Polishing silver

Have you ever wanted to polish your silver in a more archival, museum quality way? This is the baking soda method.

Polished silver candlesticks


Tarnished silver candlesticks
Tarnished silver candlesticks

I first heard of the tin foil and baking soda method in a question and answer portion of a podcast from the National Museum of Australia, so naturally, I couldn’t find it again when I looked for it. But if it’s good enough for a museum, it’s good enough for me.

I used a nicely written post by apartmenttherapy.com as my starting point. I’ve tried this a few times, with somewhat variable results – possibly because of the quality of silver versus the amount of tarnish. What I like about it is it’s rather fast, and doesn’t leave residue. I’ve have noticed there are more archival silver polishes out there, although I haven’t tried them (see the Carr McLean Archival Supplies and Equipment catalog).

What you need are:

  • Aluminum foil
  • Plastic, glass, or aluminum tub
  • 4 cups boiling water
  • 4 tablespoons baking soda
  • 4 tablespoons salt
  • 2 cups white vinegar
  • lint-free cloth for polishing
  • warm, soapy water

Adding vinegar to baking soda
Adding vinegar to baking soda

The process

  1. Boil the water. It will activate the baking soda and starts the process of transferring the tarnish to the foil.
  2. While the water is coming to a boil, add the dry ingredients into the tub. When you add the vinegar there will be a reaction (science fair volcano). Be careful. The vinegar speeds the tarnish removal process along.
  3. Carefully pour in the boiling water, making sure all of the pieces are touching the foil directly. It starts to work immediately, but heavily tarnished pieces may take longer.

    The tarnish immediately starts to disappear
    The tarnish immediately starts to disappear
  4. Use the lint-free cloth to polish up the silver and buff off any remaining spots.
  5. I find the silver immediately starts to fade, so I wash them in a mild detergent to take any residue off, and buff them while drying to bring up that nice shine.
  6. If there are stubborn bits of tarnish left, I will hit them with some commercial silver polish (for shame!), and rewash them.

    Polished silver candlesticks
    Polished silver candlesticks

This blog is published every Monday at 9:00 am, Eastern Standard Time. If you have comments, questions, or can think of a better approach, feel free to leave a comment. I’ll try to get back to you with a pithy answer.

Feel free to explore the rest of the Artifact Photography (a division of 1350286 Ontario Inc.) website at www.artifactphoto.ca

Author: Pete Cramp

I’ve been crazy about photography since I got my first camera in 1970 (I was eight), and went to Niagara College for radio/television/film production. My career took a strange detour into Information Technology, where I coordinate IT disaster recovery plans, but I’ve taken 2016 off to establish my photography business, in preparation for retirement. My passion is documentation of historical artifacts and antiques, shooting anything from pocket watches to antique tractors. Through my company, “Artifact Photography” I offer photographic services to collectors, museums, and small businesses.