Today, what is considered to be silver cutlery has less silver than most buyers know. Antique Silver Cutlery refers to the earliest silverware that was made up almost entirely of silver. Over time silver was blended with other metals in increasing proportions until today, when even cutlery made of pure stainless steel is being referred to as silverware. For the purposes of this guide Antique Silver Cutlery is entirely, or mostly, made of silver.
As silver is a soft metal, it should not be treated in the same way as other metals used in cutlery. For those who regularly use Antique Silver Cutlery, simply washing the pieces in warm water with a gentle detergent is enough. The cutlery should not be left to dry but dried with a soft cloth immediately afterwards.
If the cutlery has bone handles, ensure the water is cooler. The handle may be damaged as the silver metal expands due to exposure to heat. Leaving the cutlery in water may also damage the handle itself. If the bone section is very dirty, one may use toothpaste to get out the dirt and dry the cutlery immediately afterwards.
The reason special care must be taken when cleaning Antique Silver Cutlery is because of tarnishing. One way in which the silver is tarnished is by reacting to sulphur in the atmosphere to form silver sulfide. This causes a black tarnish to appear. For cutlery that is mixed in with other metals like copper, tarnishing will lead to more corrosive effects as oxides form.
For Antique Silver Cutlery that has obviously suffered from tarnishing, use the following traditional but effective method of cleaning:
Cover a large pot entirely with aluminium foil. Be sure to leave no gaps either in or outside the pot. Fill it up with water and dissolve a half-cup of baking soda to every gallon of water within. Bring the water to a boil and switch of the heat. Place all the silverware in the water ensuring they are well submerged and in contact with the foil. After a while, it will be evident that a reaction is taking place as the foil begins to turn black. This is because the baking soda draws out the sulfur and aluminium attracts and reacts with it. If the foil turns very black, you may need to repeat the process to ensure you have extracted all the sulphur from the Antique Silver Cutlery.