I’ve been on a quest to explore silver cleaning methods, searching for the holy grail that would shine up even the pesky grooves between wire loops on my gemstone pieces. In addition, I wanted a solution that doesn’t remove a significant amount of silver with every cleaning. And I think I’m close!
I came across this method on http://scifun.chem.wisc.edu/homeexpts/tarnish.html, and I recommend it! It is a chemical reaction that returns the shine to the silver without losing any silver content. As an added bonus, you likely already have all the necessary ingredients for this process in your kitchen: baking soda, aluminum foil, hot water, and a container large enough to immerse the silver completely.
“When silver tarnishes, it combines with sulfur and forms silver sulfide. Silver sulfide is black. When a thin coating of silver sulfide forms on the surface of silver, it darkens the silver.
[This method] … uses a chemical reaction to convert the silver sulfide back into silver. Many metals in addition to silver form compounds with sulfur. [Aluminum is one such metal that also has a higher affinity for sulfur than silver does. When aluminum reacts with silver sulfide, sulfur atoms are transferred from silver to the aluminum, freeing the silver metal and forming aluminum sulfide.] “
|3 Ag2S||+||2 Al||>>>||6 Ag||+||Al2S3|
|silver sulfide||aluminum||silver||aluminum sulfide|
I can’t tell it’s been years since I was in the public education system, since despite all its attempts to quiz this habit out of me, I read the instructions on the Home Experiments website inattentively, and ended up doing some steps out-of-order – I think the outcome of my experiment reflects this. That said, I think this IS that holy grail I was looking for; I only need to master it.
For this experiment, I dug out all of the purchased silver jewelry I have, as well as several of the pieces I’ve wire wrapped for myself. For the latter, I chose pieces that I imagine to be the hardest to clean – with many wire loop connections or a lot of silver that’s difficult to access.
Step 1: Preparing the Ingredients
- Baking Soda (1 cup per 1 gallon of water)
- Aluminum Foil
- Hot water – I boiled a kettle
- Container that is large enough for all your pieces to lie spaciously on the bottom – I used a glass baking bowl
Step 2: Prepare the Solution
1. First, take the container of your choice and place the aluminum foil on the bottom.
2. Next, place you jewelry on the aluminum foil. Make sure that each piece touches the foil, and select placement that maximizes the area of contact.
3. Next, ready an amount of water that will cover the jewelry completely. Heat it up – any temperature from luke-warm to boiled should work, but the warmer the better.
4. Measure out baking soda, aiming for a ratio of one cup of baking soda per gallon of water.
5. Work over a sink. Pour the baking soda into the water, dissolving it. When baking soda comes in contact with hot water, it will bubble and may spill over.
As you can see from my photos below, here’s where my mistakes started. I poured the freshly boiled water into the aluminum lined container, then poured in the baking soda (then ogled the bubbling effect until it dissipated), and only then started placing the silver in. At the very least, this meant that I couldn’t dissolve the soda completely, and it coated the bottom of the container. I had to poke at it with a chopstick to open up surfaces of aluminum to place the silver on.
Step 3: Chemical Reaction
1. Leave the silver in the solution for 10-15 minutes, or for as long as is takes to achieve the shine you want. If the silver is badly tarnished, you might need to reheat the water and baking soda solution, and give the pieces more than one treatment.
As I was observing the reaction, I realized that in my wire wrapped pieces, a lot of silver elements were not at all touching the aluminum – and thus would not benefit from the electrochemical reaction. In the future, I’m thinking of wrapping them individually with thin strips of foil; but this time around, I just squashed the aluminum down to try to maximize the contact surface area. Not sure if that helped at all. 🙂
2. Take out the silver pieces, rinse in clean water, and dry out.
Overall, I’m happy with this experiment. In the future, I’d follow the instructions closer, leave the silver in for a longer period of time, and would come up with a means for aluminum to touch the intricate silver details on the wire wrapped pieces.
If you end up tying this method for yourself, let me know how it goes!