16 January 2011

A silver secret

This morning as I pulled out some of the family silver in preparation for a little dinner I'm planning, I was greeted by the sight of black-tipped fork tines.

Then I got to the spoons.  Ugh!

Now, tarnished silver can be a major headache to clean, but for me, thanks to my grandmother in Germany, I know that this is really quite an effortless process.

When my Oma showed me how this worked, my world totally changed!  I am so glad I got in on the secret.  Well...a quick internet search showed me that this method isn't so "secret" anymore, but I am surprised by how few people still seem to know about this trick!  And, I figured now would be a good time to share it.

It's pure chemistry, really, in which the tarnished silver, the water, and the aluminum exchange atoms.  (For the science nerds, the reaction is silver sulfide + aluminum + water --> silver + aluminum oxide + hydrogen sulfide.)  When you're watching the reaction (which is aided by the presence of salt), it looks like the silver tarnish gets "transferred" to aluminum foil, and you end up with clean pieces of silver, a tarnished piece of aluminum foil, and the release of some smelly hydrogen sulfide.  Sorry, it will smell a little like rotten eggs, but the sparkling silver is so worth it!

Oma's Silver Cleaner

6 cups water (I use water filtered by reverse-osmosis)
1-2 Tbs. salt
Aluminum foil

Bring water to a boil in a large (non-reactive) saute pan.  Dissolve salt in the water, and line the pan with a piece of aluminum foil.

Using tongs (rubber-tipped to protect your silver from scratches), transfer tarnished silver pieces into the boiling water.  As soon as the tarnish dissolves, transfer silver to a soft cloth to cool, then wash and rinse silver to remove salt residues.  Dry silver with a soft cloth to avoid water spots.

As you work through your silver, be sure to change out the aluminum foil whenever it gets black, so that the chemical reaction can continue efficiently.

Disclaimer: While this has always been a reliable way for me to clean my silver (and yes, what you see here are real before-and-after pictures), I hereby state that I take no responsibility for any damage that might be incurred to your special silver pieces through this process.  Just sayin'!


Young Adventures... said...

Great idea! Thanks so much for sharing. My silver needs a good cleaning, I need to try this.

The Church Cook said...

Wow, who would have known! Great tip, Erica!

the Junkie book said...

haha funky yet terribly useful post. as usual wonderful snaps so much tht my husband thot the tarnished silver was the design :P

i didn understand the lining with foil. where to line and when??

the Junkie book said...

oh and clever disclaimer...chic idea in my opinion...

erica said...

Hi Thoma, thanks!
About the foil: Bring the pan of salted water to a boil, then line the pan with a piece of foil (it doesn't have to be a specific size, just something roughly large enough to cover the bottom of the pan), submerging it in the salted water. You will then place the silver pieces on top of the foil. I don't think it matters when exactly you add the foil to the pan, but I just always end up adding it after the water comes to a boil. Hope that helps! :)

Anonymous said...

Wow...the after result is amazing! They look brand new. I don't have silverware, but I do have some silver jewlery and I wonder if I can adapt this to cleaning my earrings and necklaces? I think I'll experiment with one of my earring that's missing the pair...

erica said...

oh, that's a good idea, sosopie! let me know how the earring turns out!

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