Caring for Silver

Here are some quick and easy tips to keep your silver shining for generations to come.

Silverware Pocket Napkin Fold
Photo: Robbie Caponetto; Prop Styling: Kathleen Varner

Even if the Queen Mother isn't in your supper club, a few pieces of silver on the table enhance the feel of Southern hospitality. And let's face it, the stainless serving spoon that's seen the inside of your disposal is just no match for your grandmother's favorite silver one.

Yet polishing silver probably ranks right next to cleaning gutters on the list of boring chores. However, it doesn't have to be that bad; a little maintenance goes a long way.

Here are some tips, courtesy of Isaacs & Isaacs, a Louisville antique silver and furniture shop.

  • Stay one step ahead of tarnish. Wash your silver immediately after use in hot, soapy water. Rinse with hot water, and dry thoroughly with a soft flannel or cotton cloth. Or you may want to dry pieces with a Silver Butler cloth, which has a cleaning agent built in. Do not let your silver air dry, because water left standing can cause spotting. (Sorry, no matter how tired you are, your dishwasher is not an option. It will eventually add a white buildup and a dull finish. Antique pieces are especially vulnerable to dishwashing, because glued items, such as knife blades or pot legs, may fall apart.)
  • It's fine to store your silver in a sealed zip-top plastic bag, but do not wrap it in plastic wrap or secure with rubber bands. Other storage options include flannel bags designed for silver storage or chests or drawers lined with a tarnish-resistant flannel such as Pacific Silvercloth. Jane Gray Jayes of Isaacs & Isaacs advises against even temporary storage in cardboard boxes that might be punctured or kept in temperature or moisture extremes. Do not wrap silver in newspaper.
  • Tools to win the battle against tarnish: "Always use a brand-name silver polish; I like Goddard's foam," says Jane Gray. Begin by wetting silver pieces with water. Clean silver with either the foam sponges that come with many cleaners or a soft horsehair brush. These tools are the least abrasive and will not damage the finish. Apply silver cleaner with a light touch by gently massaging in small circles. Use no more polish or elbow grease than necessary. As the cloth gets dirty, turn it over or replace with a new one to avoid scratches.
  • Old toothbrushes and paper towels are not good substitutes because they might mar the finish. Dry pieces with a soft cloth after washing.
  • When silver is deeply tarnished, resist the urge to try a "miracle dip" like the ones you see advertised on television. Dips will remove the tarnish, but they often take off the finish and give the piece a greenish-yellow appearance, particularly on inexpensive silver-plated items. Take heavily tarnished pieces to a reputable jewelry or silver shop for a professional cleaning. Remember, a deep tarnish in crevices on ornate silver actually adds character.
  • Take a little time to make your silver shine, and then let the compliments of your guests rub off on you.
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