Cleaning silver plated items is the best way to keep your treasured items looking shiny and new. However, the proper methods to use aren’t always obvious, and if you own anything silver plated, you may be going about it the wrong way.
Most of the confusion you may be having stems from the fact that some polishing techniques used on solid silver, such as flatware or jewelry, can damage silver plated items, which have only a thin layer of silver electroplated over another metal.
Make sure you use these techniques to keep your treasures in great shape.
Use Warm Water
A simple wash with warm water is probably the first and simplest way to take tarnish off of your silver plated items. The biggest benefit of this method is how gentle it is. As long as you’re sure to use warm water specifically, and not hot water, there’s little risk of accidentally removing any of the lacquered finish on your silver along with the tarnish.
Once you’ve ensured the temperature of your warm water, fill up your sink and add a few drops of dish soap. Wait for the dish soap to fully dilute before you submerge your silver plated items to avoid the risk of dark spots forming on the silver from concentrated dish detergent. Then, dry the items with a soft cotton cloth.
This particular method works best for light cleaning or the removal of minimal tarnish. So, if you have anything like silver plated tableware that has been used recently, this is the option you should try first for proper cleaning.
Use Electrolysis Cleaning for Gentle Silver Plate Care
Electrolysis, like the warm water option, is a less destructive way to go. Instead of removing the black silver sulfide tarnish, electrolysis reverses the chemical reaction, leaving the silver intact.
To clean silver plated items through electrolysis, place the silver plated items in a glass bowl lined with aluminum foil. It is important that the aluminum is present. If you don’t want to take the time to line a bowl with foil, you can also use a simple aluminum pan.
Fill the lined bowl or pan with water to submerge the tarnished item. Use boiling water for non-lacquered items and warm water for pieces with a lacquered finish. For each quart of water you fill, add 1 tablespoon of baking soda and let sit for 10 minutes while the chemistry goes to work and draws the sulfur off the silver and onto the aluminum. The chemical reaction takes longer in cooler water.
Keep in mind that unlike simple cleaning methods such as soapy water, the baking soda and water for this technique can’t be used repeatedly or for multiple batches. When you put one batch of silver plated items into the bath, the chemical reaction exhausts the baking soda that is present.
So, if you’re going to be cleaning many silver plated items with this method, use a new clean supply of water and foil for each batch.
WARNING: Electrolysis cleaning should not be used on hollow pieces or silver plated items joined with epoxy or other adhesives.
Stay Away From Abrasives
One mistake to avoid with silver plated items is using abrasives. Abrasive cleaners are harsher in terms of their ability to scour off tarnish, but because of this intensity, they can easily take off some of the silver plating too. They are more commonly used when cleaning solid silver, and even then there is a risk of damage if used incorrectly.
Silver plating is much more delicate, so abrasive cleaners are not a good choice.
Soft polishing cloths are gentler on silver plate, but even those may wear down the plating eventually, and do not reach into intricately etched designs.