Like many of you, I avoid using chemical cleaning products, and I’m always happy when I find a natural method that really does the job. Here are two natural cleaning techniques for removing tarnish… one for copper, the other for silver.
First, copper. For me it’s a small copper tea kettle and the copper bottoms of stainless steel pots and pans. They look great when the copper is bright and shiny, and it’s easy to keep the copper looking that way with vinegar and salt. You can make a paste of equal parts of flour, vinegar, and salt, but I think it works just as well to pour on enough vinegar to coat the bottom of the pan, sprinkle on a little salt, and rub the tarnish away with a cloth. If you’ve never used this method, you will be surprised at how quickly the copper changes back to its original bright color. If the copper is badly discolored, repeat the process, then wash in warm, soapy water.
For silverware or silver pieces that are tarnished (this works on silver jewelry too), you can clean them without chemicals and for only a few pennies using simple electrolysis. First you will need a glass or enamel sauce pan large enough to hold the silver pieces. (I think stainless steel would work too… you just don’t want to use an aluminum pan because the process will darken the aluminum.) Cover the inside bottom of this pan with aluminum foil. Make a solution of one quart of water, one tablespoon of baking soda, and one teaspoon of salt… if your silver items are large and you need to use more solution, increase all the ingredients proportionally. Bring the solution to a boil and place the silver pieces in it, making sure that all the pieces are completely submerged and that each piece touches the aluminum foil. Boil for at least five minutes, or longer if the silver pieces are very badly tarnished. (If you don’t want to boil your items, use the same method and pour boiling water into the pan. This will work although not as well as the boiling method with badly tarnished silver.) Remove the pieces and wash with warm, soapy water.
This process works because tarnish on silver is caused by sulfur ions. The water, salt, and baking soda make an ion-carrying solution that carries the sulfur ions from the silver to the aluminum foil. Another plus with this method is that it doesn’t cause wear to the silver like repeated rubbings with silver polish does. Try it… this really works, and you’ll save money, too!