8 Silver Care Mistakes You Should Never Make During The Holidays

Don't even think about keeping salt in that silver dish.

Showcasing your silver collection during the holiday season is a time-honored tradition. Whether you're the host to a large crowd or plan to bring your signature dish on an heirloom tray, you'll want to pay attention to these silver care tips—especially during the holidays. Flatware, trays, teas sets, pitchers, or heirloom candlesticks, can all be treasured items you plan to use, and each piece deserves to shine and sparkle on your holiday table.

To keep your silver looking its best year after year, here are some maintenance tips and things to avoid to help keep your precious items in the best shape possible.

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Southern Living

Silver Care Mistakes To Avoid

1. Don't Polish or Clean Silver with Anything Abrasive

Duncan Cox of the As You Like It Silver Shop in New Orleans, Louisiana, says sticking to a 100% cotton cloth is the only safe bet. "Never polish with hard sponges or sponges with rough and soft sides. Silver is a very soft, malleable metal, so anything abrasive will scratch it," he says. "Medium or hard toothbrushes should be avoided, too."

2. Don't Use a Quick Polishing Hack When You're Tight on Time

If the silver polishing solution is quick and easy, it's never a good idea. Cox says, "Clients come in with silver that they've put in a container with aluminum foil and baking soda, and it has removed all of the beautiful oxidation which builds up in the design over time." These tactics often replace oxidation with yellow stains, so approach them cautiously.

3. Don't Use Ineffective Polish

Rhett Ramsay Outten of Croghan's Jewelbox in Charleston, South Carolina, avoids purchasing polish at the grocery store. "It can be abrasive and seems to require too much elbow grease." Her polishing go-to? Silver Butler Cloth, a towel treated with a polish inside the fabric. "It's activated by moisture, so you just run your silver under the tap or sprinkle a little water on it and then gently towel it off as if drying, and voila—your silver is polished," she says. Outten's favorite polish product is Town Talk, an easy-to-use pink paste polish. She says that Hagerty gloves are ideal for larger items and do not require water. Both are available for purchase through Croghan's. With the right polishing tools, the task should take an hour or less and creates a bright appearance for two to three weeks, Outten says.

4. Don't Leave Silver Cleanup for Later

After dinner, take care to wash your silver immediately. Food messes left for as little as an hour can cause staining and tarnish. This staining is especially true of salt, eggs, mayonnaise, and harsh acidic dressings. "Salt can rapidly pit and corrode silver, so it is best to remove salt from salt cellars after use," says Mimi Bremer Woodruff of the Beverly Bremer Silver Shop in Atlanta, Georgia. "Often, the interiors of salt cellars are gold-washed to protect the silver, but it's still best to remove it." Outten agrees: "Salt and mayonnaise ruin silver," she says. "Always remove it immediately from silver containers after use." Before cleaning, never let silver soak submerged in water.

5. Don't Bring Silver in Contact With Stainless Steel

Line the bottom with a dishtowel if you are placing flatware in a stainless steel sink while washing. If you're running it through the dishwasher, keep your silver separate. "Stainless is a very hard metal," Woodruff says. "Sterling is much softer and could be dented or scratched if it is crammed in next to stainless steel in the dishwasher or sink," she says. "When I put my silver in the dishwasher, I separate any stainless from sterling so that they do not bump against one another."

6. Don't Use Harsh Citrus Detergents in Your Dishwasher

Except for knives, you can wash most flatware in the dishwasher. Opt for mild dishwasher soap instead of anything harsh to avoid rust spots. "Citrus detergents of any kind should not be used," Woodruff says. "It is bad for the silver because the acidity of the citrus can cause spots, pitting, or discoloration."

7. Store Your Silver Properly (No Plastic Wrap or Rubber Bands)

The storage process is just as necessary as polishing, Cox says. "There is a chemical in [plastic] wrap that allows it to cling, and this can permanently mark your silver. I highly recommend that people with a silver collection purchase silversmith cloth bags and wrap individual pieces in tissue paper before placing them inside," he says. The next time you need them, they'll come out looking as they did the day you put them in, he says. Cox says bags are ideal for items like pitchers, trays, and goblets that are not displayed year-round and stored away.

8. Use Your Silver Year-Round

While it may seem counterintuitive, Woodruff says that the more you use your silver, the better it looks. Daily use can improve sterling flatware's finish and make polishing preparation for next year's festivities easier and less time-consuming. "Sterling is meant to be used and enjoyed. It acquires a beautiful, mellow patina made up of tiny surface scratches," Woodruff says. "That patina is acquired through use, so using it once a year isn't enough! If your silver is used often, it will stay clean because it is constantly being washed. When silver is not in use, it tends to tarnish."

Silver Care Holiday Tips From The Pros

Prepare Slowly, Not All at Once

Outten believes in polishing in stages and in always being prepared. Her best holiday prep advice? Take it slowly. "The secret to having beautifully polished silver is to polish a few pieces each week, so it never becomes an overwhelming task," she says. "If you have multiple sets, keep the overflow in a pacific cloth-lined drawer or silver chest to keep it shiny and ready to use at a moment's notice. Set your table the week before, so there is plenty of time to have everything shiny and polished."

For Professional Polishing Help, Drop Off Items in October

If you prefer to have your silver polished professionally before the holidays, Cox recommends beating the rush by connecting with a professional in October at the latest. If you've recently acquired silver that requires extra love and care, perhaps at an antique store or from a family member, start with hand polishing first. "Hand polishing is always best," Cox says. "If it doesn't come as clean as you'd hope, the next step is to bring it to a professional."

Turn Polishing into a Family Project

"Make it as fun and as stress-free as possible!" Outten says. "If you are dreading it and feel overwhelmed, you are passing that energy on to your family, and it will stick. Teach your children early on how to polish silver and make it a fun, shared task." Outten suggests having aprons at the ready or step stools with their names to get little ones excited. "It's a great time to talk about why pieces are special," she says. "The more invested your children are in the process, the more important these heirlooms become to them."

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