Brushed or shiny, sterling silver has a luster and beauty that has been coveted for centuries. Sterling silver is subject to tarnishing, however, when sulfur in the air reacts with the metal. Left untreated, the tarnish will appear as a yellow, brown or black cast on the surface of the metal. Vintage and expensive items should be cleaned with commercial silver polish and stored with anti-tarnish strips or cloths, but everyday items can be restored to their former luster with any one of a few items found in most households.
Soap and Water
If the sterling silver has dulled but is not heavily tarnished, it can be cleaned with soap and water. Mix together warm water and mild phosphate-free detergent or dishwashing liquid. Place the silver jewelry in the solution and swirl it around. Use a soft toothbrush to lightly scrub at intricately detailed patterns. Dip the soapy silver in clear water to rinse and dry thoroughly with a soft cloth.
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For lightly tarnished items, make a paste of baking soda mixed with a little water. Spread it on the silver with a sponge and work it into all the crevices. Let it sit for a few minutes and then rinse with clear water and dry with a soft cloth. For heavier tarnish, pour 2 tbsp. of baking soda into a saucepan full of water lined with aluminum foil. If the silver pieces are large, fill a larger pot with water and add about 1 cup of baking soda. Bring the water to a boil, take it off the heat and put your sterling silver in the pot. Within a few minutes, you should see the tarnish transferring from the silver to the aluminum foil.
A little dab of toothpaste on your finger is all you'll need to brighten up your silver. Make sure to use non-whitening paste, not gel. Toothpaste is abrasive, so you won't need to use much to get the job done and it should only be used on inexpensive sterling silver items. Smear a little around on the silver, getting into all the crevices. Rinse well with clear water and wipe dry with a soft cloth.
If you're pressed for time and want to give a favorite piece of sterling silver a quick shine, reach for some Windex Multi-Surface Cleaner. Spray a little Windex on a soft cloth or a cotton ball and gently rub the tarnish off of your silver. The Society of American Silversmiths specifically recommends this product by name.