Spring has come to the Carolinas. So, in order to get my Spring floral fix, I made a trip to Trader Joe’s (which is the best local source of flowers other than the wholesale flower market). Faced with their awesome selection of many different colors and types of tulips, I ultimately decided to purchase a couple of bunches of gorgeous pink and white tulips.
When I brought them home, I started searching through my collection of vases for something to display them in. As I rummaged through my cabinets, I came across this badly tarnished “Bride’s Basket” vase I had bought for $19 at an antique store over the summer. (Silver Bride’s Baskets were very popular in the late nineteenth century. They were used by flower girls for scattering petals down the aisle and then to hold the bridal bouquet during the reception.)
You couldn’t tell from looking at the blackened mess I bought, but I guessed that it was probably silver plate. And, if I could figure out how to polish it, I thought it would look lovely on my Easter buffet.
The Problem Of How To Polish Silver That Is Badly Tarnished
I usually use Wright’s Silver Cream to polish my silver. So, I took it out, put newspaper down on my countertop, gloved up, and started to apply the silver polish. After about an hour of hard labor with very little progress, it became painfully clear that unless I wanted to make polishing this vase my new career, I would have to find another way to clean it. I had read about a technique for removing tarnish by using baking soda, aluminum foil, and hot water. However, I had also read that it might not be the best method for cleaning all kinds of silver. It turns out that it is not a great way to clean certain old silver pieces because the chemical reaction removes all tarnish from every nook and cranny.
Particularly in heavily chased and repoussé silver, some tarnish in the crevices is desirable to create contrast to highlight the intricate designs. If you remove all the tarnish from these pieces, it will devalue the silver. However, in the case of my bargain vase, I had nothing to lose, so it seemed worth a try.
The Method To Polish Silver Without Elbow Grease
- Aluminum Foil
- Scalding Hot Water
- Baking Soda
The technique involves lining your sink or a large tub with aluminum foil, shiny side up. You then place your silver on top of the aluminum foil, making sure you have good contact between your silver and the foil. Add scalding hot water to cover the piece. Some formulas for this method of tarnish removal advocate using boiling water, but others warn that using boiling water can cause white spots on your silver. So to be safe, I decided that it would be better to just add about 2 quarts of boiling water to a sink full of very hot tap water. You then add baking soda, one cup of baking soda to each gallon of water. Lastly, add about 1/2 cup of table salt to the bath (saltwater is a more efficient conductor than plain water, which will enable a faster transfer of ions). Wait a few minutes and remove your objects from the bath using tongs.
The Science Of The Baking Soda And Aluminum Foil Method
I was curious about how this works, so here is the science behind it if you are interested. Tarnish occurs when sulfur attaches to silver, creating a blackened coating of silver sulfate. This technique for removing tarnish relies on the chemical reaction, which happens when the silver sulfide contacts aluminum in a hot water bath of baking soda and salt. As the reaction occurs, the sulfur is electrochemically transferred from the silver to the aluminum foil because the electrons in the sulfur are more attracted to aluminum than silver.
When I removed my vase from the baking soda and aluminum bath after only about 10 minutes, nearly all the tarnish was gone. The finish did look a little dull, so I applied a bit more of the Wright’s Silver Cream and quickly buffed it off. I then washed the vase with hot water and dish soap to remove all of the polish and baking soda residue.
I am really pleased with how the piece turned out. It has completely transformed from an ugly duckling that no one would give a second look to a beautiful swan of a vintage silver basket perfect for holding my beloved Spring tulips.
Spring Arrangement With Tulips And Crabapple Blossoms
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