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How to Recognize Silver

Sterling silver is 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper. In the U.S.A. sterling silver will be stamped “sterling.” Mexican silver is stamped 92.5. English sterling is stamped with a lion facing to the left.

Silver plate consists of a base metal (often copper) that has been electrolytically coated with silver. In the U.S.A. it will be stamped plate. In England it will be stamped with a lion facing to the right.

Handling and Storing Silver

This is the best way to preserve your silver and if done faithfully will require little or no polishing for long periods of time:

  • Use cotton or plastic gloves.
  • Wash your silver in mild non-lemon-scented phosphate-free detergent as soon as you are finished using it.
  • Dry thoroughly with a soft cotton towel (for intricate detail use a cotton Q-tip to get into cracks and crevices).
  • Store wrapped in acid-free tissue and in a sealed polyethylene bag (e.g., Ziploc) or in a Pacific Silvercloth bag (don’t get the Pacific cloth wet as it will remove the tarnish deterrent properties).

Things that can Damage Silver and Cause Tarnish

All sulfur-containing compounds:

  • Air pollutants from fossil fuels
  • Textiles containing wool, felt and velvet
  • Rubber products, such as foam rubber, carpet padding and rubber bands
  • Wood (untreated), paper and cardboard
  • Foods such as olive oil, vinegar, olives, pickled products, eggs and egg products
  • Oils and salts from your hands
  • Wine and fruit juice (gold-lined chalices combat corrosion)
  • Salt is very corrosive
  • Humidity hastens tarnish

To Remove Tarnish

First, thoroughly wash and dry your silver as noted.

For lightly tarnished silver buy a good nonabrasive polish such as Blitz (found at or WOW (a product from Almy that works great). To test a polish for abrasiveness, rub it between your fingers. It should feel like talcum powder. If it feels gritty at all do not use it.

Heavy tarnish may be removed with Tarnex, but it is not recommended as it may leave a yellow cast on the silver, dulling it over time. It also has no tarnish prevention properties and may pit.

Polish with an old terry cloth towel and a wet Q-tip, a soft wet tampico or horsehair brush to remove the polish from intricate detail. Buff with a soft cotton cloth.

A Few Don’ts

  • Don’t put your silver in the dishwasher — the heat and harsh detergent may cause damage.
  • Don’t wrap silver in saran wrap or plastic cleaning bags. Both will stick and cause permanent yellowing.
  • Never use rubber bands on silver. They will cause permanent damage.
  • Don’t wrap in newspaper as it will leave print on the silver and ultimately tarnish.
  • Don’t use silver polish that has dried out as it will be too concentrated with abrasives.
  • Do not store weighted hollowware in hot attics, or place in ovens or dishwashers as these will cause damage.
  • Don’t polish gold, which does not tarnish. Polish will eventually rub the gold down to the base metal.
  • To protect lacquered brass always handle with gloves. Make sure an alcohol-free hand sanitizer is used by those touching the brass during a service. If there is some pitting of the lacquer, lightly rub a wooden match in the pit to get rid of it. Olive oil may be used to clean and bring out the luster.

A good silver website

Society of American Silversmiths

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