As promised, I have used the Reed and Barton silver plate goblets I found thrifting to test the baking soda and foil method of cleaning silver plate. For those of you unfamiliar with this method, it goes like this:
- Boil water in a large pot- enough to completely immerse your item(s).
- Turn off the heat and place aluminum foil in the bottom of the pot.
- Place your items in the pot, in contact with the foil.
- Pour in a quantity of baking soda.
What happens next? A chemical reaction that removes the tarnish from the silver surface, with no harsh chemicals, scrubbing, or polishing. And it all happens in minutes, supposedly. I have to say, this is one of those methods that definitely sounds too good to be true…
As you can see, these items are heavily tarnished. The goblets are made by Reed & Barton, a fine dining, silver, silverplate, and now Lenox dealer that has been in business since the early 1800’s; I picked up the pair for 5.99 at a thrift store. Since I was already doing this, I also decided to try the method on another find, a cute little set of mini vases made by Two’s Company, a dustcatcher/gift and homestuff importer that sells to retail outlets. I picked these guys up for about a dollar apiece at a different store several months ago to use both around the home and in scale scenes with American Girl dolls. It turns out to be a good thing that I included them, as you will see in the results! But first, let’s see the process.
I first checked that my goblets would fit, and put in enough water that they would be covered. I brought the pot to boil and then turned the heat off. Then I put in the foil, pushing it down with tongs. After that, I put in my silver and poured in a large quantity (about a third of the box) of baking soda. Here’s how that looked:
I actually couldn’t see anything for quite a while- the reaction really clouds up the water. But slowly a hopeful picture began to emerge:
As the water began to clear I could see the cups shining almost as brightly as the foil. I’ll admit to being surprised- as I said, it sounded too good to be true. After I pulled the pieces out, I rinsed the baking soda off them and wiped them with a soft, clean sponge. Here is the result-
This is a huge improvement; I’m not sure the photos do it justice. Although you can see they look a little cloudy, the majority of the tarnish is gone. However, my little vase came out differently:
The one on your right was treated, the one on the left wasn’t. There is basically no difference. So, not a miracle treatment for the Two’s Company items, but amazing for the Reed& Barton. Let’s just see that again, shall we?
As for the water afterward, well-
…yeah, that stuff was dirty!
So, this treatment seems awesome. It’s cheap and easy, and doesn’t involve scratching at your item or using a strong chemical polish. Plus, the labor it saves is amazing! After I saw that it was working so well, I threw one of my great-aunt’s silver plate silverware spoons that I inherited. It also turned out beautifully:
Again the piece on the right was treated, and one one on the left in the original tarnished condition.
What about the Two’s Company vase? Well, I have a few thoughts. One is that the base metal layer (silver plate is silver applied to a base metal) might be different that that of the goblets and silverware, and this could have affected the reaction. Both the goblets and spoons are serving ware, and are probably made using a higher quality non-toxic base like nickel. The vases are decorative and might be made out of something different. Alternatively, they might also be more thinly clad with silver. Reed & Barton is a high quality brand and I would be that the thickness of silver on them is pretty high compared to some nice but inexpensive home decor imports.
I did go the extra step to try out some straight-up silver polish on a goblet and the small vase, to see what that might do. The results were lovely:
Using the polish as a final step make a huge difference- this got that clear silver shine and removed some of the stubborn tarnish spots, especially inside the goblet and for the small vase. I only had to spend a few minutes on each for them to reach a high shine. I shudder to think how long getting that shine would have taken without the baking soda and foil treatment first!
I will definitely be using this method in the future, combined with the silver polish as a final step. It saved me a ton time and grime compared to only using polish, and the no scrubbing helps protect the finish of the piece. As always, I would proceed with caution for high value and family heirloom items; I haven’t heard of a downside to this method, but I don’t want you to find one with Great Aunt Agatha’s solid silver coffee pot! I also wouldn’t use this for any jewelry that soldering or gemstones, as those could be sensitive to the heat or chemical reactions. For your non-sacred home items or thrifting finds, however, I think it’s a great solution.