Pure silver is 1000/1000 and too malleable to work with, most antique silver objects are an alloy of pure silver with another metal, usually copper. Tarnishing occurs when the other metals combine with environmental factors such as humidity to cause a chemical reaction resulting in a dull, blackened appearance.
Regular care of antique silver is key to effective cleaning and items should be routinely dusted with a soft cloth or brush. A baby’s hair brush is gentle enough not to scratch or mark the silver and a baby’s toothbrush will help in hard to reach places. Lay a soft, cotton cloth on the work surface and always wear cotton gloves when handling the silver, as the oil on fingertips can damage delicate surfaces.
Baking soda – a method of using baking soda combined with aluminium foil to clean silver is widely available on the internet. However, it should be avoided when cleaning antique silver, as baking soda is far too abrasive and can destroy the finish of the piece.
The dishwasher – dishwasher detergent and salt can stain the surface of silver, and cause damage through pitting. With silver cutlery, leftover food (particularly salty foods or sulphurous foods such as eggs and sprouts) can cause tarnishing, so flatware should be handwashed immediately and never left to soak overnight.
Wire wool – never succumb to the temptation to tackle tarnished spots with wire wool. It will scratch the surface of the silver and, with plated items, it could even expose the base metal.
Toothpaste – widely used to reduce the appearance of tarnish, this household product will cause damage; fluoride toothpastes contain compounds that may cause unwanted reactions.
Some believe that silver should be polished and sparkling, while others prefer their antique silver to display a patina that only comes with age. Do not confuse patina which occurs on clean silver, with tarnish, and bear in mind that overzealous polishing can diminish detailing and reduce patina. If you are going to polish your silver use a foam something like Goddard's silver foam polish. This is used by most professionals. You could also use a Goddard's longterm polish cloth for less tarnished silver..
Silver that is not in frequent use or on display, should be stored in acid-free tissue paper and wrapped in undyed cotton or linen fabric.
When displaying silver, humidity levels should be 50% but where this is not possible, avoid excessively damp or moist conditions. Anti-tarnish paper can be placed into display cabinets to reduce the risk from environmental factors, reducing the rate of tarnishing.
When not in use, silver flatware should be stored in a cutlery chest or a cutlery roll, but should never be put away unless it is completely clean and dry.
Avoid storing silver in plastic bags as the sulphur content in plastic can cause tarnishing and moisture can be trapped inside the bag. Opt instead for airtight polythene bags. Similarly, avoid oak boxes or drawers because of the acidity of the wood.