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That gorgeous antique silver you scored at the flea market (or from Aunt Jean) is begging for you to bust it out at your next dinner party. The only problem is that, thanks to all that tarnish, your sterling isn’t looking so stellar at the moment. Good news: There’s a natural and chemical-free method for cleaning silver that works like magic and likely won’t cost you a penny. Here’s how to clean a silver plate, water jug, cutlery set and just about any other discolored item you’ve got that’s made with this precious (in more ways than one) metal.

The Hard Way(s) to Clean Silver

There is, in fact, more than one way to polish silver. One option is to buy a silver polishing cloth and then put a whole lot of elbow grease into buffing the tarnish away. If you think this sounds laborious, you’re not wrong. Worse still, it only works well on lightly tarnished silver, so your sweat and tears would be more or less wasted on a heavily discolored object.

Another method involves purchasing a high quality silver polish and, again, expending considerable energy buffing away the tarnish with a cotton ball. This approach will work better on heavy tarnish than warm water and a polishing cloth, but it is still labor intensive. And here’s another reason why you might want to skip this method: Commercial silver polish often contains some seriously nasty toxins, including suspected carcinogens and—gasp—cyanide, too.

The Easy Way to Clean Silver

OK, so the traditional techniques for polishing silver are pretty unappealing, but don’t ditch those heirloom items just yet. There is, in fact, a third way to restore silver to its former glory and it’s a real game-changer (seriously—just check out our before and after photos below on a silver water jug). Here’s how to pull off a DIY silver cleaning.

how to clean a silver plate before and after
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What You’ll Need

Instructions

1. Choose your soaking vessel
This method involves soaking silver in a homemade cleaning solution, so the container you choose must be large enough to accommodate whatever silver you wish to polish. Said container also has to be able to handle scalding hot water, so choose wisely. (Hint: a plastic takeout container is probably not your best bet, even if it fits those dainty silver teaspoons.)

2. Line with aluminum foil
Once you have picked the right container for the job, bust out the aluminum foil and line the bottom of the container with a sheet of it. Note: You don’t have to perfectly line the container, but the goal is to have the silver in contact with the foil—so the bigger the swath, the better.

3. Bring water to a boil
Fill up a tea kettle or stock pot with as much water as you need to fully submerge the piece of silver you’re hoping to make bright and shiny. Don’t just eyeball it, though; cover the silver with the appropriate amount of cold water and then measure how many cups of water the job requires before you turn up the heat. (This will help you down the line.)

4. Add the baking soda and salt
The quantity of baking soda and salt you should use really depends on the size of the possession you’re trying to polish, but there is a straightforward formula. For every cup of boiling water you will be using to submerge your piece of silver, add 1 tablespoon baking soda and 1 tablespoon salt. (Aren’t you glad you measured the water before boiling?) Once you’ve figured out how many tablespoons of the two ingredients you need, dump them into the aluminum-lined soaking vessel and proceed to the next step.

5. Add boiling water and silver
Add your (roughly) pre-measured quantity of boiling water to the soaking container. Now carefully, so as to avoid scalding splashes, add the silver pieces you wish to polish to the container. If you’re polishing multiple items—like, say, a utensil set—try to spread them out to avoid overlapping, or soak them in several batches if that’s not possible. Tip: A set of tongs might come in handy here to avoid scalding your fingertips.

6. Soak
This process can range from a quick 60-second dip to a full 30-minute affair, depending on the degree of tarnish your silver is suffering from. Once the silver has been given an adequate soak, remove it from the cleaning solution and bask in the satisfaction of a job well done.

Check out the video below to see this all-natural cleaning method in action:

Not seeing the results you were hoping for? While light tarnish will transfer to the aluminum foil on its own, more dramatic discoloration may need to be wiped away with a rag once the silver is done soaking. (Notice we said wiped, as opposed to buffed or scrubbed.)

Finally, on the off chance you’re still not satisfied with the results, Melissa Maker of Clean My Space recommends adding ½ cup of vinegar for every cup of boiling water to achieve an even more potent cleaning solution that’s sure to whip the worst cases of tarnished silver into shape.

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