Lifestyle · Tutorial

✿ Small Victories – Cleaning Antique Silver ✿

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For me, spring means antique season. It is a favorite hobby of mine to hunt for antiques. Many times, I’ve seen magazines refer to New England, where I live, as a hotspot for quality antiques! We have fairs, shops, trade shows, and all sorts of ways to find antiques in person, as opposed to being limited to shopping online. My love for antiques stems even before my princess lifestyle began, but it suits my current lifestyle and personality perfectly.

If you have experience with antiques, you may have noticed that polished silver – be it silverware, jewelry, or toiletries – tends to go for a very high price, and tarnished silver tends to be a lot cheaper. A lot of buyers are willing to shell out the extra money for the pre-polished versions because they are worried about ruining the product if they try to polish it themselves. However, polishing silver is quite easy, and I encourage you all to take on the challenge.

First of all, you may be wondering how much of a price difference there is between polished and tarnished silver sets. Although I’ve also witnessed this with jewelry and cutlery, the example I will use is toiletry sets, since that is what I am showcasing today. At last year’s summer antique fair in July, I found a tarnished silver brush and a polished silver brush, of similar design, at the same vendor. The polished silver was priced at $20 and the tarnished was priced at $4. The only flaw the tarnished brush had was being dull and miscolored, but it was very easily (and inexpensively!) remedied at home, making it look just as pretty as the pre-polished brush.

The particular set I am using as an example today is not one I bought from an antique vendor. It actually belonged to my great-grandmother, but she recently allowed me to have it after I discovered it in the unused and cluttered upstairs of her old home. It is from Towle’s Symphony Collection, as stated on the box. It contains a brush, a hand mirror, and a comb. The brush has white bristles, and the comb is a hard plastic with a tortoise shell design.

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A photo of the box that the set came in. The inside is white satin.

✿ Tutorial: How to Polish Antique Silver ✿

Before You Begin: Gather your supplies. This tutorial calls for a silver jewelry cleaner, a light-colored cloth, water, a towel, and the silver you want to polish. The jewelry cleaner I use is by the brand Connoisseurs and cost about $5. Keep in mind that the cleaner you use must be specifically meant for silver. This brand also makes cleaners for gold and precious gems, so be sure you get the right brand.

As for the cloth, the only real requirement is that it is soft and light colored. The reason it must be soft is so that it does not accidentally scratch any delicate parts of your silver. It must be light-colored because the jewelry cleaner bleaches dark cloth. You could use any soft cloth for this – an old towel, a kitchen rag, or even and old shirt. However, I recommend your cloth be somewhat thick. Don’t use disposable cloth like paper towel, because it will likely rip. I like to use a scrap of white polar fleece.

Optional Supplies: Cotton swabs, plastic/latex gloves. The cotton swabs are for getting into the detailed areas or creases of your silver. The latex gloves, which are highly recommended, are for protecting your hands.

  • Step One: Prepare your space. You will want a flat surface, and to have the cleaner, cloth, silver, and gloves and cotton swabs (if necessary) nearby. You should do this in a well-lit area, with your hair tied back if necessary. You should not wear jewelry, and be aware of any dark fabric nearby that could be stained, including your clothes. You should do this in a well-ventilated area if at all possible, because the scent of the tarnish being removed is very strong. Put your gloves on.
  • Step Two: Opening your cleaner. When you first open up your jewelry cleaner, it will have a plastic sheet covering the top, with dotted circles and small images of scissors all around. Choose a circle near the center, and cut it out, making a small, penny-sized hole in the container. This will allow a small amount of cleaner to come out.
  • Step Three: Beginning to polish. With your gloves on and your polish open, take your cloth and hold it over the hole that you cut in the plastic covering of the jewelry cleaner. Holding firmly, flip the container upside-down for 1-3 seconds. This will allow the cleaner to dampen the cloth. You do not want the cloth to be soaking wet, as this will be messy and inefficient. Be sure to close the jewelry cleaner between wetting your cloth – you do not want the fumes constantly flowing. Now that your cloth is wet, choose an area of your silver to begin to polish. For items with handles, such as the brush and hand mirror of this set, I usually hold by the handle and begin at the top of the item. For a flat item like silverware or the comb, I just choose a side. Begin rubbing the silver in small circles. You will notice the cleaner bubbling or foaming slightly, and you will smell an awful scent. However, upon lifting the cloth, you will see the difference between the tarnished parts and the bright parts. Continue this all around the silver.
  • Step Four: Detail Work. If you get to a part of your silver that has creases that are too small for your cloth to get in, open your silver cleaner, take a cotton swab, and dip one end into it. Then, rub the crease with the damp side of the cotton swab.
  • Step Five: Finishing. After you have cleaned all of the silver on all of your pieces, transport yourself to a place where you have access to water, such as a bathroom sink or a hose (if you are outside). Take a clean towel and dampen it slightly. Gently wipe down your polished silver with the towel. This will prevent streaking and remove any streaks that may have developed already. Make sure to thoroughly dry your silver after removing streaks.
  • You have now finished polishing your silver at home! Good job!

✿ Before & After Photos ✿

The whole set upon opening the box. Note the dark greenish color, particularly noticeable on the handle of the mirror and on the comb.
The back of the mirror and the brush, pre-polish. The soap-bubble-esque, greenish glow of the tarnish is very visible here.
The back of the mirror and the brush, pre-polish. The soap-bubble-esque, greenish glow of the tarnish is very visible here.
The comb pre-polish. Notice how uneven and unappealing it is.
The comb pre-polish. Notice how uneven and unappealing it is.
The brush, mid-polish.
The brush, mid-polish.

✿ After ✿

The front of the brush and mirror after being polished. Much brighter and prettier than their previous selves.
The front of the brush and mirror after being polished. Much brighter and prettier than their previous selves.

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As you can see, the polished version is much more beautiful than the tarnished version, and it was achieved for less than $10 and in about 20 minutes! I really recommend purchasing an antique silver set like this and polishing it yourself. It gives you a real sense of accomplishment, looking at the before and after!

Personally, I love silver toiletry sets like this. Using it always makes me feel luxurious and beautiful. There’s nothing like waking up to sunshine and birds, taking an early morning bath, and then brushing your hair with a beautiful set like this one.

I hope I’ve inspired you in some way! Maybe you’ll look for some antiques yourself, now! Expect more writing on antiques from me soon, because I have had such a craving for them. I experience this every year, though – through winter I become depressed and have no desire to live a beautiful life, and have no inspiration to act on my lifestyle goals. But then in spring, inspiration hits me again. I think it’s because I became a lolita and became interested in the princess lifestyle during spring. Also, my favorite antique fair has it’s first tri-annual event in May, so this time of year always makes me anxious for antique hunting. In any case, I hope this post was helpful to you!


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