Silver misgivings
October 14, 2006 4:36 AM   Subscribe

Inheriting silver flatware: A good move, or a step to polishing insanity?

The Moms wants to send me an old set of silver flatware dating to her early days of marriage. I have unpleasant memories of hours spent with a rag and polishing compound, doing the back-and-forth scrape-and-rub.

Are there modern, labor unintensive (or labor free) methods for polishing silver knives, forks and spoons? I'd like to use the set daily, if possible.
posted by Gordion Knott to Food & Drink (11 answers total)
Silver or silverplate? "Every day" flatware is usually silverplate.
If badly tarnished, you may need to clean it thoroughly with a paste product to lift the tarnish; thereafter, daily washing and handling should be sufficient to keep it presentable, unless you have well water with high sulfur concentration, or some other environmental source of oxidants promoting tarnish. Various dips and plates are marketed for their convenience and safety to silver, but I've relied on paste polishes for what silver I have, not wishing to experiment. One authoritative source of silver cleaning advice on the net offers more information.
posted by paulsc at 5:11 AM on October 14, 2006

I used some silver daily when I was first married, and it did not need regular polishing. However, there were always a few forks or spoons that were at the bottom of the tray and weren't used often, so those would get tarnished. If we'd left them in the fabric case, maybe that wouldn't have happened.

I didn't have a dishwasher, so everything was handwashed. If it will drive you crazy to have to handwash your silverware, then this may be a bad idea.
posted by saffry at 6:49 AM on October 14, 2006

For those pieces which will be used only occassionally, store them in ziplock bags if you don't have their cloth bags, squeezing as much air out of the bag as possible. Replace the bag when it gets a hole in it. You can use this method for any silver to greatly reduce the amount of oxidation which will occur.

The climate of you area will impact how fast your pieces tarnish. A dry climate sees less tarnish than a humid climate. When I lived in NM, I'd only have to polish my grandmother's silver spoon collection which decorated her dining room once a year. Those same spoons would require at least quarterly cleaning here in Virginia.
posted by onhazier at 7:06 AM on October 14, 2006

You could try a silver bath, but they're hit and miss and nothing really does the job like hand polishing in my experience.
posted by fire&wings at 7:52 AM on October 14, 2006

Don't spend money on a silver bath. I made that mistake. All you get is a piece of aluminum. You can easily use stuff you already have around your house - aluminum foil, baking soda, and boiling water - and do it yourself.

Otherwise, yes, frequent use should keep tarnish at a minimum; otherwise either store in a silverware chest or in ziplocks with the air squeezed out. Never put hollow-handle silverware (such as knives) in the dishwasher.
posted by Addlepated at 9:42 AM on October 14, 2006

I'd like to use the set daily, if possible.

If you use it daily and wash with soap and water, you shouldn't ever need to polish them. (I don't know whether the dishwasher will work the same way) Just make sure all the pieces are used (or at least washed) regularly so they all get the same treatment.
posted by winston at 10:02 AM on October 14, 2006

There are two kinds of silver cleaning, depending on whether or not you want the black silver oxide in the crevices of the design to show. (I like that, you may not.) If you use it, or rub it, it leaves the black to define the pattern. If you dip it, or use baking soda/aluminum/hot water, it will eat away at the oxide down in the cracks.

Anything plastic is going to leak air sooner or later, like bags, and the silverware can poke holes in it. I cleaned what I inherited, and stuffed it all in a clean glass gallon jar, screwed the lid on, and have never opened it. 30 years later, it's still clean. That does, of course, rule out using it all the time. If it's plate, you'll eventually wear the plating off if you do this. It may say plate on the backs if it is, but it may not.

If you do not buy pickles in gallon glass jars, a nearby restaurant will, and would be glad to give them to you. Just make sure you get all traces of vinegar (acetic acid) out of the glass. A handful of baking sode in hot water would get it.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 11:43 AM on October 14, 2006

I can personally vouch for the hot water, baking soda and aluminum foil trick. Works like a charm in seconds.
posted by willmize at 12:35 PM on October 14, 2006

Silver doesn't make the food taste better. Arguably, non-professionally polished silver doesn't look any better than the higher-end non-silver flatware. And if you're using it daily, it will tarnish from the light and water. So, really, what's the point?

This sounds like an Ebay sale waiting to happen. Sell the silver and buy yourself something useful for the family.
posted by frogan at 12:51 PM on October 14, 2006

Personally, I'd use them - I'm a bit weird about people buying beautiful things and putting it away in storage because it's "too good". I mean, really. Why not just beat yourself every other day?

However, if you are going to store or display them, try this following; a jeweller friend of my parents suggested that we first clean their decorative spoon-set and then give it a light spray with ladies hair-lacquer, which dries clear. If you need to use the silverware, a wash in warm water takes care of the lacquer. In the mean time, you have a protective coating which is good enough to keep them mostly untarnished. They will, however, get dusty, so this sounds like a technique to use for storage, rather than display.

Mind you, my parents set of spoons are still looking shiny and haven't been polished for about 2 years.

Disclaimer: The spoon-set this was used on is not irreplaceable and I have no idea of any long-term damage this might do to the silver etc. YMMV.
posted by ninazer0 at 5:17 PM on October 14, 2006

This sounds like an Ebay sale waiting to happen. Sell the silver and buy yourself something useful for the family.

:::Gasp!::: Noooo!! I inherited silverware recently that's been in my family for 100+ years . It's an amazing feeling to use and handle the same forks, spoons, knives, etc that my grandparents did so many years ago.

I use this silverware daily and handwashing it is not a problem... it's a joy!
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 7:57 PM on October 15, 2006

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