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How to Clean Silver

The internet is amazing. The world’s knowledge is right at your fingertips. If you need to know how to change a tire, clean out your dryer ducts, or properly brine a turkey, there’s probably a video tutorial about it. There are people ready to weigh in with their “life hacks” to make mundane household chores easier or cheaper. Sometimes they’re great ideas.

Other times, not so much.

When we found some tarnished-to-high-heaven silver-plated dishes at a recent estate sale, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to test out some different methods of sprucing them up. Do a quick search, and you’ll going to find all sorts of articles about how to best clean your silver.

And, here’s another one!

We’ve tested out several home remedies for tarnished silver that the internet suggests, to see if they actually work. Turns out, sometimes things you read on the Internet aren't true. I believe it was Joan of Arc who originally said that.

Store-Bought Tarnish Remover

We thought alongside the “life hack” methods, we should try the store-bought option. Obviously, it’s going to get the job done. But it’s also going to stink to high heaven, and all your coworkers who happen to pass through the kitchen while you’re using it will ask “what’s that smell?” Then you’ll have to tell them all individually and in great detail what you’re doing and how many techniques you’re trying, and it’s going to become a whole thing, and no one wants that.

Anyway, the store-bought tarnish remover works. That’s all you need to know. It works, and it stinks.

But there’s got to be a better way!

Or does there? Read on...

Ketchup

They make it sound so simple. Soak your silver in ketchup, and the tarnish will disappear.

So we did just that. We splorched half a bottle of the stuff onto our silver-plated dish. The kitchen smelled like ketchup, which is preferable to the weird, sulphurous smell of the tarnish remover, but still...a giant bowl of ketchup has a definite aroma.

We waited patiently for a half hour. We made grossed-out sounds as we lifted the dish out off the ketchup and hucked it into the sink for a rinse. We assumed the high vinegar content would have some sort of effect on the tarnish.

Nope.

To be fair, with some hard scrubbing, something was clearly coming off onto the cloth. But there was no appreciable difference in the actual tarnish. Maybe if we had let it sit overnight...but the only thing grosser than a giant bowl of ketchup is a giant bowl of day-old ketchup. So even if it worked, it wouldn’t be some sort of miracle process. It would be a day-old bowl of ketchup and a plate.

Cornstarch and water

“Make a paste!” the instructions said.

Do you know how hard it is to make a paste out of cornstarch and water? Go ahead. Try it. I’ll wait.

Can’t do it, can you? It either makes too-thick globs, or a watery mess that is useless unless you’re thickening a stew.

Mmmmm, stew...

So, the idea was to make a paste and scrub the tarnish away with a toothbrush. Instead, we just made a weird, clumpy mess on our counter. The instructions we read also suggested using cream of tartar instead of the starch. That might have been a little less problematic consistency-wise, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it would fail almost as badly. We didn’t try it, though. We were too busy thinking about stew.

Baking Soda and Vinegar

Real talk: does this work for anything?

If the internet and old wives tales are to be believed, baking soda and vinegar will unclog your drains, clean your house, and whiten your whites. It will wash your dishes, raise your children, take care of you in your old age, and soften your fabrics.

And I don’t believe any of it.

So, honestly, my heart wasn’t in this experiment. Does vinegar and baking soda have any magical powers after the bubbles go away? Do the bubbles even do anything? It certainly didn’t take the tarnish off my silver-plated plate.

I’m not saying there’s no use for a baking soda and vinegar combination, I’m just saying 1) I haven’t found any since I got an A on my second grade volcano diorama, and 2) my plate remained tarnished.

Baking Soda and Aluminum Foil

All right. After the baking soda and vinegar had me questioning that validity of any and all science, the baking soda and aluminum foil made me a believer again.

Science is real, science is magic, and my silver is clean.

We lined our sink with aluminum foil, and put a pot of water on to boil. Once the water was hot enough, we added two tablespoons of baking soda and two tablespoons of salt. With the silver in the sink, we poured the water in and let it sit for 30 minutes. When we took the silver-plated dish out and wiped it with a microfiber cloth, all the tarnish disappeared, leaving nothing behind but a shiny plate.

Two common concerns with this method that you should consider before trying it out is that some say your silver tarnishes more quickly after it’s been treated this way. Others don’t like that it removes not only the tarnish but the patina—and ultimately, the character—of the plate.

Regardless, it’s hard to argue with results. You can, of course, always buy the bottle of tarnish remover at the store. But then you’ll need gloves to protect your skin, and then there’s the smell.

Oh, there’s the smell.

If you want to clean your silver-plated dishes with simple, basic ingredients you already have around your house, skip all the other home remedies you find online, and give the aluminum foil method a try.

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