So we’ve finally got Christmas all organized for storage until next year and in the process of putting everything away we started moving furniture around. This is something that Anita feels the need to do since she grew up in the same house her mother still lives in and her dad had a (reasonable) aversion to moving things around the house once they got to where they needed to be. I on the other hand grew up moving every four years under Uncle Sam’s direction so I had routine changes in scenery. Anyways, we’ll cover the new house layout in a bit once we’ve got everything settled and can take some new pics. The real point of this little posting is that in the process of moving things and putting all our normal decor back out we noticed that the silver was in desperate need of polishing. Neither of us are big fans of polishing the silver and its not one of Jenny’s strong suites.
So? What to do? Well Anita had read somewhere about a chemistry based method for removing the tarnish from silver that didn’t damage the object and more importantly didn’t involve tedious polishing. Just because I know how much y’all love to listen to me pontificate and that you’re intensely interested let me explain it to you in typical Stew-like detail.
Tarnish on silver is actually the result of a chemical reaction between the silver and sulfur compounds that are present in the atmosphere. The sulfur bonds with the silver resulting in a layer of silver sulfide building up on the outside of your silver object. The sulfide compounds is dark grey/black and is what you think of when you think of tarnish.
Now we used to remove said compound with silver polish. What this really means is that we used another abrasive compound to literally scrape off the silver sulfide. This is all fine and good but as I tried to make it sound it’s a little rough on your silver and no matter how delicate the polish is you always end up removing part of the silver. This is why older silver plate items may seem pitted or stained. What you’re really seeing is the plate showing through where all of the silver has been permanently removed.
In our new method we used SCIENCE to reverse the chemical reaction without damaging the silver! You take a non-reactive vessel (plastic tub) and line it with aluminum foil. You place your tarnished silver items on the aluminum foil. In a pot you boil enough water to cover your silver items being careful to keep track of how many gallons of water you’ve used. Once the pot of water is boiling you add one cup of baking soda for every gallon of water used. You then add this hot solution to your vessel with the aluminium foil and silver items. Very quickly depending on the thickness of the silver sulfide layer your tarnish will ‘magically’ disappear from the silver.
What is actually happening is the hot baking soda solution carries the sulfur from the silver to the aluminum. The reaction between silver sulfide and aluminum takes place when the two are in contact while they are immersed in the baking soda solution mainly because the sulfur is more attracted to the aluminum than the silver and the weak electric current generated between the two metals helps facilitate the reaction. So technically this is an electrochemical reaction. The reaction is faster when the solution is warm and damn near instantaneous when the solution is boiling. The aluminum sulfide may adhere to the aluminum foil causing it to retain a tarnished appearance, or it may form pale yellow flakes in the bottom of your bucket.
Geeky? Maybe, but much easier than hand polishing Anita’s silver tea set!