Your table is set with a linen tablecloth and napkins, your best china is displayed on elegant chargers, flowers and candles add an intimate touch and all you need is your silver service to complete the picture. What you're not expecting when you open the wooden chest housing the tableware is sterling silver odor, which is somewhat musty and definitely not appetizing. The good news is that it's not the silver itself that's putting off that smell; it's the spores that accompany mold and tarnish that were attached to the sterling silver.
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Diagnosing Sterling Silver Smell
Sterling silver does not have an odor. That nasty smell is coming from one of several sources. Sterling silver care includes cleaning it well after the last time it was used. Remnants of food particles may be causing the odor. If your water supply is from a well that is rich in sulfur, that may be the cause of the smell. Smoke from tobacco sources or fireplaces may have penetrated the silver storage chest, or the smell may come from tarnish and the silver sulfide it puts off.
The first thing you want to do is separate the silver from the storage container. Even if the wooden box is an expensive one or a family heirloom, you won't easily get rid of the odor without relining the box and coating it with varnish. You're best off repurposing the box as a planter, keeping it outside and buying a new storage chest.
Sterling Silver Care
Sterling silver is a soft metal. It scratches easily, and cleaning is preferred to polishing. Frequent cleaning and frequent use of the sterling items repels tarnish. Tarnish polish contains a mild abrasive and can slowly eat away at the sterling surface. Hold a piece of white paper behind the piece of silver and if you see a light-yellow cast on the silver, tarnish has started to move in. Dawn dishwashing liquid is recommended for cleaning off the tarnish. Just be sure it doesn't contain any lemon additives.
Wear a pair of nitrile cleaning gloves to prevent fingerprints from attracting tarnish and use cellulose sponges that are made of plant-based fibers, not plastic. Lay a terrycloth towel on a counter, fill a rubber tub with Dawn and lay the silver pieces in warm, sudsy water. Don't put them directly into a stainless steel sink, as they may become scratched. Use a sponge or makeup pad to lightly clean the silver. Rinse it with warm water, place it on the towel and dry it immediately.
Polishing and Storing Sterling Silver
If tarnish has taken over your silver pieces, they'll need to be polished after cleaning. Be sure the polish you purchase is nonabrasive, is meant to be washed off and has tarnish protection built in. Gently work the polish into the silver in a back-and-forth motion and let the polish dry on the silver. Use Q-tips to get into crevices. Don't obsess about removing all the tarnish from the design, as it does create a visual contrast.
Store your silver pieces in a flannel sleeve treated with silver nitrate designed to retard tarnish. If possible, don't stack the silver, as scratching may occur. When you open the flannel sleeve the next time you're entertaining, you won't be greeted by an obnoxious odor.