Saving Mom's Silver

My Mom passed in 1997. She had a small estate in California which my West Coast siblings settled. I was grateful for the items that were set aside for me to remember her by. One of those things was a shoe-box filled with severely tarnished silver. My older sister remarked that they couldn't be worth much but they had thought if anyone could do something with them it was me. I know the fact that it was wildly mismatched as well as tarnished had greatly reduced any value the others may have seen in it.
As you can see the pieces were badly tarnished, with a bit of corrosion to deal with. Living on the Gulf Coast in Alabama for the past 30 years has given me access to some awesome "rural remedies" as we Californian Transplants call them. An 87 year old Lady gave me her fix for tarnished silver. She got it from watching her Family's Help over 75 years ago.

You begin by lining a glass or ceramic baking dish with aluminum foil. It has to cover the entire inside area of the dish. I am listing the ingredients in the small amount. Simply double or triple as you must to cover your silver and soak. I had to multiply it all by 4s. The Basic recipe is as follows. 1 Heaping Tablespoon of Baking Soda, 1 Heaping Tablespoon of Course Salt, 1 1/2 Cup of White Vinegar and 1 Cup of Boiling Water with a foil base in a Glass or Ceramic pan ( That part is crucial!)
Step by Step ...begin with Baking Soda. Spread it across the bottom of the pan.
Add Kosher Salt. ( She actually used Pickling Salts but I am pretty sure any coarse salt would work well). Again scatter it over the bottom of the pan.
Now we come to the Magic part. If you have kids get them to watch as this is pure science! Layer the tarnished silver in the pan. Remember you will have to adjust the total amount used to COVER the silver. You use 2 parts BOILING water to 1 part White Vinegar. ( To sum it up I had scattered 4 heaping Tablespoons of both baking Soda and Salt - in the dish. Then I microwaved just over 4 cups of water to boiling in a large bowl before adding to the water the 2 cups of White Vinegar)
Instant Chemical reaction! I allowed my badly tarnished silver to sit for 20 minutes. Then I poured out the cooled liquid and repeated the steps.As nasty as the silver was I repeated the steps 3 times. You end up with dirty, gummy looking pieces.... rinse quickly in cool water then lay on a towel to drain.
Using a clean towel you simply buff each piece.Rinse it once more and dry. It takes about 1-3 minutes each. Above you can see one I had quickly buffed compared to one fresh from vinegar bath.
You can imagine my delight seeing the finished results... Once that gross layer of tarnish is removed you can use the silver right away. If you want to go a step farther, you can pick up a bottle of Wright's Silver Polish. By using the vinegar bath you will have reduced the time needed to polish your silver by easily more than 3 times! The polish will protect against future tarnishing.
Of the treasures I discovered when I was done buffing and cleaning were the 6 pieces of Silver from my Father's service in the Navy over 50 years ago. The Officer's Mess used real Silver, while the Enlisted Mess used a cheap stainless. Either way every piece was stamped with "USN". Dad served aboard 2 Air Craft Carriers for nearly 20 years. Some how these items followed him home lol
As a collection I'm sure they aren't worth much, but as a memory they're priceless!
Frequently asked questions
Have a question about this project?
3 of 13 questions
  • Cornelia Els Cornelia Els on Feb 27, 2016
    Hoiw do you use lemon juice?

  • Mandy Smith Mandy Smith on Mar 02, 2016
    The recipe says 1 1/2 cups vinegar & 1 cup boiling water but in the instructions it says 4 parts water to 1 part vinegar?

  • Diana Deiley Diana Deiley on Apr 02, 2016
    Did you ever display the USN pieces in a shadow box?

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2 of 81 comments
  • Bonita Snodgrass Bonita Snodgrass on Apr 21, 2016
    Hi Elaine, breaking the set would not bother me. I am lucky enough to have some wonderful pieces of Mom's jewelry. I have seem many beautiful pieces made from silverware, but the weight and or size doesn't work for me 😞 I think a shadowbox for the USN pieces in the kitchen and once again storing the rest until my Girls or Grands are further inspired. Thanks for the suggestion !

  • Kda5643516 Kda5643516 on Apr 25, 2016
    you can make chimes with them...i bought one at a garage sale they were hanging from a small pot holder and they used fishing line...