The Right Way to Polish Silver

Contributing Editor Elizabeth Heiskell, author of The Southern Living Party Cookbook, shares her silver-cleaning do's and don'ts.

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Sterling Silver Flatware
Photo: Robbie Caponetto

Holiday entertaining is right around the corner. Thanksgiving lunches and Christmas dinners are worthy occasions of pulling your silver collection out of storage. Besides special events like weddings, showers, and funerals, the holidays are a wonderful time to pull out your silver to set a beautiful table. You'll want to give the pieces a good polish to wipe away any signs of tarnish before setting the table. Sounds a lot easier than the polishing task really is. Mississippi hostess Elizabeth Heiskell shares her easy advice for polishing and cleaning heirloom silver so it sparkles and shines come buffet time.

The Best Time to Polish

Plan ahead. The minute you start thinking about what your table will look like (the linens! the centerpieces! the china!), you should think about whether or not you will be breaking out your silver. You'll want to get it done ahead of time, says Heiskell. The entertaining expert recommends polishing five to seven days before the event you're hosting. "There are so many last-minute tasks when entertaining. This isn't one of them! Go ahead and put this on the top of your to-do list, and check if off early," Heiskell says.

The Proper Way to Store Silver

Secure it away. Never ever leave the silver out in the open. "Air tarnishes silver, so store it in plastic or cloth bags," she advises.

How to Polish Properly:

What You Need: A soft sponge or clean, soft rag; polishing cream; old soft toothbrush

Here, Heiskell's simple steps for polishing your good stuff:

Step 1: Polish. "Cover all surface areas—top, bottom, inside, and out—with polish cream. If the piece has inlay or filigree, use an old soft toothbrush and gently brush the polish in those tiny crevasses. Let the polish dry on the silver.

Step 2: Buff. Once the polish is dry, take a clean soft cloth and buff the polish off. Put some muscle in it—the harder you rub, the brighter the shine!" says Heiskell.

Step 3: Rinse. Once all the polish is removed, rinse the piece with warm water. Clean your toothbrush and brush the filigree while rinsing to make sure all the polish is removed from the crevasses."

WATCH: How To Clean Silver

What to Avoid When Silver Polishing:

Never ever load your silver in the dishwasher. "I did once, and it was ruined," says Heiskell. The entertainer also advises against using dish soaps that contain lemon or other citrus to clean food off your flatware or platters. "My grandmother washes her sterling silver flatware in the dishwasher every day. I put mine in the dishwasher once and ruined it! My grandmother suggests that if you put silver flatware in the dishwasher, don't wash stainless silver pieces at the same time. Mixing the two during a wash cycle will remove the shine from your silver flatware," she says.

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