How to Clean and Sell Your Sterling Silver Flatware

Planning to entertain soon? Why not take your silver flatware set out of safekeeping and use it? Here are tips on how to clean it properly, as well as prepare to sell it.


Understanding Tarnish

Sterling silver and other metals, including copper, brass, and aluminum, require regular cleaning and tarnish removal. Tarnish is a thin layer of corrosion that forms over time from the metal’s exposure to hydrogen sulfide, normally present in the air. Tarnish can also develop after contact with wool, felt or certain foods. This electrochemical process is called oxidation.

Tarnish usually forms as a dull grey or black coating over the silver. Interestingly, tarnish is self-limiting, which means it only affects the top few layers of the metal. The outer layers of tarnish actually seal and protect the underlying layers, which is why a good cleaning can restore silver to its shiny original state.

Proper Cleaning and Care

You want to clean your silver, not damage it. To avoid doing so, use a non-abrasive silver cleaner that requires rinsing after use. Silver cleaners that require rinsing are usually less abrasive. It’s also best to look for brands that state the cleaner is “non-abrasive” on the label.

Don’t use chemical dips for cleaning sterling silver flatware, as they contain corrosive acids. Also, don’t put your sterling silver flatware in the dishwasher.

For supplies, you’ll need a plastic dishpan, soft cotton dish towel, cotton balls, non-lemon-scented, phosphate-free hand dishwashing liquid; white vinegar and/or non-abrasive silver cleaner, silver polishing rouge cloth, and a dry artist’s horsehair paintbrush.

  1. Place the flatware in the plastic dishpan. Add a teaspoon of non-lemon-scented, phosphate-free hand dishwashing liquid and fill the pan with warm water. Wash the flatware with the soft dish towel to remove oils, fingerprints, and debris.
  2. Rinse the flatware with warm water and dry with the soft cotton towel.
  3. Next, clean light tarnish by wiping the area lightly with a cotton ball moistened with white vinegar or non-abrasive cleaner. Dry the flatware with the towel.
  4. To remove heavier tarnish, apply a small amount of non-abrasive silver cleaner to a soft cloth and rub the flatware gently from side to side, or up and down. Don’t use circular motions, and don’t apply an excessive amount of cleaner to the silver—use only the amount needed to remove the tarnish.
  5. Rinse the cleaner off the flatware, and wipe off any dried cleaner with the towel. To remove residual cleaner from nooks or patterns, use a dry artist’s horsehair paintbrush.
  6. Rinse the cleaned flatware with warm water and dry with the towel.
  7. Polish the sterling silver flatware with a silver polishing rouge cloth to restore the silver’s shine and luster.

Preparing to Sell

If you’re planning on selling your silver flatware, the most important thing is to first determine if it’s actually real silver. Look for markings and words stamped on each piece that say “silver-plated” or “sterling,” the latter of which means that it’s comprised of sterling silver. Also check for maker marks, patterns, or monogramming on the pieces and note any extensive flaws. Make a note of all the details to use for reference later on.

Next, take inventory of all the pieces to determine if it’s an entire set or if there are pieces missing. A complete set usually has an even number of utensils, such as four spoons and four forks. Count your pieces and make sure they’re complete. Also, cross-check markings to find out if all the pieces are from the same set, or have been mixed and matched. Obviously, a complete set of the same make will be worth more when sold.

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