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Silver Plating at Home
Can you do silver plating of rings, jewelry, platters, cups, flatware and awards, at home? If so, where do you get the materials -- and how do you do it?
If you already know the kind of product you are seeking, please feel free to skip ahead to "Sourcing". These introductory paragraphs are for those readers who would like to really understand what silver plating is about, what the differences are between what you can do at home and the services you get from a plating shop, etc.
If you have an old item which was originally silver plated and you wish to build up the thin spots, and if the item will not see heavy wear, you may be able to apply additional silver to it at home, with no electricity required, from a simple wipe-on or dip process sold under trade names by a number of vendors. These processes are called "immersion plating" regardless of whether you dip the articles into the solution or you wipe the solution onto the article, because that name comes from the nature of the chemical reaction, not the application method
Just as a battery can be made from carbon + zinc, or from nickel + cadmium, or lead + acid, a battery can also be made from copper + silver. What happens in immersion plating is that the silver in the solution and the exposed brass or copper of the item in question form a battery wherever the silver has worn through. The silver is more "noble" than the copper; this provides a voltage that simultaneously dissolves some exposed copper into solution while plating out the silver that was in solution.
The two basic limitations of the process are that, first, once the copper or brass has a very thin silver plating all over it, there is no more exposed copper or brass so the "battery" is dead, and no more silver will deposit. Therefore you can only get a very very thin coating of silver -- millionths of an inch -- so the durability and longevity is very seriously limited. Second, not all metals will react and form a battery with silver that way. If the base metal of your article doesn't form a useful battery with silver, no resilvering can take place. For example, you can't put silver onto aluminum or stainless steel this way.
Many of our readers report being very satisfied with this immersion silvering. All of the wipe-on or dip-in brands work on the same principal, which is not to say that all the brands are identical; some readers feel that some brands are better than others, and it may have to do with the silver concentration, the ease of use, the polishing agents in the mix, etc.
Several brands of this product are usually available on E-bay. Hopefully the E-bay ad to the right proves helpful =>
Real silver electroplating
In simplest terms the difference between immersion silvering and what is done at a silver plating shop is that the plater employs an external source of DC current (a rectifier) so the plating proceeds regardless of the material of construction of the item being plated and continues long past the point where the base metal is merely covered, on until a very significant thickness of silver is deposited (measured in thousandths of an inch instead of millionths). So the longevity and durability of real silver electroplating is in a whole different class than immersion plating. Naturally, the plating shop may also employ a number of other processes on the item: covering over any solder, filling any pits with copper, leveling the surface with nickel plating, and buffing to a nice luster, all before silver plating. The plating shop may also apply a tarnish-inhibiting topcoat of electrophoretic lacquer or rhodium over the silver.
The next question that may arise is whether you can do this real silver electroplating at home, and the answer unfortunately is: "it's a bit doubtful". Decorative silver electroplating is virtually always done from a cyanide-based solution, and cyanide is one of the deadliest and fastest acting poisons known. Ingestion of even a couple of drops is fatal but, just as bad, if the solution is accidentally acidified, deadly hydrogen cyanide gas is released (mixing acid and cyanide is how the gas chamber operates). You probably won't find a vendor anywhere who will ship this chemical to a residence, particularly after 9-11.
Is it possible to do real silver electroplating from a non-cyanide solution? Well, 95+% of all silver plating is done from cyanide and has been for a hundred years despite intense efforts to find a safer substitute across many decades now. While there are proprietary non-cyanide silver plating solutions, they were originally designed for electronics plating, not for decorative silver plating -- and the major vendors admit that the color "isn't quite right". But what they consider a "slightly off" color for production and sale of thousands of items, you might find completely satisfactory for onesy-twosy do it yourself stuff.
If you can get results that you consider satisfactory from an over-the-counter immersion plating process, or a non-cyanide electroplating process, great. If not, send the item to a silver plating shop.
For an affordable introductory education in electroplating, we recommend getting a copy of the Metal Finishing Guidebook. Some libraries may have it but, if not, because it is an annual book that is included with a subscription to Metal Finishing magazine, old copies are readily available and very inexpensive from used book dealers.
Many different immersion silvering products have been recommended by our readers across our 50,000 hotline letters. But companies go out of business, they move, they change distributorships, and it was proving impossible to keep hundreds of references current when scattered across tens of thousands of entries. So instead, we will keep this page current with the sourcing info for all of those products.
1. UTL at present.
2. Medallion Liquid Silver Plating Lotion: avail. from this link at Amazon (but sometimes out of stock).
3. Quickshine Pure Plating Spray. Caution: Quickshine Silver Bath is a different product and appears to be a cleaner for tarnish removal/polishing, not a resilvering solution.
4. Butler's Secret Instant Silver Plate.
5. Silver Plater --> [United Kingdom] proidee.co.uk/shop.
6. Silver Secret --> www.silversecret.com
7. Sheffco Silver Solution --> www.kernowcraft.com [United Kingdom] or hswalsh.com [UK]
8. Miracle Silver --> we are presently not able to find a source.
9. Nu Silver - we are presently not able to find a source.
10. Silveron - we are presently not able to find a source.
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Are some of these resilvering products better than others?
All of the products function under the same general chemical principles, but they may be of different concentrations, or include different abrasives or surfactants, etc. . Some preferences have been expressed on the many Hotline Letters we have printed here including letter nos. 1432, 5830, 6167, 7037, 11982, 23506, 23972, 26537, 28810, and 28994.
Please feel free to follow up by posting any questions you may have on any of those letters or in our public forum at www.finishing.com/letters/