Saturday, December 19, 2009

Science is Fun

Recently I received a few pieces of silver-plate from my grandma's estate. It was quite tarnished. Mom recommended using the baking soda / aluminum foil / boiling water method to remove the tarnish, as it was less harsh than silver polishes, and would remove the tarnish evenly, even in the grooves.

Wondering about the details, like just how gentle the process actually was, and whether the aluminum foil should be in contact with the silver, I googled... and came up with this site. (I followed my mom's instructions, rather than the slightly different method listed there.)

Ah-ha... it just reverses the electrolysis, and leaves the silver untouched. Cool! That way if I have to go down to flip the laundry part way through, I won't harm the silver plate.

The aluminum foil should be in contact with the silver. Check.

It's sulphur that causes silver to tarnish? Fascinating.

By now, my water had started to boil. I rearranged my silver in the plastic bucket so that it was in contact with the aluminum foil, shook on a generous portion of baking soda, then poured the kettle full of hot water on.

Holy rotten-egg farts, Batman! If I didn't know there was sulphur before, I sure did now!!! Wow, that is one *foul* smelling process. However, it sure works some crazy chemical magic!

I forgot to take a proper "before" photo, but here's a "during" photo or three:
Silver Plated Heirlooms during cleaning Silver Plated Heirlooms during cleaning Silver Plated Heirlooms during cleaning
Sorry about the focus... I forgot to set it on macro.

My kettle is rather small. While I waited for it to boil again (and again, and again, and again...) I turned the pieces when the submerged part looked clean. Plus, it's fun to play with something. ;) (I used my tongs so that I didn't burn my fingers.) Eventually I got them completely covered.

While I was playing, I also tossed in a silver chain I found, and was sitting on the kitchen table. Then I added my silver Medic Alert bracelet. I don't think my Medic Alert bracelet has *ever* looked so clean since the day I put it on. It even got all the "buried" spots in the chain that regular silver polish can't clean. Fun! (I should have thought to go get all my other silver jewelry too. Oh well... perhaps another time. Perhaps over Christmas break.)

Another cool thing about the process is that I didn't even have to use fresh aluminum foil: I used stuff I had been saving for my dad, who likes to collect it to recycle at the places that pay you.

After the tarnish seemed pretty much gone, I rinsed them under warm water while polishing with a cotton washcloth, then dried them with a cotton tea towel. They cleaned up pretty good:
Silver Plated Heirlooms Silver Plated Heirlooms
The copper is showing through on the tray where the design is, and there are spots of something, possibly missing silver, on the cream and sugar set. I wonder how much it would cost to get a fresh coat of silver applied? I may look into that at some point.

If you're the type that is interested in markings, here's the stamp from the tray:
Stamp on Tray
and here's the stamp from either the sugar bowl or the creamer:
Stamp on Sugar Bowl and Cream
(I think it's the sugar bowl, but they both say the same thing.) It took me a while to figure out that "E P COPPER" meant "electroplate on copper", rather than some company name. ;) I'm guessing that "W M MOUNTS" means "white metal mounts". I think I'll go google "Viking Plate" now.

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