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Caring for Silver


I appreciate the advice of experts who are preserving silver for the sake of museums and galleries. This is not about the upkeep of super fine, don't-touch-it 15th century teasets. Besides, your jewelry will get more wear-and-tear from normal use than cleaning it.

That being said, there are bad and then there are BAD ways to clean silver. From chemical dips to silver polishing cloths, there are dozens. For the most comprehensive silver care guide I have found, see this fantastic resource. There is a section just for chainmaille. I strongly recommend following his instructions to the "T" if you are concerned about preserving silver as best as possible. What I present here is a "working man's" version.

Chainmaille is too darn intricate to polish actively. You will never get the finish that can be obtained passively by using what jewelry manufacturers have been using for years: a tumbler. If you have a few pieces of chainmaille then get a $35 tumbler and $20 of stainless steel shot for a one-stop polishing and cleaning station! You will save time and energy and have fantastic looking pieces. It works great on regular jewelry, too, and all sorts of other knick knacks.

Other than that, the easiest way to keep chainmaille jewelry fresh is to wear it daily and clean it with blue dishwashing liquid, phosphorus-free (Dawn) the best. It will tarnish if unused for a time, going from a slight yellow tint to a more pronounced brown as the sulfides take root. Silver cloths work great if the tarnish is not too pronounced though this is entirely impractical for some items. Store it in anti-tarnish silver fabric when not in use.

Maybe a little background on the general polishing process for new jewelry would be helpful. After filing, sandpaper is used in increasingly finer grits starting at 320. It could then be readied for silver polish with #0000 steel wool or 2500+ grit sandpaper For chainmaille I skip to the 800-grit and higher sandpaper to make the joints smooth and beautiful. I do not use chemicals and I do not manually polish it.

A quick and dirty way to clean real tarnished GOING-TO-BE-USED silver is with baking soda. It leaves what is called a butler's shine - nice but not a mirror polish. Baking soda is also the easiest way to manually clean maille. Get a small plastic bin with a removable, sealed top and put a few cups of baking soda in it. Hold the maille over it and rub the powder into the links - notice the baking soda falls back into the container to be used over and over. Dust off the maille when done, use some of that blue dishwashing soap or equivalent phosphorus-free soap with hot (distilled) water, then rinse it clean. Blow or blot away the water as some municipal water supplies are loaded with nasty chemicals that will pit or stain silver. Try to avoid wiping it as pure silver can be scratched easily.

If that fails, it might need a #0000 steel wool scrubbing. XXXX-fine copper or bronze/brass wool is another option. Yes, these damage a piece to some degree if you want to be persnickety about it but daily use is far more abusive.

A quick dip in ammonia can remove some tarnish on silver. It is quite effective at removing the greenish hues often left in salt containers or other oxidized surfaces (brass and bronze can be cleaned by this method). However, this should only be used for very fine tarnish as the chemicals formed from silver oxide's or silver sulfide's reaction can produce an unstable explosive.

Brushed finishes can be maintained with a fine brass wire brush.

It is best to avoid harsh chemicals, jewelry dips, salt and chlorine, and situations where damage may occur from banging into objects or worse, get entangled in machinery. With pure silver, it is not advisable to wear it where it may contact other jewelry or metal because it will get scratched. If you are intent on stacking, put the silver one at the end and buffer it with a rubber or plastic piece. Do not use mechanized equipment to polish maille as the links can be caught, torn open, and damaged (or worse, send a flying link into someone else and injuring them).

So, in order of preferred cleaning:
  1. Dawn and water, washed by hand - daily
  2. Silver cloth - as needed
  3. Proper silver polish - not too often because it does remove silver
  4. Ammonia dip (unscented and without additives - pure ammonia ONLY!) - rarely
  5. Baking soda rubdown (also walnut shells, corn cob, sawdust, fine plastic shavings but only if DRY) - extreme situations
  6. 3000 grit sandpaper or #0000 steel wool (professional use only) - almost never

Best to avoid:
  1. Steel wool or sandpaper (really, professional use only)
  2. Chemical dips
  3. Salt, chlorine, pollutants (sweat, pools, ocean, dusty/sandy, etc.)
  4. Machine buffing or polishing
  5. Commercial silver or metal polishes



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