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How to clean and store Solid Silver
As always we must start with a warning; if you have an antique silver item it should be handled very carefully as inappropriate cleaning can not only irrevocably damage the item but may also reduce the value.
Silver items can tarnish very quickly; tarnish is caused by humidity and/or chemicals and there are many foods and materials that will immediately tarnish silver, these include egg (and items such as mayonnaise that contain eggs), vinegar, perfumes, perspiration, onions, peas, olives, salt, wool, skin oil, fruit juices, latex etc.
It is not widely realised that acids caused by decaying flowers, leaves and fruits can create pit marks in silver. For this reason any silver dishes used for nuts, fruit, salt etc., should be emptied, washed and dried thoroughly after every use.
Chlorine and household bleach can discolour silver - it only takes the fumes!
The best way to clean untarnished silver is with mild, phosphate free soap and water. Be sure to dry the items immediately to prevent tarnish developing.
A soft, clean, cotton cloth should be used when drying and/ or polishing silver and you should not rub too hard but use even, straight strokes - never rub in a circular motion. Never use abrasive products and/or scouring pads or steel wool.
It is best to clean silver when only lightly tarnished as if tarnish is allowed to penetrate it can permanently scar the metal. You will often find that lightly tarnished silver can be cleaned by just washing (as described above).
As dishwasher detergents are somewhat abrasive, contain chemicals and the water temperature is high, silver objects should not be washed in dishwashers to avoid permanent damage.
Tarnished silver can also be cleaned using the electrolytic method which is safe as it does not remove any metals it may, however, remove patina in crevices.
When cleaning 'silver plated'** items it is best not to rub too hard as this can eventually remove the layer of silver, exposing the base metal.
As with many things it is far easier to prevent tarnish than to remove it and, with this in mind, certain precautions can be taken when storing silver items.
Never store unwrapped silver items in plastic bags of cling film.
Silver should never be stored wrapped in felt, newspaper, film wrap, or chamois leather. In addition, as rubber can corrode silver even through several layers of wrapping, it is best to avoid the use of rubber bands entirely: in fact, it is a good idea to keep silver away from rubber of any sort.
Items can be wrapped in acid free tissue paper or special silver cloths before placing in a polythene page e.g. Ziploc bag and sealing. Some people add silica gel and activated charcoal inside the bag.
Boxes used for storage should be of archival quality, otherwise the acids may tarnish it.
The term Sterling Silver indicates that the metal comprises 925 parts of silver to 75 of copper - pure silver would be too soft.
**Silver plate refers to another metal which has received a thin coating of silver.
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