Intro: Restoring Thrift Store Silver
Thrift stores like Goodwill can be a treasure chest of goodies if one knows what to look for. Today's treasure is silver! That's right, some people don't know or don't care to keep their silver shiny. It tarnishes black and can look worthless or ruined to the uneducated eye so they donate it to thrift shops. Well if you have a bit of luck you can find these treasures and restore them to their glorious polished look.
Every Goodwill I've been in has an isle dedicated to metal objects. Most of them are crap but you can find lots of brass items (another instructible for another day), occasionally copper, and sometimes silver! It just takes some luck and a good eye.
Step 1: Identifying Silver
Silver is the brightest metal there is and when polished it reflects everything around it. However, silver at a thrift shop is always tarnished. Sometimes is is still silvery with darker areas and some rainbow colors on it. I've found that silver plate often is only partly tarnished and not really black. There is so little silver there to tarnish that it doesn't seem to cover the item. The darker the item the more likely I've found it to be silver or Quality silver plate.
Beware the Silver Plate
Most of the time when there is silver there, it is silver plate. This is a less valuable metal coated with silver. Almost always it is brass made in India or China and plated with the thinnest coating of silver possible. If you try to polish this you almost always will remove ALL the silver left on it and expose the brass beneath it. This is almost never worth your time or money, unless you want the brass. There are quality silver plate items but it can be chancy of how deep the silver is plated. If you see base metal leave it, as the silver is thin or that area is damaged. You could get it re-plated professionally but that’s going to cost you.
Almost all good silver has a crafters mark on it. These are the name of the company that produced the item or the crafts-person who made the item. Cheap crap will likely have a made in China sticker on it. Luckily much of silver plate also has a sticker that will say silver plate.
If you see a stamp that says sterling you have just scored big time. Calmly walk to the register and don't let that treasure go! A sterling stamp means that the item is almost pure silver. I don't know what other countries require but the U.S. requires a sterling stamp on all sterling silver items made in the U.S.
Silver is non magnetic. Take a magnet with you on your search. Anything that the magnet sticks to is at best silver plated and at worst not silver at all.
These instructions should only be used on non-antique items. If you think you have found an actual antique, talk to a professional before you mess around with your silver. You could make your find near worthless if you mess up the finish. All the items I buy I plan on using and not reselling or just sitting on a shelf so I don't care if they are devalued.
Step 2: Polishing Your Treasure
Now that you have found some silver you need to get rid of that tarnish. We are going to use cream polish to restore that shine.
There are dip tarnish removers like TarnX. They are basically an acid that releases the sulfur from the tarnish. They stink like rotten eggs when used. I'm not recommending the use of these as they can leave your silver yellowish. However, for intricate surfaces that are deeply tarnished they can sure speed things up, but you will still have to polish after their use anyway. Do not use on silver plate.
I use Wrights Silver Cream for my polishing. There are several other quality brands out there but I've never used them. You should follow the directions on your product instead of following what I say in their use.
Wash the silver item with soap and warm water to remove any dust and contaminates. These can scratch the silver if you are unlucky, so wash up first. Dry your item.
Nitrile gloves are probably a good idea to wear, but I just wash my hand every so often. If I was polishing a bunch I would stick with the gloves.
Apply the polish to an area of the silver and let it dry. Depending on what I'm trying to polish determines how much area I apply to at a time. Take a moist soft rag or included sponge and start rubbing the almost dry compound. You will start to turn your sponge/rag black. Keep moving to a clean spot on your rag when black. You should start to see the silver shine and the black disappear. Every-so- often rewash your item to see its progress.
Reapply the polish, let dry and keep polishing the silver piece. It can sometimes take a lot to get rid of all the black but its worth it
Finally you've got it all polished up. Now admire that shine.
Step 3: Keeping Your Silver Nice
Using and washing your silver is the best thing to keep the tarnish away.
Don't use your silver with eggs, onions, broccoli, and other foods that have lots of sulfur in them.
Sulfur is the enemy of silver and is the cause of the tarnish.
Salt is also highly corrosive to silver and should be kept away from it if possible.
Rubber and non-archival paper also contributes to sulfur tarnish.
Keep you silver dusted or in a cabinet as dust can contain items that will speed up the tarnish process.
There are special cloths available to store your silver in that help prevent tarnish.