by Jeffrey Herman

Silver Care
New Finding in Tarnish Removal

Tarnish is easily removed when first noticed (usually as a yellowish tint), and will become increasingly difficult to deal with as it turns to light brown and eventually black. Occasionally washing an object with a non-lemon-scented phosphate-free detergent is preferred to waiting until tarnish forms and gets so stubborn that polishes have to be employed. (All polishes have some degree of abrasion.) If you start to see very light tarnish that can sometimes only be detected when the object is viewed against a glossy white piece of paper, a liquid, non-abrasive, unscented, aloe-free hand sanitizer, such as Purell, may remove the tarnish. Use a large cotton ball and rotate it regularly to expose unused surfaces, as elements in the tarnish itself can be very abrasive; then dry the piece with a Selvyt cloth or cotton dish towel. Try this technique first, as it is the least abrasive of all silver cleaning methods.

Silver & Dishwashers

KEEP SILVER OUT OF THE DISHWASHER! It's that simple. There are four major reasons for keeping your prized sterling and silverplate out of the "chamber of doom:" (1) Any factory-applied oxidation (the black patina in recessed areas) will eventually be removed. (2) The harsh detergent, combined with the washer's high cleaning temperature, is much too abrasive for silver, it will eventually turn it grey or white, with a dull, non-reflective surface. (3) Most older and some repaired hollow-handled knives are filled with pitch. This low-melting cement will expand with heat, possibly forcing open a thin solder seam, or exploding the knife blade out of the handle. (4) Silver that touches stainless in the dishwasher can create a chemical reaction, producing black spots on the stainless and possibly requiring the silver to be professionally refinished.

Sterling, like a fine automobile, must be handled with tender loving care. You certainly wouldn't drive your Rolls Royce through a car wash, would you?

Removing Coffee & Tea Stains

If you can manually clean the inside of a coffeepot or teapot, use a cellulose sponge (if the pot opening is big enough) or make a swab by wrapping a sponge on the end of a wooden dowel. Moisten the sponge and apply a liberal amount of Wright's Silver Cream, then wipe away the stain and rinse the pot thoroughly with warm water. Wright's is an excellent cleaner for this task because it's much less abrasive than commercial cleaners that are not meant specifically for silver. Don't use powdered abrasive cleaners, as they will impart fine scratches which will attract more dirt. Don't use steel wool (too abrasive and rust may result on the bottom), Scotch-Brite or scouring pads (too abrasive), or dips (too toxic). A cotton swab with a small amount of Wright's will remove stains within the spout opening. Rinse well with warm water. If you can't adequately clean the interior manually, fill the pot with warm water and drop in a five-minute denture cleaning tablet (about five cents each) per two cups of water. Let stand for ten minutes, empty, then rinse with warm water. You may find that the effervescing action of the tablets may just break the contact between the stain and the silver and not lift the residue. If this occurs, use a wet brush to remove the loosened residue and rinse with warm water.

Removing Salt Shaker Corrosion

Those crusty corrosion marks on and in your salt shaker can be a real annoyance. One way to avoid this problem from the very start is to empty the shaker after a dinner party and thoroughly wash it; this way the salt doesn't have time to do its damage. Heavily gold plating the interior is the only other way to preserve the finish because gold is impervious to the effects of salt. It is still wise to clean out the shaker at least twice a year and inspect the plate to make sure it has not been abraded by the salt.

There is a simple way to remove the corrosion yourself. Do this in a well-ventilated area and with nitrile gloves since you will be using ammonia. (Silver dips will not perform as well as ammonia.) If you are removing corrosion from a salt shaker, pour ammonia into a container, place the shaker inside, and cover the container. Let the shaker sit for ten minutes, then remove from the container and inspect. If the black corrosion spots remain, place the shaker back in and let stand for another ten minutes and inspect again. If the corrosion is not gone after 30 minutes, have the shaker professionally refinished.

You may notice a slight graying of the silver. If this occurs, use Hagerty's Silversmiths' Wash, which is more abrasive than Tarni-Shield, Twinkle, Blitz, Weiman, Goddard's, and Wright's polishes. Apply a generous amount of Hagerty's Silversmiths' Wash on a damp sponge to bring back the surface, inside and outside of the shaker. If you find you need something even more abrasive, try a small amount of Bon Ami cleanser on a wet sponge and lightly rub the inside and outside of the shaker to renew the silver luster. Perform the Bon Ami procedure under trickling water in your sink Ð this way the abrasive qualities of the cleanser are dissipated, leaving the silver brighter than if you were to maintain the full strength of the cleanser. As when polishing silver, always use the smallest amount of abrasive to do the job.

After the corrosion has been satisfactorily removed, use a rouge cloth to bring back the silver's luster, then use Tarni-Shield Silver Polish, Twinkle Silver Polish, Blitz Silver Care Polish, Weiman Silver Polish, Goddard's Long Shine Silver Polish, or Wright's Anti-Tarnish Silver Polish on the exterior for protection against the elements.

Removing Wax From Candle Holders

Do you become frustrated when trying to remove wax from your weighted candle holders? Do you go pawing into your flatware drawer to find just the right size knife to dig out the wax? Do you run the piece under warm water, only to create a big mess? Well, here are some simple, non-invasive techniques.

Non-weighted candle holders can be put in your freezer. Upon removing them, use your fingernail (not a knife) to delicately chip off the wax. If residue remains, remove it with silver polish or 91% isopropyl alcohol on a cotton ball. (Isopropyl alcohol should always be used in a well ventilated area.)

The following procedure can be used for both weighted and non-weighted candle holders. Use your hair dryer (but not a heat gun) to warm the candle cup or other area coated with wax. Be careful not to get the object too hot. There are three reasons for this warning: (1) If the weighting material is pitch, it will melt. (2) If the piece is lacquered, the lacquer will bubble off or burn (or both). (3) You could burn yourself! Lightly touch the area with your fingertip to make sure it is not too hot; then lightly wipe off the wax with a soft paper towel or cotton ball. When cleaning out a candle cup on a candelabrum, support the cup with your hand to prevent bending the arm. If the opening is too small for your finger, gently stuff the paper towel into the cup and twist. Cotton swabs also work very well, especially on Hanukkah lamps with very small candle cups. Use as much fresh paper towel or as many cotton swabs as needed; otherwise, you will continually reapply the wax you are removing.

Use dripless candles whenever possible and remove any wax residue from candle holders after each use. Using these techniques will greatly reduce maintenance time.

Finding a Silver Restoration Specialist

You're cleaning a Revere porringer and it escapes your grasp, bouncing off the tile floor causing a major dent. You stand there in horror, afraid to even touch the piece. You have two choices:Êplace it back in the china cabinet with the undamaged side facing out, hoping your employer won't notice, or take the ethical high-road and tell the porringer's owner that you'll have it professionally restored. Hopefully you choose option two. So, where do you go? My advice is to contact a decorative arts curator at a museum housing a major silver collection, such as the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Yale University Art Gallery, or the Victoria & Albert Museum in England, to name a few. These museum curators are knowledgeable as to who will perform a proper restoration job because of their intimacy with the medium. Another excellent source is to consult a notable high-end antique silver dealer.

Copyright Jeffrey Herman,

About The Author

Jeffrey Herman started Herman Silver Restoration & Conservation in 1984, and has built a national reputation of quality craftsmanship and sensitivity towards the finishing of every piece. Herman has repaired & reconstructed everything from historically important tankards, tea services, and tureens to disposal-damaged flatware. And yes, he will also polish a single spoon or fork. He considers himself an environmentalist, using the safest, non-toxic, most organic products whenever possible.

Before starting his business, Herman worked at Gorham as a designer, sample maker, and technical illustrator. Upon leaving Gorham, he took a position at Pilz Ltd. where he learned the fine art of restoration. Herman earned a BFA degree in silversmithing and jewelry making from Maine College of Art in Portland, and is the founder of the Society of American Silversmiths.

He encourages anyone with any silver-related questions to visit his Web site or contact him.

Silver Restoration and Conservation
Herman Silver Restoration & Conservation
PO Box 786
West Warwick, RI 02893
800/339-0417, 401/461-6840

Professional Restorers International