How to clean silver cutlery - ditch the polish and the fumes and use these natural alternatives instead

From ketchup to tin foil, these alternative cleaning methods will definitely do the trick

Glass jars storing silver cutlery
(Image credit: Future PLC)

You've come to the right place if you’re wondering how to clean silver cutlery. As keen advocates of taking care of our belongings rather than throwing them away in favour of something shinier (well, shinier than tarnished silver), we’re all about cleaning everything from shower curtains to stainless steel pans.

And no matter whether you’ve bought new silver cutlery and want to keep it sparkling, you’ve inherited a set from your grandmother and want to do it justice, or you’re embracing second-hand-September and found the perfect silver cutlery at a car boot sale, it’s important that you know how to clean silver cutlery. After all, it’s very easily tarnished. 

Luckily, we’ve got all the tips and tricks you could possibly need to see your silverware sparkle once more - no matter which side of the cutlery and dishwasher debate you sit on.

How to clean silver cutlery 

Inside of wood cutlery drawer

(Image credit: Future PLC/Oliver Gordon)

‘Many silver cutlery designs include decorative patterns which lend themselves to tarnishing in hard-to-reach areas, leaving your cutlery looking less than attractive – even when clean,’ says Rachel Fox, assistant manager for pre-owned jewellery experts Suttons & Robertsons

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t restore it to its former glory. These natural cleaning options will leave your silver cutlery gleaming. 

1. Use tin foil and baking soda

Bicarbonate of soda beside measuring spoon and jug

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Tin foil is normally something you reserve for your Christmas turkey or your baked fish, but did you know that you can use tin foil as a cleaning tool? Not only can it help restore the shine of your pots and pans, but you can also use it to clean your silver cutlery. 

‘Simply line a bowl with aluminium foil, facing shiny side up. Pop in your cutlery and sprinkle over some bicarb of soda,’ suggests Carol Harding at ‘Then, pour over hot water so your cutlery is covered and leave it to bubble away. Once the water is cool enough, you can lift out your cutlery. Give it a rinse and buff dry with a clean cloth to bring it back to its best,’ 

If your cutlery is particularly old or tarnished, you might want to repeat the process.

2. Use ketchup

Do you put your ketchup in the fridge, or do you keep it in the cupboard? Well, while you’re arguing over this common household debate, you might want to use your ketchup to clean your silver cutlery instead. 

Yes, everyone’s favourite condiment polishes silver cutlery up a treat, and it’s a very easy process, too. All you have to do is squeeze a few dollops of the red sauce onto a paper towel and give your cutlery a good wipe. If you have some particularly stubborn areas, you could even get a soft-bristled toothbrush and give it a good scrub. 

Of course, this method works better when you only have a few pieces of cutlery to clean, rather than a whole set.

3. Use toothpaste

Bathroom sink with toothbrush, hand wash, perfume and flowers

(Image credit: Future PLC/James French)

Sure, toothpaste cleans your teeth, but we bet you didn’t know that toothpaste can also be used to clean the things in your kitchen. Not only can it clean your toaster, but it can also successfully polish your silver cutlery, leaving it sparkling clean and as good as new. 

Toothpaste can actually work wonders when used as a polish. All you have to do is squeeze some onto a cloth and then buff your cutlery (it’s best to do this in a circular motion if you want to make the most of this hack). Before washing it off, leave it for around five minutes to let the ingredients in the toothpaste break down the tarnish.

Finish by giving your cutlery a good rinse, and make sure you dry correctly to avoid water spots.

4. Use baking soda and water

White vinegar, lemons and bicarb for cleaning

(Image credit: Future PLC)

If you don’t have any ketchup or toothpaste lying around the house, baking soda will always do the trick. That’s because baking soda is naturally abrasive, meaning it’s perfect for cleaning tarnished silver cutlery and making it sparkle and shine again.

Yes, when you’ve finished cleaning a microwave with baking soda, you might want to get started on your silverware. To do this, you’ll need to make a relatively thick paste by mixing the baking soda with water. When you have this, apply it to your cutlery with a damp cloth before leaving it for five minutes.

Finish by buffing the cutlery and giving it a rinse. You can always repeat this process if you feel like your cutlery needs some extra TLC, too.

5. Use lemon

vinegar with lemons and wooden board

(Image credit: Future PLC/ Tim Young)

If you’re a hardcore Ideal Home reader (we don’t blame you), then you’ll know that we’re constantly on the lookout for lemon cleaning hacks. And this is another one to add to the list. 

In fact, you can treat lemon juice as though it was a ready-made silverware polish. You just need to dip a soft cloth into some concentrated lemon juice and then wipe it over your cutlery. The best bit? It works in basically the same way, without giving you a headache from the fumes. 

Once you’re happy the tarnished silver is gleaming again, grab a clean cloth and give your cutlery one last buff. 

6. Use white vinegar and baking soda

White vinegar bottle with a measuring jug

(Image credit: Future PLC/Phil Barker)

Like Ant and Dec and fish and chips, white vinegar and baking soda are a winning combination. There are so many things you should be cleaning with white vinegar, and your silver cutlery sets are some of them. 

But while it’s important to note that you shouldn’t use white vinegar on antiques, it’ll work wonders if you have newer cutlery that needs a little bit of TLC. 

‘One of the best ways to clean silver and reach those hard-to-get areas of forks and decorative recesses is the age-old method of bicarb of soda and vinegar. Mix two tablespoons of baking soda with four of vinegar in a bowl with lukewarm water, which is large enough to fully submerge your cutlery. Leave for 15 minutes, rinse and then polish with a soft cloth,’ explains Rachel. 

7. Avoid the dishwasher

concealed wooden door dishwasher in kitchen

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Although it can be easy to shove your silver cutlery in the dishwasher as soon as you’ve finished with it, this could actually be doing more harm than good. 

‘It may be convenient, but the high temperatures, humidity, and detergents can damage or tarnish the silver,’ explains Rachael Kiss, marketing manager from Alliance Online

‘Dishwasher detergents and the high-pressure water jets used in dishwashers can be abrasive and may damage the thin silver plating on silverware. This can lead to a loss of shine and can eventually expose the base metal underneath.’

So, focus on gentle hand washing instead. 

8. Always use a soft cloth

Corner of kitchen with washing machine, sink and shelving

(Image credit: Future PLC/James Frencg)

No matter whether you choose to clean your silver with ketchup or lemon juice, there is one thing you always need to do: use a soft cloth. 

‘Using a non-abrasive cloth is of utmost importance when it comes to gently hand-washing or polishing delicate cutlery such as silver,’ says David Stockton, head of e-commerce at linen brand Richard Haworth

‘A light touch will always be required when handling silver tableware, but the right cloth is also essential to avoid any scratching or denting - especially when buffing silver for an added shine.’

And while you may sometimes need to use a toothbrush to get into any nook and crannies you may have in more intricate silverware, you should always opt for a soft-bristled brush for the same reason.

How do you clean badly tarnished silver cutlery?

‘Silver and silver plate cutlery is less likely to tarnish when it's in everyday use. In this case, simply wash in warm, soapy water and dry well,’ says Nicola Rodriguez, AKA @essexhousedolly

Not everyone is that lucky with their silver, though. And while you could use silver polish to clean badly tarnished silver cutlery, you don’t have to. In fact, there are so many natural ways to clean your silver cutlery with items you probably already have in the cupboard. These include ketchup, lemon juice, baking soda, toothpaste, and more.

No matter what you choose, it’s important to clean tarnished silver cutlery very gently. This normally involves buffing or soaking rather than scraping with abrasive materials.

What is the best home remedy to clean silver?

Perhaps the best and easiest home remedy for tarnished silver cutlery is white vinegar and baking soda. When using this combination, you don’t have to buff them or polish them. Instead, you can just let your cutlery sit in a bowl with both ingredients and let them do the hard work for you.

In all cases, you should always make sure you give them a rinse in cold water or give them a full wash in warm, soapy water before you use them again. 

Lauren Bradbury

Lauren Bradbury is a freelance writer and major homes enthusiast. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English and Creative Writing from the University of Chichester in 2016, before dipping her toe into the world of content writing. After years of agency work, writing everything from real-life stories to holiday round-ups, she decided to take the plunge and become a full-time freelancer in the online magazine world. Since then, she has become a regular contributor for Real Homes and Ideal Home, and become even more obsessed with everything interior and garden related. As a result, she’s in the process of transforming her old Victorian terraced house into an eclectic and modern home that hits visitors with personality as soon as they walk through the door.