Pinbusted or Pintrusted: DIY Silver Cleaners


Every year at Christmas, I hang a set of music-box silver bells. The bells have been around for awhile, so they are no longer shiny and bright. Now that the holidays are over and the tree is down, it is that dreaded time where I must break down and clean the silver.

Bells before being cleaned. Images: Timothy Post
Bells before being cleaned. Images: Timothy Post.
You can see in the final frame there is a lone clean spot surrounded by tarnish.
You can see in the final frame, there is a lone clean spot surrounded by tarnish.

I found my silver cleaner, but it is so old, it has separated. So, I investigated Pinterest for possible DIY methods of cleaning silver. There are so many ideas out there! Now I get to figure out if any of them work.

First up, I used baking soda toothpaste. It was messy (but minty!). The supposed purpose of using the toothpaste is for cleaning an item that shouldn’t go in water. Yet, in order to get the toothpaste off the tarnished item, it has to be rinsed. The item also has to be damp when toothpaste is applied to it.

Keeping all of these things in mind, I went to town on my bell from 1984. I cleaned around the outside of the bell three times. When I rinsed it, it looked better, but it wasn’t worth the hassle and mess to clean it in this manner.

Verdict for the toothpaste cleaner: Busted.

Baking soda by itself is mildly effective when cleaning silver. But it seems to really make silver sparkly, some science and bubbles are needed in combination with the baking soda. No problem. Let’s make it happen!

Compare the before and after. Much brighter after.

Another pin I stumbled across suggested using two antacid tablets in regular temperature water. I was skeptical, but lo and behold, the results were actually quite sparkly.

The details in the silver piece were still dark, but the smooth surfaces were bright and shiny. Waiting to let all of the bubbles finish cleaning took a bit of time, but the result was usable. A chemical reaction occurs when the antacid tablets are dropped in water: the tablets contain citric acid and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). When you drop the tablet in water, the acid and the baking soda react (giving us our cleaning bubbles!).

Antacid Tablets in Water: Trusted.

Finally, I tried the pin that I found spread the most through Pinterest: Boiling water and baking soda in a container lined with tin foil. This is as easy as it sounds.

I lined a container with foil. While I had the kettle boiling my water, I poured a layer of baking soda in the bottom of the container. I placed my bell in the container and started slowly pouring in the water. It immediately started fizzing and bubbling. When the initial steam cleared, I saw a huge difference between the silver that was under the water and the silver that had not yet been cleaned. After a minute or two, I tipped over the bell, so the top would be clean too.

In the bottom left corner, you can see where the chemical reaction stopped on the bell. We soon tipped it over, so the top would be cleaned too.

The reaction works because silver tarnishes because it has a chemical reaction with sulfur-containing substances in our air. When silver combines with sulfur, it forms silver sulfide, which is what appears to us as the dark tarnish on silver. By removing the sulfide with a chemical reaction, the silver is shiny again. There are nifty chemical equations to prove what process takes place, but my chemistry is too rusty to be reliable. Rust…there’s another chemical reaction! I digress…

This worked really well. It worked faster and slightly better than the antacids. The details were pretty well cleaned and didn’t require a lot of scrubbing afterward. There are also other versions of this method involving olive oil to polish after the process and boiling the baking soda in the water, but I didn’t do those variations.

Tin Foil, Boiling Water, and Baking Soda: Trusted!

I hope this helps the next time you don’t want to dig out the chemical cream to clean your silver. Things you probably already have in your kitchen will probably work just as well without the mess!

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