How to Clean Silver Jewelry the Natural Way

Posted on July 31, 2012 by Courtney

The Greenists are on vacation. Please enjoy this recycled post.

I wear silver jewelry almost exclusively, but it’s a real downer when the oil from my skin tarnishes the metal, leaving it dull and dirty-looking. Recently I realized I hadn’t been wearing a few pieces I own that I really like, and it was just because the tarnish made them less shiny and pretty than they used to be. I knew I could go out and buy some expensive, toxic silver polish to restore my jewelry to its original shininess, but after a little research, I discovered a natural way to get the job done that doesn’t involve toxic chemicals.

So I did a little experiment using a silver necklace my parents brought back from a trip to Alaska a few years ago. I hadn’t worn the necklace in years because it had turned so dull, but after just 15 minutes or so, it’s just like new again! Here’s how I did it:

Step 1: Wash the jewelry. You just want to remove any dust and extra oil so they don’t interfere with the reaction that’s about to take place. I used a dollop of Seventh Generation dish soap. Rinse the soap off, but don’t bother drying it.

Step 2: Get a skillet or a small pot and line it with aluminum foil.

Step 3: Fill the skillet or pot with water. Make sure to use enough water to fully submerge the item you’re cleaning.

Step 4. Stir in some baking soda. For just one necklace, a couple teaspoons did the trick. If you’re cleaning something larger, like a serving spoon, you’d use about half a cup or so. Don’t worry about precise measurements; this is jewelry cleaning, not brain surgery.

Step 5: Bring the water just to a boil. Remove it from heat as soon as the water starts boiling.

Step 6: Drop the jewelry into the water. Make sure it’s touching the aluminum foil. Leave it there for a few minutes, occasionally moving it around with tongs for increased contact with the foil. Depending on how tarnished the piece is, you may start seeing the water turn a lovely shade of light yellowish-brown.

Step 7: Remove the jewelry from the water and dry it with a soft, clean cloth. Dig around in any crevices in the jewelry with the cloth — some of the tarnish will continue to come off. Continue to buff the piece until all the tarnish is gone.

Voila! Your jewelry should be clean and shiny again, just like it was when you first had it. For severely tarnished pieces, you may have to repeat the process once more to restore maximum shininess.

For those interested in the science behind this process, here’s what’s happening: What we think of as tarnish is actually a sulfur buildup on your silver. The hot water and baking soda loosen the buildup and help transfer it to the aluminum foil. Sulfur is more chemically attracted to aluminum than it is to silver, so you’re merely transferring the sulfur to another place, leaving your silver clean and shiny. Cool, huh?

Does anyone have any other recipes for homemade jewelry cleaners? How do you clean your shiny things?


  1. Ohhhhh this is perfectly timed! I was staring at my little porcelain cup of earrings and bracelets last night, wishing they weren’t so brown from tarnish. Thank you for this post!!

    August 1st, 2012 at 3:30 pm
    Comment by sara
  2. This looks great! Someone recently told me to polish an old silver plated mirror I have with tooth paste! Supposedly this is suposed to clean silver too.

    August 23rd, 2012 at 9:19 pm
    Comment by KristyK
  3. Sounds great! Someone at an antique shop recently told me you can polish silver with tooth paste as well.

    August 23rd, 2012 at 9:20 pm
    Comment by KristyK

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If It Doesn’t Smell, Don’t Wash It


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