If you’re anywhere near typical, your finest silver and flatware gets at least three-quarters of its use during one-quarter of the year — the November through January holiday season. Paradoxically, this is also the season of greatest risk to the beauty and long life of your treasured silver pieces.
As we approach the holiday season, consumer calls and letters skyrocket on how to ‘undo’ a damaged piece of silver,” said Alison J. Gutterman, COO of Jelmar, makers of Tarn-X (R) Tarnish Remover and Silver Glaze. “The best advice that we can give consumers is to know what caused tarnish and to give their silver a consistent care program.”
The biggest myth among consumers, says Gutterman, is that tarnish is caused by exposure to air, and therefore silver should be hidden away in cupboards and sideboards until ready to use. “The opposite is true — the more frequently you use your silver, the less it will tarnish,” says Gutterman.
“Tarnish is actually the result of a chemical reaction between the silver and sulfur,” she explains, “and trace amounts of sulfur occur everywhere, including in the air.” Consumers might be surprised to learn that sulfur is a natural by-product of heating fuels and gas used for cooking — both of which have their heaviest usage during the winter months. Sulfur is also naturally present in many foods. The familiar dark spots that peas often leave in silver serving dishes, for example, are caused by the sulfur in peas. Although it’s harmless, tarnish gives silver a dark, unpleasant appearance.
Another holiday season threat to silver comes from flowers — silver reacts to the acids and sap from flowers. A silver piece used as a vase for a cut flower arrangement or to hold the holiday poinsettia needs protection.
While silver pieces that are actually in use are less likely to tarnish, Gutterman points out, they are exposed to greater risk of damage in handling. Silver pieces should always be washed individually by hand, and never in the dishwasher because the detergent film may build up. Here is the three-step care program recommended by the Tarn-X experts:
* First Step: Hot, Soap-and-water Wash. The first line of defense with any silver piece, whether sterling or silver plate, is to remove dirt and grime by washing each piece in hot soapy water and drying it thoroughly immediately after each use. Frequent use and washing lessens the ability of tarnish to form. You need hot water and soap to remove dripped wax on a silver menorah, for example, or the dirt, dust and grease that build up on the surface of silver bells hung from the doorway. Don’t be alarmed if you see some tarnish developing on the tines of your silver forks, even though they are frequently washed. The points often tarnish because of their almost-constant contact with food.
* Second Step: Removing Tarnish. This is actually the easy part. Simply apply Tarn-X with a soft cloth, wiping it on the clean piece of silver, and it will remove the tarnish; the mild “chemical” odor is actually from the sulfur coming off the silver. Don’t rub — rubbing is not necessary, and may be harmful to the silver. If the tarnish is extremely heavy, use a second application. Unlike silver polishes, Tarn-X is faster acting, less messy and less abrasive to silver. This is the key to preserving your silver — remove the tarnish, but limit the frequency of polishing silver, as all polishes remove some of the silver.
After the tarnish is removed, rinse the piece completely, this time in cold water, and immediately dry it thoroughly to avoid spots. Don’t use hot water for this wash, as it might cause some streaking. For larger pieces, Gutterman suggests applying tarnish remover and rinsing one section of the piece at a time.
* Final Step: Polish with Silver Glaze. This finishing touch will show your silver at its best, and will help minimize the effect of wear spots and other mars. Be wary of products that combine tarnish remover and polish, as excessive rubbing and buffing can damage the silver.
“With this simple three-step process, you can bring your silver up to its finest appearance without a last-minute rush, and get the fullest enjoyment from it all through the season,” says Gutterman.
For more tips on caring for your silver, , visit www.jelmar.com.