Your Thanksgiving feast or holiday dinner deserves a gorgeous table setting, and that means you should pull out the silver flatware! Whether it was handed down by your great-grandma, or you’ve collected vintage pieces through the years from flea markets and antiques shops, silver is meant to be enjoyed. “The more often you use silver, the less likely it will be to tarnish,” says Corey Ritter, silversmith supervisor at Replacements, Ltd.. “You don’t have to save it only for special occasions.”
Both sterling and silverplate do require a little TLC to stay beautiful. If you’re not sure what you have, here’s how to tell: By law, solid sterling silver will have “sterling” or “925” etched on it, which indicates that it’s 92.5 percent silver combined with other alloys to make it stronger. It also may have a hallmark of the company that made it, such as an easel for Reed & Barton. Less expensive silverplate is dipped in a plating of silver over brass, copper or nickel, with the thickness of the coating measured by microns. Both silver and silverplate can last for generations. Also, they usually can be restored if pieces have serious nicks or dings or the silverplating is wearing off, says Ritter.
Here’s what else you need to know to keep your silver and silverplate flatware and other pieces such as platters or trays pretty for years to come:
How do I clean silver?
Pull on your rubber gloves, because this is one time you should not use your dishwasher! “High heat levels in most dishwashers can cause glue to melt and handles to fall off,” says Ritter. Also, some detergents can leave permanent yellow spots on silver.
After use, wash pieces by hand in a plastic tub or place a rubber mat in the bottom of the sink to avoid scratches from metal on metal contact. This also prevents silver from coming in contact with the residue of other cleaning agents, which could damage it. Use a mild unscented soap, because some ingredients, such as citrus, can cause spotting.
Do not—and we can’t stress this enough!—let silver or silverplate sit around soaking in water in the sink, which can cause the handles to fall off or rust to develop on silverplate. Dry by hand right away with a soft cloth to avoid spotting.
How should I store silver?
Silver tarnishes, or oxidizes, when it’s exposed to air. Either use your silver or silverplate every day, or store it in an airtight container, which will slow down how quickly it tarnishes. A treated chest, which has special flannel wraps in which you slide the flatware, or a simple airtight box works to slow down oxidation. But never use rubber bands to keep pieces together because they’ll leave ugly marks, says Ritter.
How do I get tarnish off my silver?
If your silver is looking dull, apply a commercial silver cream. Read the product label because some types are not meant to be used on silverplate. Use a firm, slightly damp sponge to apply because it gets product into the nooks and crannies better, says Ritter. Don’t use a toothbrush, which will leave scratches. Rinse in warm water, and buff dry. For a less messy alternative, treated clothes that remove tarnish are a great option.
When it comes to home remedies, you can try to clean silverplate with ketchup or toothpaste—but it’s not really recommended for more than a couple cleanings. Over time, these substances will wear down the silverplate until it is removed. Save yourself the stress and use a silver polish because they’re designed to clean and reduce the amount of tarnish that returns.
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