If your silver cleaner's label contains the words "Warning," "Danger" or "Caution," the cleaner may pose risks to the environment and your health. Take these warnings seriously, and look for commercial products with fewer or milder solvents (see References 4). Better yet, make your own silver polish designed to remove stubborn tarnish without emitting dangerous vapors. If you are caring for extremely valuable or fragile pieces, however, contact a professional cleaner. Boiling water or even vigorous scrubbing can harm glued or delicate patterns on your silverware, jewelry or larger pieces.
Some brands of silver cleaner may pose threats to your health and the environment. Commercial metal polishes often contain solvents that have both immediate and ongoing dangers. If inhaled in an unventilated room, the vapors from silver polish may cause severe, even fatal, damage. If you repeatedly expose yourself to the substance, the consequences may be as serious as cancer, damage to your organs and nervous system, and even birth defects. Improperly disposed-of products could potentially seep into groundwater, causing additional human and environmental problems.
Toothpaste, with its mild cleaning agents and gentle abrasives, is an effective single-ingredient cleaner for polishing silver (see References 5). Apply the toothpaste to silver with a clean cloth. For intricate pieces, use a clean, soft-bristled toothbrush. Run the silver piece or pieces under running warm water, and dry with a clean cloth.
Boiling Water Bath
To clean pieces small enough to fit into a large pot, choose an enamel or aluminum pot; other materials may interact with your silver. If using an enamel pot, line the bottom of the pot with aluminum foil. Place your silver pieces in the bottom of the pot and pour in enough water to cover them. Add 1 tsp. each of salt and baking soda, and bring the water to a boil for 3 minutes. Once the water cools, plunge the silver pieces into warm, soapy water and scrub with a clean cloth. Polish the pieces dry with a second cloth. (See References 1)
Line a glass roasting pan with aluminum foil, dull side facing down. Put silver pieces on top of the aluminum foil. Pour about 1 qt. of boiling water over the pieces and add 2 tbsp. of baking soda. Allow the silver to soak for 5 minutes, or until the water is cool enough to touch. Dry the silver with a clean cloth.
For excessively tarnished silver, use more than one treatment. Soak silver with boiling water, aluminum foil, salt and baking soda. After drying your pieces, apply toothpaste and buff the piece clean with a second clean cloth.
- University of Florida; Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences; Hazardous Household Substances -- Alternatives That Are Relatively Free of Toxic Effects
- Oregon Metro Regional Government: Kitchen Cleaners
- Monroe County: Finding Safer Substitutes
- Washington State University: Energy Program -- Hazardous Products
- University of Missouri Extension: Household Hazardous Products
Ellen Douglas has been a writer for more than 20 years, both as a New England-based newspaper reporter and as an editor of nonprofit publications. She has written on health, education and the arts for both online and print publications.
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