Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Reclaiming Vintage Silver Plate - A Scientific Explanation from a Hopeless Romantic

It's Valentine's Day!  And as such, a love story is in order.

But first, the background...I LOVE vintage.  I especially love the idea of a collection of mismatched vintage flatware  (Pottery Barn and Anthropologie are also loving this trend).  I specifically want my set for entertaining and therefore am looking for a lot of pieces.  The biggest issue?  Silver plate and silver gets gross.  I feel like we live in a society of people who tend to not want to put too much work into something that they can buy a new version of for not much more money.  And vintage silver plate, especially vintage silver plate mismatched sets are not too tricky to find.  A lot of people find lots and don't bother cleaning them up.  You can find them easily on Etsy or Ebay listed as "craft" lots.

So what's a budget conscious gal to do?  Silver polish is full of chemicals and it's also not so good for your silver.  And wow...I'm looking at HOURS of polishing.


Here's the love story.  When silver tarnishes the tarnish is called silver sulfide.  Silver sulfide is dark, mysterious, and not a good fit for the shine and shimmer of polished silver.  Silver and silver sulfide are just not the best match.  And that doesn't make anyone happy, does it?

But silver sulfide doesn't just have eyes for silver.  It's attracted to a lot of different metals and some metals it is uber attracted to.  One such metal is aluminum.  It loves aluminum like a fat kid loves soft serve on a hot day in July.  But how to get them together?  Well, it's time to play matchmaker.

Think of it as a dream date.  Only the perfect situation, timing, and ingredients can create the kind of magic needed to ignite that special spark.  Get a pan, and line it with aluminum foil, shiny side up.  Then place your silver sulfide ridden pieces in the pan.  Coat with baking soda.


Next, boil a kettle of water.  You're going to need enough to completely submerge your pieces and it has to be flipping hot.  Some of my other attempts with cooler water didn't work.  This dream date has to be HOT for that magic to happen.

Pour the boiling water into the pan and completely cover all your pieces.  You'll smell a faint Rotorua like smell and you will instantly see the baking soda react and fizzle.  Sounds like a million little cartoon hearts popping in the air.....ah, sweet mystery of love.


You will also IMMEDIATELY see a difference in your pieces.  But don't get too excited.  True love can't be rushed.  Cover your pan with another piece of foil, shiny side down and walk away.  Give the silver sulfide and the aluminum some time to get to know one another.  Some time to form a real connection.  Some time to truly be attracted to one another.

Do not disturb.


I left the pan for about 20 minutes.  I could still hear a little bit of fizzle, but not like before.  Things had cooled off a bit.  However, be CAREFUL.  You're dealing with still pretty hot water (aluminium really knows how to keep things steamy!) and metal that has been submerged in hot water.  So take off the covering and dump the water.  Then rinse your pieces with cooler water so they can be handled.  Dry with a soft cloth.

The result is AMAZING.  I cannot believe how fabulous these pieces look.


And check out the before and after on this butter dish.  I couldn't pass up such a unique piece and without knowing if I could clean it up, I splurged on the $15 investment.  I can't believe how fantastic it looks.  So cute!



If you want more details on this chemical romance, here is an amazing source that really gives a detailed scientific explanation of the love story of silver sulfide and aluminium.

And just in case you need a little side by side, step by step, play by play:


As for these two crazy kids....there's no stopping them.  What they have, well, it's chemical....


I would like to dedicate this blog post to my eldest and dearest sister...who is a scientist and one of the most brilliant people I know.  More than anything, I want her to walk around and explain to people, like me, why things work the way they do.  And then, a la Marshall Erickson, shout "BOOM!  SCIENCED!" and walk away.

1 comment:

  1. Ok...now I know what to do with my mom's silver that, I am ashamed to say, is sitting in an Igloo Ice Chest... She is gonna be proud of me! Roll Tide Rolllllllllll!

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