How do I Care for Antique Silver?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Antique silver can be beautiful when it is properly cared for, and good care will also ensure that the silver will last to be passed down to future generations. There are a number of things to keep in mind when taking care of antique silver to ensure that it stays in good condition. Regular cleaning and care will prevent tarnish, which can damage the silver, but it is important to avoid damaging the silver with the wrong cleaner, or with cleanings which are too aggressive.

Antique silver cups.
Antique silver cups.

If a collection of antique silver is already in good condition, it should simply be stored in an acid-free environment such as a drawer or case lined with acid-free paper, and periodically wiped down with a soft, dry cloth. When the silver is used, it should be washed promptly with warm soapy water and then wiped dry with a soft cloth. This will prevent tarnish for an extended period of time.

Periodically, a collection of antique silver may need to be polished to clear away tarnish. A foam polish or cream designed specifically for silver should be used, and the directions should be followed closely. Some products work better on warm silver, in which case the silver should be rinsed, wiped dry, and then buffed with the polish, using a soft cloth to avoid scratching the silver. Other polishes can be applied, buffed, and then rinsed off. If silver has elements which may retain water, such as wooden handles, it should be polished with a silver polish which can be buffed away without rinsing.

If antique silver is badly tarnished, it may need more aggressive cleaning. Silver dip is a product which can be used to remove heavily-caked tarnish, although dips should not be used too frequently. If a product has already been dipped or it appears fragile, it will be necessary to buff the tarnish out by hand, using a soft cloth or impregnated gloves designed for silver cleaning. This can take time, and it requires patience.

Antique silver should not be exposed to wool, salt, felt, or rubber. If the silver does come into contact with these items, it should be washed immediately and wiped dry. Silver also does not like to remain wet, and it is important to wipe down silver thoroughly after every washing to prevent tarnishing and spotting. The use of sealants such as wax is also not recommended, as tarnish may become trapped under the sealant, making the silver difficult to clean and maintain.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Very often silver is passed down from grandparents to their grandchildren, and so on. Because the silver is long lasting and when clean and shiny, so beautiful, for many it has more meaning than just a beautiful set of flatware, a tray or a candelabra.

It is the memory of the people that have used it, of a time long gone. It is a tie and a connection with the past and the love maybe of a grandma and a grandpa passed down through time and generations.

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