How to Remove Tarnish from Grandma’s Heirloom Silverware

Learn how to polish silverware and remove tarnish the easy, natural way in under five minutes with items right from your pantry.

If you’ve been lucky enough to inherit Grandma’s precious sterling silverware, or have a set of your own, it’s fun to set a beautiful table for a festive Thanksgiving feast, Christmas Eve dinner or Easter brunch. But when silverware isn’t used and washed often, it can easily tarnish, leaving it dull, discolored and unappetizing. You can use commercial silver polish to spruce it up, but there’s an easy, natural way to remove tarnish without any harsh chemicals. The secret is right in your pantry.

How to Remove Tarnish and Polish Silverware

You’ll need:

  • Aluminum foil
  • 2 Tbsp. baking soda
  • 2 Tbsp. salt
  • Hot water
  • Plastic or glass container
  • Soft cloth or lint-free dish towel

Step 1: Grab a pan.

Choose a plastic or glass container that will accommodate your silver pieces. Line the bottom of the container with a piece of aluminum foil, shiny side up.

Psst: Aluminum foil just might be the most useful tool in your kitchen.

Step 2: Layer with baking soda and salt.

Sprinkle 2 tablespoons each of baking soda and salt across the bottom. (If you are cleaning a large piece like a teapot or bowl, you can use up to 1/2 cup baking soda and 1/2 cup salt in a non-stainless-steel sink (the two metals could react, causing spots) or a deeper container if need be. Just keep the amount of baking soda and salt equal.)

More clever ways you can clean with baking soda.

Pan lined with foilPhoto: Taste of Home

Step 3: Add silverware.

Add your silver pieces to the container, making sure each piece is touching the aluminum foil. (If you have a lot of silver to clean, do it in smaller batches, using fresh materials for each batch.)

Step 4: Start the reaction.

On the stovetop or in the microwave, heat water almost to boiling. Protect your hands with oven mitts or potholders and pour the hot water over the silverware to cover. (Because of the baking soda, the water will foam up, so make sure you have enough room for expansion.) A chemical reaction from the foil, soda, salt and hot water binds the silver sulfide, or tarnish, from the silver item onto the foil. This may cause the foil piece to become dark.

Spoon in foil-lined panPhoto: Taste of Home

Step 5: Let the silver soak.

Allow the silverware to soak 1 to 2 minutes, or up to 5 if it’s heavily tarnished. Remove the silverware from the container, wash with warm, soapy water, and dry thoroughly with a soft cloth. (Are you on the microfiber bandwagon yet?)

Photo: Taste of Home

If you have really stubborn tarnish, repeat this process again with fresh materials. Or you can follow up with a common household item from your bathroom cabinet: toothpaste. Rub a small amount of toothpaste on a piece of silver and buff gently in a circular motion with a soft cloth (there’s that microfiber again). Wash in warm, soapy water and dry thoroughly with a fresh cloth.

A few notes of caution:

  • Never put your sterling silver in the dishwasher, because it can damage the pieces.
  • Certain foods like eggs, onions and mustard can make silver tarnish faster. Wipe or rinse those foods off immediately after eating.
  • Avoid exposing sterling silver to tarnish-producing materials like wool, rubber, felt and latex.

Protect the Shine

You can help keep your freshly cleaned sterling silverware pristine by storing it properly. Ideally, sterling silver should be stored in a lined flatware chest. Short of that, the drawers of a china cupboard or a separate lined drawer in an area with low humidity are your best bet. Keep the silverware free of dust, and don’t jumble it together in a drawer with stainless steel flatware. Add a small piece of white chalk to the chest or drawer to help absorb moisture.

The handles on two pieces of silverwarePhoto: Taste of Home

If pieces have become scratched with wear, like the knife handle shown on the bottom of the photo, try using a polishing cloth specifically made for silver to buff out the scratches—I like the yellow Sunshine brand (find them here). Clean and remove any tarnish first, then buff in a circular motion until you see results (top handle). Please note, however, that unlike the chemical reaction that removes tarnish from the surface as in the steps above, this process will remove a fine layer of silver each time. That’s another good reason why storing your silver properly to avoid scratching will help prolong its beauty.

Create a Legacy

For each girl born into my extended family, my grandparents gifted a piece of new sterling silverware in a unique pattern for every birthday and Christmas (silver was much cheaper then!). By the time I was an adult, I had eight place settings and several serving pieces to use for hosting holidays and special occasions. While I don’t use my sterling silver often, I’m so happy I have it and the loving memories of shared meals with friends and family that go with it. Use these simple tips to keep your sterling silver in good condition, and you’ll have a priceless heirloom that can be passed down from generation to generation.

Use that shiny silver at a retro dinner party!
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Dana Meredith
Dana is an editor and writer who shares her passion for travel, food and the beauty of American landscapes. When she's not wielding her red pen, she can be found tending her flower gardens, remodeling her house, creating one-of-a-kind jewelry or dancing to "Uptown Funk."