plating, anodizing, & finishing Q&As since 1989
Polishing Silver with Aluminum Foil and Baking Soda
A. The reason that the process isn't working for some posters is because you need to use sodium carbonate (washing soda), instead of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). Washing soda has a slightly different chemical makeup that will react better with the aluminum to remove the sulphur tarnish and re-deposit the silver ions back onto the silver item. Also, make sure the silver item touches the aluminum somewhere to complete the electrolytic circuit.Scott Pope
hobbyist - Springfield Missouri
Closely related Q&A's, oldest first:2000
Q. I've been repairing & finishing musical instruments for 16 years. Does anyone know where to get "Quick Dip" silver cleaner? I can no longer find this for sale anywhere. Or does anyone know of any other effective LIQUID silver cleaner?Patricia K [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
musical Services - Winnipeg, MB, Canada
Ed. note: We don't find "Quick Dip" either, Patricia; Letter 24937 explains that it might not exist anymore.
A. I love this question!
The usual tarnish on silver is the black sulfide. The cool thing about this is that you can instantly remove the tarnish from any silver item with commonly available household items, and I do mean fast!
Aluminum is far above silver in the activity series for metals, and in a suitable solution will reduce the silver in the silver sulfide, reforming silver metal. The reaction is spontaneous and rapid in warm water:
2Al(s) + 3Ag2S(s) + 6H2O -> 6Ag(s) + 2Al2(OH)3(s) + 3H2S(aq)
So, all you have to do is get a container big enough for the silver item, partially fill it with warm water and a couple tablespoons of sodium bicarbonate, a.k.a. Baking Soda , place some clean aluminum foil in the container and then just dunk the tarnished item in the bucket. The silver item has to touch the aluminum. It works in a few seconds, no scratches, no muss, no fuss, and then all you you do is rinse the item off. There is no adverse environmental impact, none of the ingredients are in any way toxic (they are food grade!), there is no abrasion or scratching of the silver and you can use your bare hands to remove the treated items from the solution. Just rinse and dry the silver when you are done, & pour the "used" solution down the drain! Re-use or recycle the aluminum foil.
A big old aluminum cooking pot works well as long as you use some 0000 steel wool [affil. link] on it first to remove the native aluminum oxide. This "treatment" works on silver plate, jewelry, any tarnished silver. Try it friends! Better living through chemistry!Dale Woika
- Bellefonte, Pennsylvania
A. Besides the Al treatment mentioned the other formulations are approx. 50 g/l of thiourea in about 1-2% acid - sulphuric, phosphoric, sulfamic. Avoid contact with stainless steel as this will be stained or attacked
- Port Melbourne, Australia
A. ...or if you want a commercial product, H.J.Hagerty & Sons sells Silver Dip [affil link]. Same folks who make the polish. But it would have to be near black for me to use it. You will have to polish after treatment.Jim W
- Cobbs Creek, Virginia
Q. I've been looking for Noxon Silver Dip too, and can't find it. It works wonderfully! My question is, if you use the Baking Soda and aluminum mixture, can you make up some to keep in a jar to use over and over again? If so, do you leave the aluminum foil in the jar? I like to keep a jar near my jewelry and dip tarnished items before I wear them. I never have time to mix up stuff when I'm getting dressed to go out, but I do have time to open a jar and dip. Thanks!Sally C
- Boulder, Colorado
Ed. note: Letter 24937 explains why "Noxon Silver Dip" apparently might not exist anymore, Sally.
- Q. Quick Dip Silver Cleaner....I have been trying to find this for the last 6 months with no luck. The last bottle I have says the company is:
- Boyle Midway, Toronto, Ont. M8Z5M5
- (It didn't show the street address.)
- Boyle Midway, Toronto, Ont. M8Z5M5
If anyone has more information, PLEASE let me know.Sandy B
- Beiseker, Alberta, Canada
Ed. note: Letter 24937 explains why "Quick Dip" apparently may not exist anymore, Sandy.
A. Found Hagerty Silver Dip [affil link]. Works great (about the same as "Quick Dip" silver cleaner). I also found a product called Tarnco at Walmart in Calgary that works very effectively. Needless to say, after not having anything for sometime, I now have two sources.Sandy B
- Beiseker, Alberta, Canada
I tried Dale Woika's suggestion about using the baking soda and warm water....the only visible result was a bunch of baking soda saturated with water...it did NOT work for me!M.D. Rai
- San Jose, California
I tried the sodium bicarbonate, water and aluminum foil. It did not work. What am I doing wrong?John F
- Schenectady, New York
I too tried the aluminum, baking soda and water effect with grand results; what I did was boil the water, and the coins came out "clean as a whistle".Mary Jo Muffler
- Brick, New Jersey
As with gold, wash and clean in warm soapy water and dry off. Further cleaning may not be necessary, however, most detecting finds will. To clean further you need a small plastic container, lunch box style will be fine. Cover the bottom of the container with kitchen foil and put in half a teaspoon of washing soda [affil link]. Place the artifact or coin on top of the kitchen foil, cover with boiling water and leave to cool. Remove the item and clean again in warm soapy water with a soft toothbrush. For a final polish, dip artifacts in silver dip for 1 minute, wash in warm soapy water and dry off. Polish with a soft cloth. DO NOT dip silver coins in silver dip, or polish them.
Another way to clean silver artifacts and hammered coins is with a car battery charger [affil link]. Put a teaspoon of washing soda in a small plastic container and fill with about an inch of boiling water. Put a stainless steel spoon in the red positive clip, and immerse it in the solution. Put the item to be cleaned into the black negative clip, and immerse it in the solution, about an inch and a half away from the spoon. Switch the battery charger on and watch it bubble around the item, lifting the contamination off the silver. If you slide the item you are cleaning closer to the spoon you will notice an increase in activity in the cleaning process. If you move the item away you will see a decrease. It is important to know and use this when cleaning very delicate items.
You only need to leave items being cleaned in the solution for 2 minutes at the most. Switch off the charger and remove the item from the solution. Clean with warm soapy water using a soft toothbrush and dry off. For a final polish, dip artifacts in silver dip for 1 minute, wash in warm soapy water and dry off. Polish with a soft cloth. DO NOT dip silver coins in silver dip, or polish them.
To tone and highlight the type and legend on silver coins, use the same battery charger solution you used to clean the coin with, but, put the stainless steel spoon into the black negative clip, and the coin in the red positive clip. Place both back into the same solution , making sure you can see the coin clearly. Turn the battery charger on, keeping your hand on the switch so that you can turn it off again quickly. Turn the battery charger off as soon as the coin goes black - this will literally take 1 or 2 seconds at most.
Remove the coin and put a small amount of any one of the modern household oven and grill cleaning pastes on your thumb. Gently rub the paste onto one side of the coin, then wash it off and check the coin. Repeat this exercise until you highlight the type and legend, toning down the black deposit, to your own satisfaction. Repeat this then for the other side of the coin.Andrew S
- Alexander City, Alabama
The Dale Woika tarnished silver cleaning method works great!
My wife had some very tarnished silver (probably 40 - 50 years worth) that she got after her mother passed away. We lined a bucket with foil, heated about 3 to 4 gallons of very hot boiling water and dumped in lots of good old baking soda. It was amazing, we dipped the silver in the mixture and it did a great job of getting most of the tarnish cleaned. We cleaned about 30 pieces.
There were some spots that didn't come off completely and it didn't clean some of the decorative small groves on the silver pieces but we were able to get the bulk cleaned very well.
After each piece was done, there was a baking soda coating/film left on, that was easily cleaned with silver polish. This also cleaned most of the spots and groves and sure made the silver look like new again.
I think the key is 'boiling water and lots of baking soda - we used about two and a half boxes - a few spoon fulls doesn't cut it.
Thanks for the idea - it really works and is environmentally safe.Dave/Donna B [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Apalachin, New York
A. The trick is to use washing soda, not baking soda. It works well with the aluminum plate I bought at a boat show a few years ago. Adding foil to the bottom of the glass container, then the plate, then the soda, then boiling hot water works!Helen L [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Sarasota, Florida
Q. I too am desperately looking for a quick dip silver cleaner. If Noxon is no longer available, is there another product that is the equivalent?
Sincerely.,Tina P [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Daytona Beach, Florida
Ed. note: Maybe the Hagerty Silver Dip [affil link], Tina?
! This is a thread that just keeps on going, seemingly with a life of it's own...
There are a couple other compounds of silver that can blacken the surface other than the silver sulfide (tarnish) which is typically found on household silver products. Silver oxide is possible on items which have been in corrosive or hot environments, and there are other compounds (i.e., silver cyanide) which are black or dark brown. Fortunately, silver chemistry tends to be along similar lines of bonding mechanisms, so there are potential solutions to most of these stains as well. Most of these compounds are somewhat more soluble in ammonium hydroxide than in water, and a good way to make ammonium hydroxide at home it to mix ammonia with water. Ammonia, bought at the grocery store, is in fact a solution of ammonium hydroxide. If you try the tarnish removal system with aluminum reduction method and it does not work almost immediately, try soaking the parts in some warm ammonia solution first. Do this outside--ammonia fumes are nasty--and --never-- mix ammonia with any other household cleaners or disinfectants for obvious safety considerations! Keep in mind if you use ammonium hydroxide to dissolve the oxides, any silver in the oxide layer will not be reduced & the silver in the oxide will be lost (unlike the tarnish system in which the silver is actually re-deposited). However, oxide layers tend to be rather thin on silver. Ammonia solutions will not harm silver.
By the way, from an earlier response, washing soda is sodium carbonate monohydrate, and baking soda is sodium bicarbonate. Either "chemical" works well in the silver tarnish removal system using water & aluminum, as they are almost the same thing. Baking spda is just easier to obtain thanks to Arm & Hammer! Happy silver cleaning!Dale Woika
- Bellefonte, Pennsylvania
A. I was searching the web trying to find a company that sells the metal plate that cleans silver (also used, I'm told, by museums). Someone else had posted a question on the internet site I was looking at asking if anyone knew where to buy one. I had bought one at the Texas State Fair a year ago, but unfortunately had lost it when I moved. I had hoped to buy one on the internet, but since I couldn't find the web site in my search and October 20th was the last day for the Texas State Fair I rushed to the fair and bought another one. For anyone interested in buying one an email address is www.cleaningplate.com.JoEllen V [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Irving, Texas
A. You can do just as well with Aluminium flashing material sold at most building supply companies. It is thin enough to cut with heavy shears or tin snips. I see a lot of the plates in thrift stores.Thuston E [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Albuquerque, New Mexico
Q. I have a silver sculpture in the form of a small (10" x 12") tree. No leaves just limbs and the Aluminum procedure won't work because I can't make contact with all the surfaces on the tree! Need just a solution! Any suggestions?Kenneth R [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Charlotte, North Carolina
Ed. note: Maybe we're misunderstanding, but if the item is conductive, any point on it can touch the aluminum and the rest of it should get cleaned.
A. Home-made Silver Dip: Put some hot water in an aluminium pan, some water softener powder and salt. Dissolve the ingredients before dipping silver. Tarnish will dissolve immediately. Dip silver in cool water to rinse off solution when done. No need for polishing.
I do not know the exact proportions of each ingredient, you might have to try a few times before you get it right, but when you do the results are amazing. Will remove tarnish from even the most intricate areas of silver. You can mix as much or little solution as necessary for larger or smaller pieces.Nina B [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Hamden, Connecticut, USA
Q. Have several old silver services from great grandparents and all are very tarnished. Unable to use hands due to arthritis. Is there an good dip the can be safely used without damaging my silver?Laura S [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
hobbyist - Mobile, Alabama
A. Tarn-X [affil link]is the brand of instant, thiourea type, silver tarnish remover that I see everywhere.Chris Owen
- Houston, Texas
Q. Why do you have to use HOT water with baking soda Al etc.., why not cold water?Caitlin [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
student - Calgary, Alberta, Canada
A. Almost all chemical reactions occur much faster at higher temperatures because of much higher ion mobility, Caitlin. Further, the only part of the wash soda which does anything is the part that is dissolved, and you can dissolve more at high temperature than at low temperature. Good luck.
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Q. I have old silver sugar dish and would like to know how much or the measurements of each ingredients to use to clean this. This was in the family for quite awhile and now I have it and would like to clean it up and display it.
Thanks,Ann [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
hobbyist - Port Hope, Michigan, USA
My husband and I had seen someone on a talk show cleaning silver with the water softener, aluminum pie plate, salt and hot water. We didn't have everything necessary and soaked the silver in warm water and ammonia. Nothing much happened. Then I found this site. We put aluminum foil in the bottom of the sink. Added salt and then grabbed some dryer sheets. The results were fantastic.Helen W [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Cocoa, Florida, USA
The reason this works for only some people is, hard water, you need to use equal parts Calgon water softener, from any grocery store, and same amount of it as the amount of Baking soda, like, 1/4 cup of each with the warm water.
It works real quick and sweet, only problem is Calgon is in a BIG box and costs like 10 bucks, but well worth it.
The hard minerals block the chemical action, you need soft water.
This is from a professional Jeweler. Good luck.Jack P [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Calgary, Canada
A. I found a precious metals cleaning plate and activator on skymall.com. Product number is 65593JJudy M
- Lisle, Illinois, USA
I want to thank everyone who has posted here; all the information has been extremely helpful. I'm an American residing in the coastal regions of Central Queensland, Australia. The weather here is quite humid, as I reside at the lower end of the Tropics. Much of my silver jewelry has become tarnished and regular polishes/cleaners available here were not doing the trick. So, I tried the aluminium, bicarbonate soda & boiling water, as suggested on this post, and it worked wonders. I only had to polish a few pieces that had tarnished very badly (large black sports) due to the salt air & humid temperatures. I will definitely be using this cleaning method again, as it is convenient, inexpensive and natural (no chemicals or abrasives involved).
Thank you everyone!Doris T [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Freshwater Point, QLD, Australia
Q. This is a question for Dale Woika. From your chemical equation, I am assuming that the silver sulfide turns back to native silver and plates back onto the silver item. I have seen people suggesting you add salt to the equation. What does this do? I have some old silver plate items that I want to clean up, but don't want to remove any of the silver....Jennifer P [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
individual - Vancouver, BC, Canada
After reading through all the postings...can someone please just sum up the final answer...is it boiling water, aluminum and baking soda. I tried it without the boiling water (as the original post stated) and it did not work. Thank you!Debbie [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Crosswicks, New Jersey [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
A. Yep, it's getting long and raggedy, but unfortunately it can only be partially summed up, Debbie. Trying to get everyone on the internet to exactly agree is more difficult than herding cats :-)
What can certainly be summarized from general science principles is that the process simply cannot work without the aluminum, and that boiling water is faster & more effective than cooler water. But some readers say warm water is fine, others feel it should be boiling; some readers insist that baking soda works fine while others say the process only works with washing soda, and one says you need water softener if your water is hard.
If it did not work at all, the probability is that your silver was not reliably in contact with the aluminum.
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey
I am very sorry Quik-Dip can no longer be found. I had a small bottle and cleaned my silver with it, my silver looked great. I had to call a friend to tell her about it and how it cleaned in such a sort time, well we both thought we would be able to purchase it some where local, but when I went on the internet I was surprised to learn they don't make it any more (like always -- when a household item is useful they stop making it, and it is a big loss).Margie J [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Omaha, Nebraska
A. You can also get Silver Dip [affil link] online from walshbrothers.co.uk (in the US too, I think, as it has prices in both US dollars and GB Pounds). I've had no problems ordering stuff from US companies and getting it delivered to the UK, so I don't see why it shouldn't work the other way round...LJ Ve
- Hampshire, UK
Noxon 7 [affil link]is available at Bed Bath and Beyond... not the dip but a 7 metal polish. cleans and shines...but, I do not see silver listed as a metal it cleans...
Another product made in CA a few years ago...stated on the label it had cancerous potential...I can't remember the name of it..but I will stick with Baking Soda and Aluminum and Hot Water.Isis H [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Montague, New Jersey
I finally found the combination of products to dip silver
I have silverware that is so time consuming to clean, and I remember watching a show on 13 several years ago . If you combine in a pot silver foil on the bottom several tablespoon of salt and a large amount of water softener it really works I have clean silverware to prove it.
I can't give the exact amount of water softener but if you keep dipping and it doesn't work add more
I hope this helps
- Bloomfield, New Jersey
Ted Mooney is partially right: Particles move faster at higher temperature (temperature is the average amount of kinetic energy in a substance). Faster particles mean more particle collisions per unit time. More particle collisions per unit time mean faster dissolution, reaction, and ion mobility.
Also, every reader should bear in mind that silver polishing cloths and silver cleaning dips remove silver from the object being cleaned: polishing cloths rub away the silver sulfide and some metallic silver. Commercial dips dissolve away silver sulfide. While only a small amount may be removed each dip, since silver will tarnish repeatedly, every time you dip tarnished silver, you will lose more and more silver (as the sulfide salt) to the dip.
The battery and aluminum foil methods described above reverse the silver sulfide formation, restoring tarnish to metallic silver WITHOUT removing any silver
To Jennifer P from Vancouver, the salt allows for electrons to flow easily through the solution, completing the electrical circuit needed for any electrochemical reaction such as this.
To everybody who had trouble with the aluminum foil method, make sure that a) the water is warm or hot, b) the silver item MUST be in contact with the foil, c) salt and water softener need to be added (see other posts above).
If it still looks a little tarnished or yellowish afterwards, try buffing with a soft cloth, as there may be bits of aluminum sulfide on your silver that will easily wipe off. Aluminum sulfide will either form on the aluminum foil or form flakes in the water and may coat the object but should be removable.
I found the following website, which is pretty useful
Ph.D. candidate in chemistry, University of Michigan
- Ann Arbor, Michigan
I have read this thread worth great interest. In the late 60's/70's (hard to believe I'm this old) I learned from a friend that one could line their bathtub with aluminum foil and stir a bunch of Spic and Span in the powder form into the hot water as it was filling to get the tarnish off of my silver. As I slid the items into the tub they hardly had to touch the aluminum as they turned immediately into bright untarnished silver. As a middle school librarian I am aware of the science fair project of using Baking Soda and salt with the foil and hot water and I have done that with much success but it is not nearly as fast or effective as the powdered Spic and Span was. In fact nothing that I have seen since is as good but unfortunately one cannot find Spic and Span in a powder form anymore and I suppose if one did the composition of the product may have changed from the 60's/70's.Jo C [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Charleston, South Carolina
Ed. note: Spic 'n Span [affil link] is available by following the link, Jo We can't guarantee that there have been no changes to the formulation, but I did try this on one item today and it did seem faster than baking soda but harder on the hands -- Ted.
Thanks for the great ideas. I, too, am revealing my age as I recall a "recipe" for tarnish removal that called for a product named "Soilax". As I recall, you lined the sink with foil, threw in a couple of cups of Soilax and poured in the boiling water. Dip the silver with tongs until you can comfortably reach in with rubber
I just tried a formula featured on a PBS helpful home hints series recently. Called for 1 tablespoon salt and 1 tablespoon water softener to 1 quart water and hot water. Did absolutely nothing until I added tons more salt and water softener and boiling water. When I put the boiling water in and dipped the silver, the water began frothing and giving off a metallic odor. I felt like I was making a witches brew.
Has anyone heard of Soilax or have I gone round the bend?
I have a huge silver wine cooler that is so tarnished it is embarrassing. My daughter has a silver tea set (I gave it to her so I wouldn't have to polish it). It is in need of a dip. Will be trying all your fabulous concoctions!
Internet Service Provider - Bellevue, Washington
I had been looking for something to clean my "intricate" silver ... and had not wanted to pay for what seemed to be so many high priced cleaners that did not do a good job. I chanced upon your website and mixed up a batch of the aluminum foil, boiling water, baking soda, salt, and added a dryer sheet for good measure since we live in Florida where the water is so darn hard.
My silver is now so shiny that I almost need my sunglasses inside the house to look at it! Thank you, thank you, thank you. I will never clean silver any other way again!
- Orlando, Florida
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