Should I Clean My Silver?

Should I Clean My Silver?

Herein lies the big question - should you clean your silver? Unlike gold, platinum, and palladium, silver tends to have a high reactivity. Silver reacts to sulphur in the air, and this causes “tarnishing”. Tarnishing can reduce the luster and shine that comes with silver bullion products. As silver has the highest reflectivity of all metals, it can be kind a bummer when tarnishing occurs. You might be concerned that cleaning your silver may depreciate the value of your bullion, and you’re sort of right. 

Let’s take a look at the “do’s and don’ts” of silver care. 

Disclaimer: 

In my opinion I wouldn’t clean any of my silver bullion ever. It’s just a personal preference and I don’t really mind having some tarnishing on them. In fact you can still sell tarnished silver for it’s value, and sometimes purchasing tarnished silver comes with reduced premiums. I think it adds to the aesthetic. In many cases it can actually reduce the numismatic value of coins and some types of bullion. But if you’re just looking to polish up an old mirror or jewelry for personal use, clean away! I’m not suggesting you should clean your silver bullion here, just offering what the most safe method would be. If you choose to clean silver of substantial numismatic value and a dealer identifies it’s been cleaned, that’s your responsibility. 

When You Shouldn’t 

Anytime you’re dealing with bullion that has numismatic value you shouldn’t be cleaning or washing your silver. If you’ve purchased proof coins from the U.S. mint you should keep them in their air-tight container. There’s essentially no justification for cleaning any coin of numismatic value, and dealer’s have processes to tell if it’s been cleaned. Silver (like gold) is a very soft metal, and brush-marks can become apparent. Wear on some older coins might even contribute to the “look” and some collectors like this rustic aesthetic.

However, don’t think this just applies to silver coins. Some bullions also have collectible value, or are projected to have collectible value. This might include the 10 oz COVID-19 bars, or the S.S. Garsoppa bullion. Anytime you have something that is purchased for another reason aside from it’s silver content, stay away from cleaning. 

What You Shouldn’t Do 

Silver is highly vulnerable to scratches because it’s so soft. However, chemical reactions may also leave marks that make it apparent you’re silver has been cleaned too. Make sure you don’t brush, or wash your silver with soap and water. Remember, even if you don’t clean your silver it still has value simply because it is silver. There’s nothing that can take away from the value of your silver content. Some people even intentionally allow the “patina” to form around the bullion. 

The patina being the coating of tarnishing. If you’re looking to avoid silver tarnishing at all, you could store your silver in an area with very little air flow. Or you could purchase air-tight containers for your coins. These containers do come with a fee though, and it’s going to take away from your total purchase as you won’t receive your money back on them come time to sell. 

One Way to Clean Your Silver

I’ve only seen one way to clean tarnished silver that seems to provide little damage. It’s a process where the silver is placed on a foil of aluminum, and boiling water mixed with baking soda is poured over the bullion. This helps to remove the attachment of sulphur ions from the silver, and they then transfer to the aluminum producing aluminum sulphide. This process works fairly well and doesn’t include the damage that comes with a lot of methods of cleaning. If you are going to clean silver, this seems to be the recommended way by a lot of people investing in precious metals. I wouldn’t suggest any other method. If you intentionally purchase tarnished silver for low premiums this can be a way to help make it shiny again. 

As far as the other methods offered online go - I would only use them if the silver is intended for personal use. Silver jewelry or mirrors that you plan on keeping in your house are fair game if you don’t mind some of the side effects that come with a silver cleaner. If you’re looking to sell sterling silver silverware in the future, they’ll likely go to a refinery and be melted down. In those cases it doesn’t matter if it’s been cleaned as they’re going to extract the silver from the alloy (if there’s no collectible value).


In compliance with the Federal Trade Commission, none of the information presented in this article constitutes financial advice or should be taken as such. Precious Metals Professor does not recommend financial positioning or investment strategies, and does not take responsibility for any gains or losses made.


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