Homemade Frugal Silver Cleaner

DIY Silver Tarnish Remover

Frugal Silver Cleaner. Photo © Erin Huffstetler

Tired of having to polish the good silverware every time you pull it out, or looking for a way to clean tarnished silver pieces that you found at an antique store, garage sale, or while rummaging in your grandmother's attic? Ditch the polish, and try this simple hands-off remedy that doesn't use any harsh chemicals or commercial products, and doesn't require any elbow grease.

What You Need for Silver Cleaning

  • aluminum foil
  • table salt
  • baking soda
  • hot water
  • wash tub or bucket


  • Place a piece of aluminum foil at the bottom of a wash tub or bucket.
  • Fill the container with hot water, preferably boiling water from a tea kettle or other container from which you can pour it safely.
  • Sprinkle in two tablespoons of table salt and two tablespoons of baking soda.
  • Drop your silver pieces into the water. When they settle on the aluminum foil, they should not be touching each other.
  • Allow your silver to soak for 2-3 minute, or as long as five minutes for heavily-tarnished items.
  • Carefully remove your silver items (do not drag them across the foil) and rinse them. The tarnish should now be gone.
  • Badly tarnished silver may need to be soaked a second time.
  • Variations: Some recipes call for only baking soda or only salt. Some also list washing soda, but it is more likely to etch your items than baking soda.

Why This Works

When salt, baking soda, aluminum foil and water are combined they create a chemical reaction known as ion exchange.

During this process, the tarnish on the silver (silver sulfide) is converted back into silver, and the sulfide becomes aluminum sulfide on the foil. If your silver is tarnished enough, you'll actually see brown tarnish on the aluminum foil. Who knew science could be a frugal person's best friend?

Benefits of The Aluminum Foil/Salt Cleaning Method

  • You don't have to polish the silver items.
  • You aren't using chemicals you don't understand.
  • It works fast.
  • It is inexpensive, and uses ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen.

Drawbacks of the Aluminum Foil/Salt/Soda Cleaning Method

This method will not only remove tarnish that occurs by contact between silver and air, but it will also remove factory-applied patinas. If you wanted to retain the patina, invest in a silver polish.

Silver restorer,Jeffrey Herman, also warns that the surface of silver items soaked this way will have a rougher surface when viewed under a microscope, and may tarnish faster due to this increased surface area. You might also see lighter and darker areas on the item, as pure silver replaces sterling silver and patina. You don't get more silver; you just get a different purity.

You should also take care not to scratch your silver items by dragging them across the aluminum foil. For these reasons, you may want to use a silver cleaner that requires buffing rather than soaking.

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