"What in tarnation?!"

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Every Sunday night, my grandmother would host the entire family for supper. While she often cooked, there were days when she would succumb to end-of-the-week exhaustion and serve semi-homemade dishes. Regardless, she still pulled out the good dishes, the teak salad bowls, and, more often than not, her beloved Georg Jensen silver, too. If it had been a few weeks since the silver was used, my brothers and cousins and I would brace ourselves for the joke. She would pull out the silver and if she spotted any tarnish, she would inevitably say, “Tarnish?! What in tarnation?!” and start laughing. Then she would make us kids get to polishing. It was hard to say whether the joke was worse or the task.

As anyone who has been forced to polish silver knows, silver has the rather obnoxious habit of getting tarnished when it’s not used regularly. Tarnish is a chemical reaction between the silver and environmental sulfur, which is found in water, wool, felt, and even the air we breathe. In short, sulfur’s near omnipresence makes its nearly impossible to avoid having silver wind up tarnished. That means that when you want to trot out your family silver to impress the guests at a dinner party, usually you need to carve out time to polish the silver. And who has time for that?

While it’s hard to avoid tarnish completely, cooking website TheKitchn.com recently shared a tip that may help cut down on that pesky tarnish. Silver should always be stored in a drawer or chest lined with tarnish-resistant flannel or individually wrapped in acid-free tissue paper, silver cloth, or unbleached cotton muslin and placed in a zip-top plastic bag. (More on caring for silver, here.) The Kitchn.com notes that adding a piece of regular old white school chalk to the bag or box where you store your silver can help cut down on tarnish. The secret lies in the fact that chalk helps absorb any excess moisture that may accumulate in the bag, eliminating one of the major elements that can lead to tarnished silver. If you live in a particularly humid climate—like much of the South—the chalk can help absorb that humid air and keep the silver dry and tarnish-free. Similarly, if you display your silver in a cabinet or store it in a pantry, tuck a few pieces of white chalk on the shelves to stop discoloration. Chalk may not stop tarnish entirely, but it can save you (or your grandchildren) a few minutes of polishing.