As seen on BBC TV's 'Great Antiques Hunt'
Winner, 1996

  GlitzQueen at Trocadero

  Newsletter Archive

  GlitzQueen Central



As promised previously, we’re going to talk this time about MASS clean-up, rather than cleaning individual items.  All too often, every piece of silver jewelry I own needs radical care at once, in which case I resort to an electrochemical process to save hours of polishing.  You can deal with your tarnished tableware at the same time, if you want to.  Mind you, electrochemical dips are  *not*  suitable for cleaning any piece that has stones, enamel or anything else going on with it but silver.  The procedure isn’t limited to sterling, though; in fact, it's a kinder method of cleaning silver plate than rubbing with silver polish (because it doesn’t remove a minute layer of plating, as abrasive polishes do). 


You can also use the following recipe to clean copper and brass – but *never* mix metals in the same dip or a thin film of metal will chemically transfer from one to the other.



You’ll need – besides a well-ventilated work area with access to very hot water – two plastic containers (a mixing bucket plus a dishpan, basin or wastebasket for cleaning); enough aluminum foil to line the cleaning container fully; a package of washing soda crystals; wooden tongs; a soft-bristled toothbrush; a soft cloth or chamois; and protective gear (rubber gloves, plastic goggles and perhaps a face mask). 


If dealing with pieces that have looped handles, a length of thin wooden dowel (maybe cut from an old map) will also be very useful.

A third plastic container for clean hot water will be needed for rinsing, if neither your kitchen nor bathroom is sufficiently well-ventilated for you to use this dip near a sink.  Naturally, if you *are* using a sink for rinsing jewelry items, put a strainer in there to avoid losses.



Sterling can stay longer in the dip than plated pieces, especially if the latter have worn spots, so check for hallmarks and wear and separate things into groups before you begin cleaning.



Line your plastic cleaning container with aluminum foil and place silver pieces in it.  Put on rubber gloves and other gear for protection against the washing soda and mix 5 ounces of it for every 2 ˝ cups of very hot water, then carefully pour solution over the silver.  Silver pieces must be completely immersed.  Don’t panic when the basin starts to bubble like a witches’ cauldron; that’s the chemical reaction which will transfer tarnish from your silver to the foil.


Sterling and silver plate in good condition can stay in for one to two minutes, but eroded plate shouldn’t be left for more than 20 seconds.  Check at the appropriate time by removing the piece – using  wooden tongs or a dowel, *never* your hands; rubber gloves don’t ensure full protection, besides which rubber’s interaction with the chemical will stain silver.  If tarnish hasn’t disappeared at first peek, you can dip the item again, monitoring progress closely.



Using wooden tongs or doweling, remove cleaned silver and rinse each piece thoroughly  with hot water.  While rinsing, be sure your rubber gloves don’t touch the silver surface. 


To finish, remove rubber gloves and wash your silver pieces in hot, soapy water, scrubbing their recesses with a soft-bristled toothbrush if necessary.  Dry the silver right away and then buff its surface to a deep shine with your soft cloth or chamois.


YES, THERE’S AN EASIER WAY.  The preceding is an expert recipe, tried and true, but I’ve also had extremely good results from commercially available tarnish-removal systems based on chemical transfer of silver tarnish to magnesium strips or plates.  Some require the addition of baking soda, while others call for dishwashing liquid.  Based on my experience with such products, nothing seethes like a cauldron, nor do you need protective gear (since no dangerous materials are involved) – but be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions, since recommended procedures vary. 


As with the washing soda-based dip, never mix metals in the same load or you’ll wind up with a mess.


AN UPDATE ON AMBER CARE:  A reader in Sweden, where Baltic amber is happily prevalent, says the cloudy look amber jewelry sometimes acquires can be polished away with toothpaste!  The clouding is an oxide, a form of tarnish that has to be “filed down” by a mildly abrasive substance.  Thanks for the good information, Karin!


RECOMMENDED LINK:  I recently discovered a wealth of information online concerning just about every gemstone there is.  It's a wonderfully well-organized site, too.  When you have time, drop by - I believe you'll find it as amazing as I did.


‘Hope you all got your acid-free tissue paper, as recommended last month, and wrapped your jewelry in it.  I spent quite a lot of time doing that, myself.


Be careful where you keep your jewelry boxes, too!  Temperature extremes can be as destructive as dampness, so store them out of direct sunlight and away from any source of humidity,  heat or cold.  If you’re in a humid climate, a dehumidifer for the room where you keep your jewelry will be a sound investment.




Web design and content are Copyright 2001-2005, Katherine Anne Harris.  All rights reserved.