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'll be hosting with flatware, trays, teas sets, pitchers, or heirloom candlesticks, each treasured item should sparkle and shine on your holiday table. But what must you know about caring for these pieces during the holiday rush? Read on for eight seasonal mistakes to avoid at all costs, as recommended by trusted Southern silver care experts.

Silver Serving Spoons
Credit: Southern Living

Damage-causing Silver Care Mistakes:

1. Polishing or cleaning 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. Using a quick polishing hack when you're tight on time.

  • If the 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 with caution.

3. Using an ineffective polish that doubles time and effort.

  • 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. Hagerty gloves are ideal for larger items and do not require water, she says. Both are available for purchase through Croghan's. With the right polishing tools, the task should take an hour or less and will create a bright appearance for two to three weeks, Outten says.

4. Leaving silver cleanup for later in the evening, or worse—the next day. 

  • After dinner, take care to wash your silver immediately. Food messes left for as little as an hour can cause staining and tarnish. This 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." Prior to cleaning, never let silver soak submerged in water. 

5. Bringing silver in contact with stainless steel.

  • If you are placing flatware in a stainless steel sink while washing, be sure to line the bottom with a dishtowel. 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. Using harsh citrus detergents in your dishwasher.

  • With the exception of knives, most flatware may be washed in the dishwasher. To avoid rust spots, opt for mild dishwasher soap as opposed to anything harsh. "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. Storing pieces in plastic wrap or securing cutlery with rubber bands.

  • The storage process is just as important 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. Only using your silver during the holidays.

  • 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 in preparation for next years 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."

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."

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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 on them 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."

Professional Silver Care Experts:

Croghan's Jewel Box
308 King Street
Charleston, SC 29401
(843) 723-3594

As You Like It Silver Shop
3033 Magazine St.
New Orleans, LA 70115
(504) 897-6915

Beverly Bremer Silver Shop
3164 Peachtree Road
Atlanta, GA 30305
(404) 261-4009