Many people erroneously believe that tarnish is a sign that an antique piece of silver is ruined. In truth, tarnish is a natural process that occurs over time as silver is exposed to normal amounts of moisture and oxygen. While good storage techniques help deter tarnish, it can still happen. For many rare and beautiful old pieces of silver, excessive tarnish is a scary sight for collectors. This begs the question; how do you clean heavily tarnished silver?
Often, you can restore even the roughest and patchiest looking tarnished silver to full beauty. However, anyone that has tried to polish silver already knows how stubborn dark marks can be. On embossed pieces, this can add a beautifully aged appearance and highlight markings. But for the most part, collectors want to get rid of stubborn tarnish.
Removing Moderate to Heavy Tarnish
Looking at silver with heavy tarnishing is intimidating, to be sure. Luckily, many silver collectors agree with this sentiment. As a result, many quality silver care products are available and easy to use at home. The best by far is common silver paste. It comes in a compact jar complete with a soft foam pad.
Simply dip the foam into the paste and massage it into the silver. Tarnish will come away, leaving shining restored silver. Afterward, rinse the silver piece thoroughly in warm water, and be sure to dry it completely using a clean acid-free cloth.
Repair Yellowing Silver
Besides dark marks, antique silver tends to acquire a soft yellow tone. While this is fairly attractive on aged display pieces, it’s still a sign of tarnishing. To achieve a bright finish again, a much simpler solution than paste is best. A silver polishing cloth is effective at removing yellowing, especially polish mitts.
Slip your hand inside the cloth mitt and gently work the piece in your covered hand. After a bit of handling, the yellowing will lift off without much effort. The mess-free nature of this polishing tool makes it a great go-to solution for routine and quick polishing.
When in Doubt, Seek a Professional
Sometimes a beautiful sterling silver engravable box pops up that would be perfect in your collection. Unfortunately, it’s so tarnished that it’s barely even recognizable as silver. So how do you clean heavily tarnished silver? When it comes to items that seem unsavable, the best method is not to do it yourself but to seek assistance. Attempting to scour, scrub, and polish silver that’s extremely tarnished can and will cause damage. A silversmith is much better equipped to carefully address very stubborn spots and restore your piece to perfection safely.
Nelson and Nelson have been in the business of antique silver for 40 years. Our dedicated silversmith puts his expertise and skill to work each day, restoring and protecting antique pieces. We take the utmost care of your silver!