Maybe it’s that set of flatware you inherited from your grandmother, or an old Tiffany necklace from your bat mitzvah or sweet sixteen — if you have silver, it probably needs to be polished. Polishing silver is one of those tasks, like resurfacing a wood table or buffing and shining leather shoes, that you could pay to have done by a professional. Or you could take the advice of jewelry designers, antique dealers, and polishing pros here, and do it yourself? We talked to 12 silver-cleaning experts about all the products you need to make your silver shine — or in the words of Jim McConnaughy, to make your silver look “like silk, rather than chrome.” All it takes is the right cleaner and some elbow grease.
Best polishing cloths and mittens
Sunshine Cloths — flannel cloths with polishing compounds — were a favorite of Faris Du Graf, founder of the jewelry line FARIS. She says, “You can give you jewelry a rigorous rub and it removes oxidation really well. I’ve renewed pieces that have turned to a dark gray back to shiny with the cloths. I have a version that I give to most of my online customers and almost always have one in my purse to shine up mine or a friend’s piece real quick. The compound does eventually get used all the way, but I washed them and use them as a soft cloth for a paste polish. I think they’re perfect for maintenance, they’re super easy to use.” Reshma Patel, the owner of Quiet Storms, a jewelry boutique in Williamsburg, also recommends these cloths. “I would encourage everyone to start with a cloth and if you’re not achieving the desired result, consult with a jeweler,” she says.
Silver polishing mittens are also “very handy” for quick polishing jobs, says Jim Popelka, of Jean’s Silversmiths, though he notes that they’re more abrasive than his other suggestions. “You don’t want to use something abrasive over and over on the same piece, but occasionally it’s okay,” he says. Antique silver especially, you want to be careful how you treat it … the silver, the metal itself, is very soft so it’s easy to scratch, and you don’t want to use anything that would scratch it.”
Steve Nelson, who co-owns Nelson & Nelson Antiques — which used to be located in the Pierre, and can now be found at The Manhattan Art & Antique Center — with his wife, recommends Hagerty gloves “if silver is just yellow not black.”
Best wipe-on, wash-off polish
Wright’s Silver Cleaner is the favored polish at Nelson & Nelson Antiques. “Use paste polish with a rag or sponge,” Nelson says. “Use warm water and be sure to rinse to remove all the polish from the crevices. Paste polish will be easier to use if silver is dark. Do not use a liquid cleaner as it take the background oxidation out of the pattern.”
Anthony Mammon, of Estate Silver Company, says a “wipe on, wash off” polish is “great for cutlery, dishes, bowls, trays, etc.” To use it, you simply “wipe on with a wet sponge, and rinse off and wipe dry.” Mammon notes that this kind of polish should only be used on items that have “no other material attached to the silver, for example wood handles, or any filling inside, for example candlesticks with pitch filling. If these get wet you can harm the wood, or expand the filling.” As for the best way to clean silver? Mammon says, “the best way to keep your silver clean is to use it. Just from handling, washing, wiping, etc, the tarnish stays away, so the more you use it, the less you need to polish it, and silver was made to last. So use it, don’t abuse it, and you can enjoy it for many, many years, and not need to maintain it as much.”
Howard and Myra Donowits, owners of Tudor Rose Antiques in New York, recommend Maas Metal Polish, which is “better for more difficult jobs.” All you have to do is “apply with any non-abrasive cloth (an old cotton towel, etc.), wipe off then rinse and dry silver.”
Best polishing foams
Jim McConnaughy, senior vice-president of S.J. Shrubsole, an antique silver and jewelry shop on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, recommends Goddard’s Silver Polish Foam, which he describes as “milder than some other polishes” and good for using “when something is particularly dirty.” When asked what the desired effect of polishing should be, McConnaughy says, “We do want a piece of silver to shine, but not too much. It is a subtle look, like silk rather than chrome. And some of the tarnish around and within the decoration should be left where it is; the contrast brings out the decoration very effectively.”
The Donowitses also recommend a cleaning foam: Hagerty Silver Foam. They describe it as “not abrasive” and “easy to use,” noting that it can be used on silver plated items. The foam comes with a sponge, which you wet, dip into the cleaner, apply to the item, and then rinse off and wipe dry.
Best gentle polishes
For an even milder option than Goddard’s Foam, McConnaughy likes Herman’s Silver Polish, which is available online from the silver restorer Jeff Herman. “When something is more delicate we use Herman’s Silver Polish,” McConnaughy says.
Best polishing solutions
Jewelry designer Erica Weiner — who sells antique jewelry in her stores, and whose designs are influenced by vintage pieces — says, “for jewelry, when it’s really oxidized — I once wore a silver ring in the sulfuric hot springs at Esalen … blackened silver! — there’s no match for Jax. It’s a harsh, but very effective, cleaner. The good thing about it is that jewelry, unlike clothing, can easily be washed clean of chemical residue. Dip your blackened silver in a teaspoon of Jax, then wash it in warm water and Dr. Bronner’s and you’re good.”
Tiffany Gong, manager of Ted Muehling jewelry (a Strategist favorite!), says they use Tarn-X, a cleaner that is a clear solution, rather than a cream. “Our pieces have a brushed silver finish, not a shiny polished one so Tarn-X keeps the texture the same and just removes the tarnish,” she says.
Best wadding polishes
Meir Appel, co-founder of Menorah Galleries, which specializes in antique Judaica, recommends Silvo Tarnish Guard. “I believe it’s the best product to clean silver,” he says. “It’s a wet cotton that you wipe on the silver and sometimes if the patina is too old you rub it onto the silver, then you wipe it off with a tissue or paper towel or any towels it come out fresh and shining.”
“It’s like magic,” Nathan Horowicz, owner of the antique silver shop Nathan Horowicz Antiques Inc., says of Never Dull. “You wipe it on and then you wash it off with warm soap and water. You don’t have to leave it on at all. Its benefit is that it doesn’t leave any residue,” he says. Cleaning with this metal polish “brings out the lustre of the metal — whether it’s silver, whether it’s gold, whether any precious metal — and it doesn’t harm it.” Horowicz notes that Never Dull is also used to polish boats.
Best polishing spray
Best products for storing silver
For storing silver, the Donowitses like Hagerty’s silver storage bags, and warn against storing silver in plastic wrapping of any kind (including plastic bags and Saran wrap). “Acid in the plastic will cause silver to tarnish and can actually ‘etch’ into the silver,” they explain. “The same goes for using rubber bands to hold pieces together. The acid in the rubber can cause tarnish that might have to be professionally removed.”
Popelka says that best way to store silver is to keep it in Pacific Cloth — “‘Pacific,’ like the ocean.” Speaking of the ocean, he notes that if you live near the ocean (or just leave your silver out in the open for too long) it will tarnish faster — so best to store it when you’re not using it.
Popelka also recommends anti-tarnish strips, which are strips of paper that can be used in enclosed silver storage places (like a drawer or box) that “absorb the sulfur that’s in the air, which causes a lot of the tarnish.” These are from 3M, the same brand that makes the silver polish Popelka recommends.
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