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Don't try to polish your silver the old fashioned way.  Use a chemical reaction to clean tarnish off just about any silver object (jewelry, cutlery, tea pot, ...).

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Clean the tarnish off silver objects

Materials: (tarnished silver,  a pan or dish large enough to completely immerse the silver, aluminum foil to cover the bottom of the pan, boiling water, baking soda)

  1. Line the bottom of the pan with aluminum foil or use a disposable aluminum pan.
  2. Place silver object on top of the aluminum, making sure the silver touches the aluminum.
  3. Pour boiling water into the pan until the object is completely covered.
  4. Add about baking soda.  (about 1/4 cup per liter or 1 cup per gallon of water).

What will happen?

As you add the baking soda, the mixture may froth a bit and may spill over.  The tarnish will begin to disappear quickly.  For badly tarnished silver, you may need to repeat the experiment a 2nd time to remove all traces of tarnish.


  1. Adults must supervise the heating and pouring of boiling water.
  2. You may want to put the pan in a sink before pouring the water.

One of our visitors sent in this note:

After several tries, I found that it is WASHING SODA (SODIUM CARBONATE) which is very effective in removing silver tarnish.

My experimentation showed that Baking Soda (SODIUM  BICARBONATE) was, at best, only minimally effective, while Washing Soda was dramatically effective within a very short time (two minutes) with associated aluminum discoloration. 

Sounds like it would be a good experiment to compare both products.  I've had great results from baking soda and boiling water for years, but it may be time to try a new combination that could work even better.

Why does baking soda, aluminum and boiling water remove silver tarnish?

First, we need to understand how and why silver tarnishes.  Silver undergoes a chemical reaction with sulfur-containing substances in the air. Silver combines with sulfur to form silver sulfide, which is the black tarnish you find on silver.  Remove the silver sulfide, and the silver is bright again.  The easiest way to remove the tarnish is a chemical reaction that converts the silver sulfide without removing any of the silver.

Oxidization is when a molecule loses electrons.  Aluminum has a lower ionization energy (energy required to remove electrons from an atom of the element) than silver.   When the aluminum is oxidized, the silver gains the electrons. Depending on the amount of tarnish, the silver will be bright and the aluminum foil may be brown with tarnish. The silver tarnish is "transferred" to the aluminum via a chemical reaction.

The silver and aluminum must be in contact with each other because a small electric current flows between them during the reaction. This type of reaction, which involves an electric current (because atoms are charged), is called an electrochemical reaction.




Janice VanCleave's Chemistry for Every Kid: 101 Easy Experiments that Really Work
Instructions for experiments, each introducing a different chemistry concept and demonstrating that chemistry is a part of our everyday life.
DK Science Kit
More than 100 experiments with clear, easy-to-understand explanations help inquisitive young scientists find answers about light, sound, movement, magnetism, and more. Materials for six working models let kids discover basic scientific principles. Spiral-bound instruction cards contain around-the-home experiments to help kids learn even more science concepts.

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