Steps for Cleaning Silver and Silverplate:
Dusting - First, use a soft-bristled brush or clean cotton cloth to dust the piece. While this may seem unnecessary, it's important since dust can easily turn into an abrasive and scratch the finish if not removed before applying cleaning solutions.
Removing Candle Wax - Candle wax can be removed from a silver holder by simply running hot water over the area containing the wax. The softened wax should be easy to pry out with a finger. Never risk scratching the piece by using a knife or other sharp object.
Washing and Drying - Once all dust and wax are removed, wash the item by hand with warm water and a gentle dishwashing soap to remove any food and gunk, but don't soak the silver in water for any length of time. Rinse the piece well with clean water, distilled is best, and dry immediately with a soft, lint-free cloth. A hair-dryer set on warm helps to dry hard-to-reach places.
Prepare for Polishing - Wearing plastic gloves rather than rubber (rubber can react adversely with the silver), lay the item on a soft towel work surface. Use a soft cotton cloth or sponge and a good non-abrasive commercial silver cleaner or polish. Arnold mentions Goddard's, Gorham's and Wright's as possibilities in his cleaning guide. Some people find foams and liquids easier to manage than pastes, but it's really a matter of personal preference.
Applying the Polish - Apply the polish in a gentle circular motion. For intricate areas, use a cotton-tipped swab to apply the cleaner. Make sure all polish is removed when you're finished, using additional cotton swabs if needed. Once the piece looks clean and shiny, stop polishing even if you're still seeing dark residue on your cloth. Taking heed of this advice will help you preserve the plating on silverplated pieces.
Wash Again - Wash the piece again as noted above and dry with a lint-free cloth. Items not used for food consumption can be waxed with a thin coat of microcrystalline wax to further protect against tarnishing, if desired.
An Alternative Cleaning Method
For smaller pieces of silver, like flatware or jewelry, some people swear by a non-chemical cleaning method accomplished using common household ingredients. By combining liquid fabric softener, salt and tepid water in an aluminum pan, a solution can be concocted to soak silverware clean.
The amount of ingredients used depends on the size of the pan you are employing. For a 9 x 13-inch pan, add a couple of inches of water first, sprinkle enough salt to cover the bottom of the pan (about 1/4 cup) and then add about half a capful of liquid fabric softener. The water should be a little cloudy after you add the fabric softener. (My mother tried this omitting the fabric softener using just salt in a glass pan lined with alumuinum foil, and that worked pretty well too.)
After soaking for about 15 minutes, check your progress. Soak for another 15 minutes if needed. Remove each piece from solution as soon as the tarnish dissolves, rinse with clean water and thoroughly dry with a soft cloth. Any residual tarnish can easily be removed using a silver polishing cloth available at most drug and grocery stores.
You can try this cleaning technique on something you do not mind experimenting with first (a cheap piece of tarnished silver jewelry works well) to see if you like the result. If you do, move on to other silver items you'd like to brighten up.
Just keep in mind that you don't want to remove all the patina from silver jewelry, especially if you want to sell an item any time soon. Collectors value pieces that show a little age without being totally consumed by tarnish.
For information on storing and displaying silver and silverplate, continue to page three.