Whether you have an antique tea set, a sterling silver necklace, or just some tarnished flatware, you’ll need to use a good silver polish to keep it looking its best. Thankfully, there are several options out there, from gentle creams and foams to sprays and dips. The right one will help you clean your silver without damaging it, and it’ll leave behind a protective film that will prevent future tarnishing.
The best silver polishes are generally formulated from an aqueous alkaline carrier in combination with an abrasive and a substance which provides anti-tarnishing action. The latter is typically one of the di-substituted lower alkyl thioureas, especially dimethyl, diethyl, or diisopropyl thiourea. These compounds are extremely effective cleaning and anti-tarnishing agents, but also act as a mild solvent. The polish itself is often a cream or paste, and may contain additional ingredients such as waxes, talcum powders, dyes, fillers, preservatives, and perfumes.
Most silver polishes work by a similar process. They have a mild abrasive component that buffs away the discoloration from the silver, while the active anti-tarnishing compounds cling to the surface of the metal, preventing further oxidation. In addition, some have a solvent that helps remove any residues from the surface of the silver. Lastly, they may have perfumes added which will mask any odors produced by the polishing operation.
If you have sensitive skin, the chemicals in most polishes can be harsh and potentially harmful to your skin. To avoid this, look for a non-abrasive formula or one that’s specifically labeled as gentle. You’ll also want to be aware of any potential sensitivity issues that might be present in any other ingredients used in the product.
Using a silver polish is usually as simple as dabbing a small amount onto a clean cloth and then rubbing the item. It’s important to use a up-and-down motion, not circular, to avoid highlighting any fine scratches that might be on the surface of the silver. Many of the best silver polishes have a gentle fragrance to make them more appealing than their abrasive counterparts.
Many of these products come in tubs, so you can just squeeze out a bit and apply it to your silver items. Others require you to put a little on a sponge or cloth before applying it to the object. Still others are designed to be dipped into, which can be particularly helpful for larger pieces such as a full set of silver flatware or a large dinner plate. Finally, there are even some polishes that you can use as a spray to get into the hard-to-reach spots of jewelry or delicate ornamentation. In fact, there are even a few silver polishes that you can actually place the item in to soak in its solution for an extra thorough cleaning.