All that glitters…. must be Silver!

This is one of the most wonderful times of the year – the onset of Fall, start of a new school year, and yes, all our festivals, starting with Ganpati all the way to Diwali! And you know what festivals mean – good food, special menus, great times with family and friends – and a chance to bring out all those glittering silver pooja items that spend the rest of the year in storage. Except that when they do come out of storage, they don’t really glitter – silver that is stored away is usually dimmed with a yellowish tarnish – not at all pretty! So of course, a huge chore before the start of the festive season is to restore all this silver to its lustrous shine!

And believe me, I’ve tried it all! Good old-fashioned elbow grease, naturally – scrub away, scrub away! Then come the chemicals – a really foul smelling liquid that I used to buy in Walmart – it did clean the silver, but the fumes were so toxic, that I had to literally air out the house for next couple of days! They’ve stopped selling it now – which actually is quite concerning, to think about it! That was a replaced by a cleaning ‘cream’ – wipe on, wipe off for a sparkling finish – but that really wasn’t that effective. Let’s not forget the ‘Ruperi’ powder from India – a lesser known cousin of the immensely popular ‘Pitambari’ which is used to clean brass items. Then the simplest of home remedies – of all the things, toothpaste! Or even better, tooth powder! All these methods, with their varying degrees of success, have one thing in common – they are all extremely labor-intensive!

Then recently, at DJ’s house for Gauri-Ganpati Haldi-Kunku – I noticed that her silver was absolutely gleaming – I mean, no kidding, it literally looked like new! None of the methods I’ve used have even come close to this brilliance! So call me bhochak, but it was impossible not to ask – the nation wants to know! And I promise, you’re going to be so happy I did ask! Her answer stunned me – her mother-in-law and her daughters googled ‘How to clean silver’, and discovered this hack – simply put, J Kaku boiled the silver items in a solution of baking soda with sheets of aluminum foil. That’s it. That’s literally it! Aluminum foil and baking soda! Unbelievable!! And what’s bhochak, you ask? Well, I don’t think there’s really an equivalent English word – the closest I can get is curiosity in high gear, maybe?

I was really excited to try this out – obviously, I had to know why and how this worked – so it was back to Google! The scientific explanation behind this cleaning hack is simply elegant – I think I love it more than the actual hack! So begins with the tarnish – I always thought it was oxide, similar to iron rusting or the patina on copper. Turns out it is the sulfurous gases in the air reacting with the silver to create a layer of silver sulphide – thicker the layer, darker the tarnish. Aluminum is a metal that is more reactive than silver – so through the simple process of ion exchange, it will try to grab the sulphide ions from the silver. Here’s where the baking soda solution comes in – baking soda is an alkaline salt that breaks down in the water to create ions that help move the sulphide from the silver to the aluminum! Isn’t Science beautiful?!!

So let’s get going! Fill a non-metal cooking pot with enough water to submerge whichever silver item is being cleaned. Add a couple of tablespoons baking soda, the silver, and some torn up sheets of aluminum foil. Bring it all to a gentle boil. Keep an eye on the silver – I had a pair of tongs handy, and I pulled out the silver periodically to check the clean. It really feels like magic – the foil visibly darkens, an indicator of the sulphide settling on it. I did replace the foil sheets a couple of times, just to keep the process going for some of the larger items. When satisfied that all the tarnish has come off, give the item a quick rinse and buff to a high polish with a microfiber cloth! Et, voila!! No scrubbing, no harsh chemicals – just beautifully clean silver!!

I have to admit – I had way too much fun with this one!! Admiring the silver, comparing the clean to the still dull pieces, exclaiming over the shine, taking ‘before and after’ pictures – cleaning has never felt less like a chore!! I haven’t got through everything yet – saving it for the cold, dry winter days that are approaching – will be great to have a great big pot of water just bubbling away in the kitchen!! And, oh – if you have inherited any silver items from your grandparents, and are wondering why that old silver does not tarnish quite as much as your newer items – again, very simple! The old silver was most likely almost pure silver. Sterling silver, or even the silver that we get in India in recent times has additions of copper – which make the silver items more susceptible to tarnish!

So what are you waiting for? Try this one out – I guarantee you’re going to love it!! And spread the word – so that everyone can flaunt their gorgeous silver this festive season! Shine on!!


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