How do I clean antique silver, copper or brass?

The first thing we will say when you ask us about cleaning your silverware and other metals is, don’t, or not too much!

 

The stylists who hire vintage silverware from us prefer the dirtier, more worn pieces with patina – it looks much better in their photos and adds some old-world glamour to your table. 

Lots of tableware

Lots of tableware

 

Traditional products such as Brasso and Silvo are quite caustic for hands and eyes, and also require quite a lot of hard work to clean with.

 

Newer, easy-to-use products are a lot less toxic to the user. We use Howards products, which offer a variety of approaches from wipe on/wipe off applications to more intensive products.

 

Another product always in use in our shop is “Bright Shine”, which was originally designed for mag wheels! This one is easy to use and will clean up even the blackest silver. We recommend using gloves when you polish with it.

 

Tips for Cutlery:

 

Bone handled cutlery (handles made of Zylonite, bone or ivory) should NOT be soaked in water. The metal inside the handle expands in the heat, causing cracking in the handle. Just wash the metal, wipe the handles and dry.

 

If the handles are really dirty, you can clean them gently with toothpaste and a soft rag.

 

Flat steel-bladed knives can be cleaned with good old-fashioned “Gumption” to remove rust spots and black marks from the steel.

 

Daily silver plate cutlery should not be put in the dishwasher (sorry!). The heat of the dishwasher tarnishes the silver. Just wash them in mild detergent. From time to time a simple wipe on/wipe off silver polish will maintain them and extend their life.

 

Both EPNS and sterling silver respond well to the Howards silver polish.

 

Tips for Brass and Copper – 0r Patina is Good

 

As brass and copper age, the surface picks up moisture and dust creating a patina which can vary from green (verdigris) through to black. See above regarding deciding to clean them – patina is good.

Old copper

Old copper

 

If you have decided you wish to refurbish the item to “as new”, first check whether your item has been coated with a varnish at some time in the past – this was all the rage for a while, the idea being that it would negate the need for cleaning. It’s a terrible idea, and almost impossible to remove without a professional metal restorer.

 

If not so covered, use a polish cream like a Howards polish or Brasso. Terry toweling or strong cotton is your best polish cloth.

 

TIP – use an old toothbrush on difficult areas.

 

Aluminium pots and pans take to being cleaned carefully with “0000” steel wool, and then polished with a Howards silver cleaning product.

 

Stainless steel – only use stainless steel cleaner (actually a fine oil), and never use scouring products, which will scratch.

 

Pewter should only be washed in mild detergent. It is not designed to be polished.