Pewter is lustrous and easy to maintain. An alloy made primarily of tin and combined with copper and antimony for strength, pewter dates back to the Bronze Age and has been used to make tableware, jewelry and decorative items throughout the centuries since. Unlike silver, pewter requires no regular polishing or upkeep. It does, however, require periodic care to keep it stain-free and looking its best.
Due to its lead content, antique pewter tends to tarnish, forming a dark stain called a patina over its surface. Though most prefer to leave the dark patina in place, you can polish it away for a brighter look. The patina, however, acts as a protective coating and offers a look often simulated by modern pewter manufacturers. Many collectors prefer the patina look as well, as it adds to the antique appeal. Removing it may in fact serve to decrease the value of a piece. If you still choose to do so, however, you can use a commercial pewter cleaner to remove the dark patina. You can also create a paste using rottenstone (limestone) and olive or linseed oil. After polishing, wash in hot soapy water, then carefully rub dry with a clean cloth. Rub in one direction until the black patina is removed.
Care for modern pewter depends upon the finish, which is either polished, satin or oxidized. For simple cleaning, pewter with any finish should be hand washed. Never put pewter into the dishwasher. The heat and detergent may cause permanent damage. Hand wash pewter in warm, soapy water, then carefully hand dry to prevent water spots. For pewter with an oxidized finish, this will be all the care you need. For polished pewter, on the other hand, additional care is needed. To add shine to polished pewter, you will occasionally need to use commercial pewter polish or high-quality brass polish. Polish with a soft cloth using a circular motion. Remove excess polish with a second clean cloth. Satin-finished pewter may require brushing every one to two years. To do so, rub with 0000-grade steel wool gently, in a circular manner following the grain.
Preventing Permanent Stains
When dealing with pewter dinnerware, always wash away food residue as soon as possible after use. Many foods, such as citrus, can cause permanent staining. Also, make sure not to leave pewter pieces soaking in dishwater to prevent permanent damage. Due to pewter's low melting point, it's important to keep it away from heat sources such as hot plates, burners or ovens. Heat can permanently stain or distort pewter quite easily.