are several effective homemade solutions for cleaning and polishing tarnished silver using common household ingredients, such as soap and water, baking soda and water, olive oil and lemon juice, or white vinegar and baking soda, which can safely remove tarnish and restore the natural luster of silver without exposing it to harsh chemicals.

  • Soap and Water: Mix warm water with a few drops of ammonia-free dish soap. Gently scrub the silver with a soft toothbrush to remove the tarnish.
  • Baking Soda and Water: Create a paste by mixing baking soda and water, then use a cloth or soft brush to polish the silver.
  • Olive Oil and Lemon Juice: Combine 1/2 cup lemon juice with 1 tsp olive oil. Dip a cloth in the solution and wipe down the silver.
  • White Vinegar and Baking Soda: Mix 1/2 cup white vinegar and 2 tbsp baking soda. Soak the silver in this solution for 2-3 hours, then rinse and dry.

How Purity of the silver affect Tarnishing

The higher the silver purity, the faster it will tarnish when exposed to air and other environmental factors. Lower-purity silver and silver alloys tend to be more resistant to tarnishing over time.

Silver AlloySilver PurityTarnishing Rate
Fine Silver99.9%Very Fast
Sterling Silver92.5%Moderate
Coin Silver90%Slow
Nickel Silver80%Slow
Alpaca Silver75-80%Slow
The purity of the silver effect Tarnishing
Clean Tarnished Silver

Patina Development

For antique or vintage silver items, the natural tarnishing can develop a beautiful patina over time. This patina can add character, history, and visual appeal to the silver piece, enhancing its aesthetic value. Controlled tarnishing is sometimes even done intentionally to achieve a desired vintage or aged look.

Protection Against Corrosion

The tarnish layer that forms on the silver’s surface can protect the underlying metal from further corrosion. This tarnish layer acts as a barrier, preventing the silver from reacting with other elements in the environment. In this sense, a slight amount of tarnishing can help preserve the silver over the long term.


What are the best DIY methods for cleaning tarnished silver?

The best DIY methods use common household ingredients like baking soda, salt, aluminum foil, and vinegar to remove tarnish through a chemical reaction. Making a paste with baking soda and water is also effective.

How do professional cleaning services clean silver jewelry?

Professional services often use ultrasonic cleaning machines that use high-frequency sound waves to dislodge tarnish and dirt from the silver’s surface. They may also use commercial silver polish solutions.

How does ultrasonic cleaning work for silver jewelry?

Ultrasonic cleaning uses high-frequency sound waves to create millions of tiny bubbles in a cleaning solution. When these bubbles collapse, they dislodge dirt and tarnish from the silver’s surface. The jewelry emerges clean and shiny.

What are the signs that silver jewelry needs cleaning?

Signs your silver jewelry needs cleaning include a dull, gray, or discolored appearance and a rough or gritty feel to the surface. Tarnish can build up over time, especially if the silver is worn frequently.

Are there any eco-friendly silver cleaning products available?

Yes, there are some eco-friendly silver cleaning products on the market that use natural ingredients like citrus extracts instead of harsh chemicals. These are a good option for cleaning silver in a more environmentally friendly way.