If you’re not sure how to clean antique silver properly, you’ve come to the right place.
In this article, we compare and contrast various methods - everything from using cloths to a liquid cleaner, to spruce up anything from sterling to solid silver.
We also share our tips for looking after your antique silver in general, reducing the need for regular cleaning - whether it’s for a small cutlery set, or a silver plated fireplace insert.
Always remember that if you have any doubts or concerns about how to clean antique silver, it’s best to contact an antiques expert - just make sure they’re a member of LAPADA or CINOA.
How to clean antique silver with polishing gloves or cloths
Silver cleaning gloves, mitts or cloths are best for polishing as long as your antique is untarnished, or only lightly tarnished
Silver cleaning gloves, mitts or cloths are best for polishing as long as your antique is untarnished, or only lightly tarnished.
Bear in mind though that retaining a little tarnish often adds character to an antique, so make sure you really want to remove it first.
Polishing antique silver helps to keep the patina glowing. Regular, soft polishing is a good way to ensure your silverware only needs cleaning in the future to remove individual marks.
If you can’t find them then Town Talk, for example, has a good range of silver polishing cloths and mitts.
How to clean antique silver with a foam or liquid cleaner
If using polishing gloves or cloths doesn’t do the trick for your tarnished silver, then try a foam or gentle liquid cleaner.
Apply the cleaner using a cloth or sponge and dust it with a soft brush afterwards.
Try it out on a small section, on the underside ideally, to check you’re happy with the results first.
A long-term cleaner or polish should also leave a protective layer on the silver surface.
Don’t use anything abrasive - such as a silver dip treatment or any other type of abrasive cleaner - unless your silverware is significantly tarnished or black, otherwise it will scratch.
A company like Goddard’s or an equivalent sells silver polish and foam.
How to clean antique silver with polish wadding
You don’t need to rub hard with wadding - a light touch may be all that’s required to bring back the original colour
For heavily tarnished silver, you could use polish wadding such as Silvo. Just be careful because it is more abrasive than a liquid cleaner.
You don’t need to rub hard with wadding - a light touch may be all that’s required to bring back the original colour. Then use a soft cloth to buff and shine.
Don’t risk using a homemade solution on antique silver
While there are some ways to clean silver using standard household items, they’re only safe for new silverware, not antiques.
Homemade solutions risk damaging the silver’s patina.
However if you do have any small, modern silver items to clean like cutlery, you could put them into a baking soda or washing soda solution in a bowl for a few minutes, to remove the tarnish.
Line a plastic bowl with aluminium foil, then add: boiling water, one tablespoon of salt per litre of water, half a cup of white vinegar, two tablespoons of baking soda and mix together.
Long-term care and storage
Silver tarnishes naturally, but keeping it in a more enclosed space, such as a display cabinet or chest, can slow down the tarnishing
Silver tarnishes naturally, but keeping it in a more enclosed space, such as a display cabinet or chest, can slow down the tarnishing.
Salt is corrosive to silver, so be careful not to touch your antique silver after eating salty food.
To maintain the polish, wrap your silver in dry tissue paper.
To keep it safe for a long period of time, keep antique silver in airtight sealed polythene bags.
For silver gilt, take great care because the thin layers can be polished away if you’re not soft enough. Also, be gentle when polishing thin silver plate antiques.
Final thoughts: how to clean antique silver properly
We hope you found this guide useful and now know how to clean antique silver.
Other articles in this series include how to clean antique wood and how to clean antique brass.
Remember that if you have any doubts then it’s better to be safe, not sorry, and contact an antiques expert so that an experienced restorer can clean your silver.
For any further queries about how to clean antique silver, or to enquire about anything in our collection, please contact us.