Stew Cues: Easy trick to restore tarnished silver

Sep 6, 2019 by Alene Keenan

Stew Cues: by Alene Keenan

It’s the first day on your new boat. There has not been a handover, and you’re trying to figure out where everything you need to set the table is stashed. You find the silverware storage area and pull out the pieces you need to set the table.

As you go to grab the salt and pepper, you are horrified to see that the salt shaker is encrusted with a chalky, greenish powder. Oh, no – the shaker was not emptied and cared for after the last dinner service, and now it is corroded beyond repair.

Silver is a precious metal, as are gold and platinum. The problem with silver, though, is that it is susceptible to tarnish and damage from sulfur. A thin, brownish layer on your silverware and service pieces is easily polished away with little loss of base metal.

However, left unchecked, the surface becomes pitted and it is much harder to restore. Strong acid and salt can cause this, so it is important to make sure that silver pieces are cleaned and cared for properly after use. 

Tarnish results from a chemical reaction between silver and sulfur. Silver sulfide forms and gives it the black color that we call tarnish. There are different ways to remove it, but they can be broken down into two processes. One way is to rub the silver sulfide from the surface. Shining the silver by rubbing off the silver sulfide also takes some of the base silver off. Silver dips dissolve the silver sulfide in a liquid and will also physically and chemically remove some of the silver. 

The other way is to reverse the reaction and turn the silver sulfide back into silver. A common home remedy involves immersing the silver pieces in a tub or pyrex pan lined with crumpled aluminum foil and pouring boiling water over a baking soda mixture.

According to an article by Maureen Nelson on the website, this method is an electrochemical reduction. The baking soda and water solution facilitates movement of the electrons between the silver and aluminum. Aluminum has a higher affinity for sulfur than silver, so the silver sulfide is released, and it corrodes the aluminum foil. The silver ions are reduced back to silver and turn shiny.

Here are her instructions:

  • Place your silver pieces on top of crumpled aluminum foil in a glass or other nonmetallic container and sprinkle baking soda over them generously. (The reason for using a nonmetallic container is to avoid introducing another metal into the solution.)
  • Pour in boiling water until the silver pieces are covered. Wait 10 minutes, remove the items, and rinse under hot water. Pat thoroughly dry and let sit out overnight. Repeat as necessary. 

Of course, the best way to keep silver shiny is to prevent tarnish and oxidation in the first place. Here are tips from Maureen Nelson on how: 

  • Wipe silver pieces with a soft cloth after each use.
  • Store silver pieces away from light and humidity.
  • Wrap in jeweler’s cloth or the special protective cloths that come with your silver. This cloth contains fine silver particles that react with sulfide before it can reach the silver pieces.
  • For long-term storage, wrap silver in protective cloth, add some silica gel packs to absorb humidity, and store in plastic bags.

Now, let’s get back to those salt shakers. Salt is extremely corrosive to silver, so it should always be emptied out of containers. Wash the container in a gentle soap solution and dry thoroughly. If the silver is damaged and corroded, soaking it in ammonia for 5-minute intervals may restore it. If all else fails, it will have to be replated by a silversmith.  

Alene Keenan is former lead instructor of interior courses at Maritime Professional Training in Fort Lauderdale. She shares more than 20 years experience as a stew in her book, “The Yacht Guru’s Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht,” available at Comments are welcome below.


About Alene Keenan

Alene Keenan is a veteran chief stew, interior training instructor/consultant, and author of The Yacht Guru’s Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht.

View all posts by Alene Keenan →