The "Does It Work?" Challenge: Polishing Silver with Baking Soda

By: Mollymc Mar 13, 2012
created at: 03/12/2012
 
In observance of Cleaning and Organization month on Curbly, we're staging our own version of Mythbusters and trying out some fabled household tips and tricks to see if they really work. Yesterday, I tried cleaning windows with newspaper and coffee filters. Today I attempt polishing silver with a shortcut using baking soda, but not in the way you might think....
 
 
 
First I gathered up my tarnished silver. Despite my high falutin' nature, I didn't have that much to choose from. I found a letter opener I got as a high school graduation gift and a mint julep cup I keep my lipsticks in.
 
I consulted this article from Real Simple for my Challenge instructions and it said to place my tarnished items in a large pot lined with aluminum foil, then combine 1/4 cup baking soda and a teaspoon of salt. 
 
created at: 03/12/2012
 
Then I poured a quart of boiling water on top of it. Supposedly, the instant chemical reaction with the baking soda and salt would remove the tarnish. I poured the water directly on top and, with tongs, rotated the cup so that all sides would get to soak for a second or two. 
 
It was kinda stinky. Like rotten eggs.
 
Here's how the cup and letter opener looked afterwards:
created at: 03/12/2012
 
As you can see, the cup was perfectly polished, the letter opener less so. I'm guessing it's because the cup was newly tarnished. It had maybe been 6 months to a year since it was last polished. Meanwhile the letter opener has probably gone at least 5 years. Also, if you look at how I dumped the baking soda on the letter opener, most of the powder was on the stainless blade instead of the silver handle. So, there might be some user error going on here.
 
I took some silver polish cream to it and the rest of the tarnish gave up without a fight.
created at: 03/12/2012
 
So, does it work?
created at: 03/12/2012
 
I'd say if you have really tarnished pieces, then this method might be a good way to loosen it up so you don't have to polish as thoroughly. If it's not that bad, then this is pretty simple and effective, but I can't say it's any less time consuming than just using silver polish. It's just more Mr. Wizard.
 
Tomorrow, Part III: Cleaning my floor Swiffer-style using wax paper. Will it work?

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If you can find an old aluminum kettle, even better, you don't have to use the aluminum foil and the reaction is much better.   We used this method to clean the silver for our church all the time I was growing up, back in the day when churches had silver. 

You can leave the reaction for longer, for tough tarnish. Also, metals other than aluminium mess with the reaction, so use enamel or ceramic vessels only, and avoid using metal tongs to fish things out with. I clean my silver jewellery using this method on a smaller scale (mug!) and get things out with disposable bamboo chopsticks.

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I have tried this very same method using Calgon instead of Baking Soda with excellent results. An added benefit, it doesn't smell.

The chemical combination of salt, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and the aluminum foil will give you the same result as the active ingredient found in Spic and Span.  Yes it does have a sulphuric odor, but it works.  I was told that Spic and Span powder is no longer sold due to phosphates which are bad for the environment.  You still can find it at some hardware stores and online.  Since I've become environmentally aware through education, I no longer "pine" for Spic and Span...hehe.  I use the salt, soda, aluminum foil method (and I always add a dash of dishwashing liquid). 

@Ellen, not really, if you have a very well used toothbrush, it has softer bristles.
Also, some whitening toothpastes have silica in them that can cause problems, so I'd stay away from those, but I'd treat this home remedy like any other: spot test before doing an entire object! I find it works for the silver I use it on.

Ace, does the toothbrush not scratch the silver? I admit I've used one to get into the crannies, etc. of very ornate silver, but never on a smooth surface.

 

Toothpaste works on silver! I leave a bit on some of my earrings and gently scrub it off with an old toothbrush. Watch out for toothpastes that have silica in them though, it might scratch the silver a bit.

How neat! I'll have to try this. I don't think I have many silver pieces to choose from either though...

What REALLY worked was the old powdered Spic & Span with the tinfoil. Seems to me there was no vinegar involved, just water. 

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